“Our philosophy is to provide maximum quality and the best service you can get,” Pancho Ochoa, Sr.
Texas Border Business –
By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez,
The expertise Francisco ‘Pancho’ Ochoa, Sr. uses in running multiple restaurants comes out of the more than 40 years of experience. Coming from a humble beginning, he started his business from scratch. There is no parallel in South Texas of a family such as this. “It’s been the most rewarding experience for me and my family,” he says.
The Ochoa family runs three successful food concepts with multiple locations on both sides of the border. Pancho is the patriarch of the family, a family that understands and nurtures unity and hierarchy among themselves and in their company. He is a native of Guasave, a very small town, even today, in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico.
Pancho is not only a creator of new flavors and concepts, but also an astute businessman with a very good heart. He started over four decades ago with a tiny restaurant he named El Pollo Loco, which sold only grilled chicken and red salsa.
Little did he know when he first started out, that this small investment was going to grow internationally and become an unbelievable success. He has helped two successful new food concepts to flourish and slowly but surely they are becoming powerful franchises in the restaurant industry.
Pancho comes from a large family of twelve and he is one of two brothers that had no chance to attend college. Before he started his first restaurant he had just opened a shoe store, using inventory that was left as payment to his brother Jaime. That idea never flourished and in the middle of managing the shoe store, on several occasions Pancho tried to buy dinner at a grilled chicken place that often ran out of chickens to sell.
He made comments and suggestions to the owner, “Every time I come here to buy grilled chicken they are sold out, why don’t you grill more?” The owner of this chicken place was only interested in grilling 100 chickens a day and he was not willing to do more than that.
That was Pancho’s cue, because based on that response he thought, “I will grill the additional chickens and sell them myself.” He went home and told Flerida, his wife about his new plan. He proceeded to tell her that he was going to get rid of the shoe inventory and use the same small locale to start the new venture. The rest is history as he had great success.
Now his sons and daughters are grown up, and they have become the extension of his work and vision; they are very much a part of running the chain. It is important to say that Pancho has also created more than a thousand job opportunities; this is good news for every community they serve.
After having an unprecedented success with El Pollo Loco in Mexico and the city of Los Angeles, California, Pancho struck a deal with the Denny’s Corporation and sold his interests and rights to El Pollo Loco only for the United States. He also stated that he and the Denny’s Corp. made a business association to develop the restaurant concept in other parts of the world like the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Afterward when he was no longer in any association with an American company, he proceeded to do what became even greater with his family, in 1987; he opened Taco Palenque in Laredo, Texas.
Our conversation with Pancho was to discuss his 3 different restaurant concepts and how he has managed to be successful in all of them. For those who are in the food business or that manage multiple concepts can understand that managing one concept is difficult, two adds difficulty, and that is why we are here.
The secret is to always please the customer, that alone looks and sounds like a simple task if a business were to run smoothly and never hit a bump of any kind. But that does not happen in business, there is always something brewing that can fluster the management of a business.
The food quality is another ingredient that keeps them successful in their multiple concepts. For them, it was first necessary to put in order the multiple recipes they have for food, salsas, and preparation of meat, chicken, fish, and much more. They had their spices and formulas bottled and thus created the consistency in the flavors.
The Ochoa’s have been able to learn the importance of consistency. They attend to the most minor challenges that could bring a different taste other than the consistency that they have approved.
To give you an example, often there is a problem with certain products of daily use in a restaurant; in this case it was tomatoes. Not too long ago. The tomatoes that usually cost $12 went up in price to $70 and $80 a box. Many other restaurants simply apologized and told their customers that there were no tomatoes, so the customer lost.
In this case, the Ochoa’s decided to bite the bullet and pay the exorbitant price of tomatoes in order to keep the consistency of their flavors. This kept the customers happy by letting them pay the usual price for their favorite dish; no additional changes were made.
Did you lose money? “No, because we saved and kept customers happy; the quality and consistency of our dishes were also kept,” he said.
In this case the price of tomatoes was the issue, but it also has happened with avocados, lemons, and so on; according to them the same rule applies.
Taco Palenque was a challenge when he first opened. He said, “I was used to one product and that was grilled chicken, consequently when I had to prepare multiple different dishes I did not know what to put in them to make them successful.”
In addition he said that he spent most of his time in the restaurant to make sure everything ran smoothly. “Another big challenge of a restaurant is to be able to create a team. “A team, good enough that if you are not there everything will continue to run as if you were there,” he stated.
He pointed out that he couldn’t be everywhere at the same time and much less to be able to grow. He emphasized that a good team of people is absolutely necessary as part of the ingredients to manage a successful restaurant.
“Our philosophy is to provide the maximum quality and the best service you can get,” stated Pancho Ochoa, Sr.
Currently the Ochoa family operates 18 Taco Palenque restaurants in the U.S., and they will open 4 more in the next fourteen months.
In July 2005, Pancho opened Palenque Grill a third concept in Laredo Texas, and it was such a success that they had to expand in a matter of three weeks, they needed more space for their customers. They admit that this restaurant gave them the experience to be able to run a full service restaurant. Currently they operate three and soon will have the fourth one under construction on Nolana Avenue in McAllen, Texas.
His son, Francisco, Jr. said, “We are eager and focused on expanding Palenque Grill and Taco Palenque mainly.”
And on the Mexican side, Pancho said that currently they have 52 El Pollo Loco restaurants in Mexico and have plans to grow 8 a year as of this year.
Francisco, Jr. said that currently they have formed a solid family organization. “There are two boards, one that manages the company and the other is the family board and its advisors.
Pancho is the chairman of the board and his son Francisco Jr. (45) is now in charge of the company as the general director. “He has been forming a team that will help us accomplish our plans of expansion,” he said.
Pancho is extremely proud of his sons and daughters; he points out that he has been rewarded with an exemplary wife, Flérida. He said, “She has been absolutely involved with the care and education of my daughters and sons, six all together. She has also been instrumental with valuable recipes that we use in the restaurants as well.”
Francisco Jr. is the general director of the company. Carlos, 44, directly manages Palenque Grill in Laredo and is in charge of marketing. Omar manages some of the Pollo Loco restaurants in Monterrey, Mexico. Lizeth, his daughter, is a wife and homemaker. Flery manages Palenque Grill in San Antonio. The youngest son is José; he is about to complete his professional career training as Chef from Le Cordon Bleu College in Austin Texas.
As we learned, it is easy to manage three food concepts and easily expand to multiple locations as long as you have over 40 years experience in the industry and understand quality, consistency, food flavors and to be able to create a strong team to help you grow and prosper.
Pancho Ochoa and the Ochoa family invite you to visit the Taco Palenque and Palenque Grill restaurants whenever you are in Brownsville, Laredo, McAllen, Mission, and Houston, Texas, and the El Pollo Loco restaurants located throughout Mexico.
Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year award winner and a 2009, 2012 Paul Harris Fellow award recipient. TBB