A 90-year-old restaurant owner is bringing the Pancheros chain to the Twin Cities


With a little prodding, you can get Bob Thomson to reminisce about the old days – watching Bernie Bierman coach those great Gopher football teams of the 1940s ... backing Harold Stassen's political campaigns by leading the "Students for Stassen" group at the U of M (class of 1950).

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But mostly Thomson is focused on the future.

And for him these days that means Pancheros Mexican Grill.

This week Thomson opened his third Pancheros franchise in the Twin Cities. They'll be selling burritos for a dollar during the Fridley store's grand opening celebration Tuesday afternoon. (Last year Thomson bought franchises in Bloomington and Golden Valley.)

Looking for sexy neighbors

But the Fridley store has already been open for two days now. Thomson's looking ahead. His plan is to have 17 Pancheros scattered around the metro area.

As he scouts for locations, Thomson tells BringMeTheNews he pays attention to the other retailers in a neighborhood. "We like sexy neighbors, " he says. "Target, Cub Foods – people that bring in crowds."

The Fridley location's sexiness was enhanced by the presence of a Duluth Trading Company store and a Caribou Coffee, he says.

Can he pull off 17 store openings?

We'll see, but don't put it past him.

Thomson and a business partner already have 27 Subway sandwich shops in Iowa. He says owning a franchise is a business model he likes: "You have the advantage of lots of knowledge from the franchise, but you get to do your own thing."

Thomson lives in Iowa – the state where Pancheros is based – and says he's noticed that every sizable town there seems to have at least one of the chain's restaurants.

He embarked on his Minnesota Pancheros venture without his partner, but of course Thomson's done plenty of research as he looks to the future. He says he's impressed with the chain, much as he was with Subway in the 1990s.

"Their stores are increasing at 20 percent per year," Thomson says of Pancheros "and people seem to like their food."


Why is Bob still working?

After all, at age 90 nobody would blame him if he spent his time on a beach, a fishing boat, a golf cart, or on the couch.

"I enjoy it. I really enjoy the work, " Thomson says, adding that he plans to keep working as long as it's fun.

And to help keep it fun into the future, he eats healthy foods and exercises daily by riding a recumbent bike 10 miles. It usually takes him 46 to 48 minutes.

But he has done it in 42.

And he recently discovered how inspiring it is to ride while listening to the singing of tenor José Carreras. Now he wonders if that 42 minute time can be bested. It's something to think about as he looks to the future.

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