Taco John’s reaches a milestone: 25 years in Hudson
By: Margaret Ontl, Hudson Star-Observer
Twenty-five years ago, Kevin and Rita Vance, owned and managed a Taco John’s in Menominee. At the time the Taco John’s stores arrived on a trailer, a 12-foot by 30-foot box essentially that was set on a foundation. Vance, a Princeton, Minn., native, ran a non-profit research organization from 1978 to 1982.
“I knew I wanted to get into business,” said Vance. “One of the board members suggested I try working at his Taco John’s in Alexandria. What did I know about restaurants?” It turned out Vance was a natural. After running that store for three months he left, purchased a Taco John’s in Menominee and moved there in September of 1982. In 1986 Vance added a drive through and a seating area to his Menominee Taco John’s and the sales increased dramatically.
In 1986 they also met a Hudson fellow who needed help with his new Taco John’s.
“Burt Nordstrand came over and introduced himself to us and said he was opening a Taco John’s in Hudson,” said Kevin Vance. “We offered to train his supervisors for him and at the time we didn’t know who he was.” That was in June of 1986. Kevin and his wife Rita came over to help opening day.
“It was new prototype for Taco John’s at the time,” said Vance. “It took some adapting to adjust to the volume and the biggest challenge was getting extra deliveries because we kept running out of food.”
“It was the largest store opening in Taco John’s history at that time,” said Vance. “He needed some extra help so we worked all summer and by September we became partners.
“It is a business in which attention to detail and organization are critical to consistently do a good job every day,” said Vance. “It can be monotonous.”
Rita graduated from UW-Stout in hotel and restaurant management. She took on the accounting side of the business and continues to this day.
Today, the couple owns additional Taco John’s in Rice Lake, Oakdale, North St. Paul, Cambridge and Menominee. Vance’s operations manager, Dave Ulve, was once the number three person in the entire Taco John’s organization.
“It’s been a good living for a family,” said Vance. “It is not without its challenges. Probably the biggest challenge in the fast food business is to get good employees.”
“The food has evolved but tacos and burritos are still the mainstay of the menu,” said Vance. The popular Taco Tuesdays remain the same since it was started in the mid 70s.
“We have not made the tacos or soft shells smaller in the 29 years I have been in the business,” said Vance.
“What is interesting about the Hudson store is when they changed the exit (off of I-94) our sales dropped 25 percent immediately,” said Vance. “It took many years to overcome that but now we have become a local restaurant not reliant on the freeway traffic. It was truly like a funnel got shut off. By having the other stores we were able to keep going.”
“We invest and contribute to all of the organizations in town today,” said Vance. “It doesn’t happen very often that a business can turn around after that kind of downturn. We did it by focusing on having local ownership and contributing to the community.”
The franchise originated in Cheyenne, Wyo., with the idea of introducing a western version of Mexican food.
“The recipes haven’t changed much since the beginning,” said Vance. “Our loyal customers love our food.”
“We make everything when you order it,” said Vance. “There are not many restaurants who can say that.”
The Hudson store seats 44 and between 55 and 65 percent of the business is from the drive-through.
The anniversary celebration will be on July 11.