Pancheros Mexican Grill opens in FD

The culinary selection on Fort Dodge’s booming Corridor of Commerce just got more diverse. Pancheros Mexican Grill opened Oct. 22 at 3024 Fifth Ave. S.

While this restaurant is new, its owners have been part of the local restaurant world for a quarter century. Jim Bird and Joe Cain also own Olde Boston’s Restaurant & Pub, Mineral City Mill & Grill and Sports Page Grill & Bar.

Pancheros, however, is the first franchise eating establishment Bird and Cain have launched.

Cain said he and his partner evaluated a number of franchise possibilities before deciding that Pancheros was an ideal fit for them and for Fort Dodge.

“One of the big reasons we looked at it is that it is Iowa-based,” Bird said. “It is based out of Iowa City. They’ve got about 75 restaurants now and about 40 of them are in Iowa. Anybody that went to school at Iowa, Iowa State or UNI knows about them. … This is really, really popular with the college kids. Iowa Central’s growth was part of the reason that we looked at this.”

Pancheros is also on the move corporately. Bird said its dynamism made becoming part of that system especially attractive.

“They’ve got somewhere between 15 and 20 stores ready to do next year,” he said. “They’re doing quite a bit East Coast, some West Coast and some South.”

Cain characterized the atmosphere and cuisine as “casual Mexican.”

“It is a standard menu but is so varied in that you build your own burrito, build your own taco,” he said. “You can make it as big as you want or as small as you want. Everything is fresh. … Most everything is prepped by hand.”

Bird emphasized that a fresh tortilla is pressed for every burrito or taco. He said a special tool is used to mix all the ingredients together before they are wrapped.

Corridor of Commerce

The arrival of a Pancheros outlet in Fort Dodge might not have occurred had the city not decided to develop Fifth Avenue South into a Corridor of Commerce.

“Five years ago, this wouldn’t have worked here,” Bird said. “Five or six years ago, Fifth Avenue South didn’t show very well. Even this franchise, when Joe and I first started talking to them almost two years ago, they didn’t like Fort Dodge at all. They weren’t even interested. We brought them in about a year ago and they started looking around at the changes and they go ‘Wow, this is pretty neat,’ and they couldn’t wait to get here after they took a tour of the town.”

The benefits of the massive upgrades on Fifth Avenue South have also hugely benefited the duo’s Mineral City property, Bird said, noting that the traffic flow is much smoother and accidents and tie-ups less frequent.

“It was worth every bit of the inconvenience to get this nice traffic flow – the five lanes,” he said.

Both Bird and Cain said there are lessons to be learned from the success of the Corridor of Commerce as one contemplates the crosstown connector and other planned projects.

“The crosstown connector would be such an advantage to Fort Dodge,” Cain said “It would bring back downtown, class it up and clean it up.”

Bird strongly agreed.

“This type of development in the downtown would be huge for the community,” he said.

Bird and Cain said their decision to build a new 4,200-square-foot building and acquire a Pancheros franchise to occupy part of it reflects strong confidence in the economic future of Fort Dodge.

“With the things that are going on in Fort Dodge, things are just going to get better,” Cain said. “Now is a great time to invest in Fort Dodge. It’s a great time to move to Fort Dodge. It’s a great time to be part of what’s going on.”

Bird shares that optimism.

“Joe and I have been in business together in Fort Dodge for 25 years,” he said. “It has never been better for us.”

And after all that time, is operating this type of business still something they find enjoy?

“I love it,” Bird said. “If we didn’t like getting up and doing it every day, I don’t think we’d be doing it.”

Pancheros is open from 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. The restaurant seats 84 and has a staff of 40. The manager is Rhonda Nelson, who has had a long career in the restaurant industry locally.