By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition March 2017.
Juan Francisco “Pancho” Ochoa, Sr. is without a doubt a businessman with exceptional qualities. As a man, he is one who gives back to his community without discrimination. Don Pancho has spent more than forty years building an impressive legacy.
In 1975, he founded the first El Pollo Loco® restaurant in Guasave, Mexico; it featured a menu based on traditional and family recipes. Within four years, Don Pancho had expanded the business into a thriving chain of 85 restaurants throughout Mexico. The first El Pollo Loco® location in the United States opened its doors in Los Angeles, California in 1980. This dynamic entrepreneur then chose Laredo, Texas as the place for his next venture – Taco Palenque®; its first restaurant opened in 1987.
The Taco Palenque® chain has since expanded throughout South Texas. In 2005, Don Pancho made his first foray into full-service restaurants with Palenque Grill, a brand that today includes locations in Laredo, McAllen, and San Antonio, Texas.
Don Pancho’s restaurants contributed to the job creation of thousands of workers in Mexico and the United States. In 2011, Laredo Chamber of Commerce honored him as Business Person of the Year. He has demonstrated the value of his hard work, perseverance, and resourcefulness in the pursuit of his goals.
The Senate of the State of Texas during the 85th Legislature honored Don Pancho for his successful career and contributions in the restaurant industry and extended to him, sincere best wishes for the future, recognizing a life full of success. He was presented with Senate Resolution 126 that was adopted by the Senate on February 15, 2017.
Don Pancho was born on January 31, 1944 in the town of Bacayopa, a municipality of Choix, in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico. Bacayopa is a small town with a population of about two hundred and fifty located at the foot of the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range that borders the State of Chihuahua.
“There, my father had a store where cowboys arrived with cargo beasts, on which they brought everything that was produced in the mountains like: cheeses, leathers, deer and lion (puma); apples, oranges, corn, and gold, among other things. From there they returned to the mountains carrying salt, sugar, medicine, clothing and shoes,” Don Pancho explained.
“As a child, I rode on the Sierra Madre Occidental, visiting Los Táscates, Zarupa, Morelos, and many places in the mountains.” He said, “From Bacayopa to the mountains one could travel only on the back of a beast.”
He pointed out that many times when he woke up, he usually found outside the house hanging from a tree, one or two deer that his father had hunted during the early morning hours. During his early years, Don Pancho lived in Bacayopa and in the town of El Fuerte. His father had opened a cinema called Cine Tepeyac. At a young age, he met singers and composers of great fame in Mexico until this day; they were artists like Jose Alfredo Jiménez, Charro Avitia, Ángel Infante, José Mojica, and many others.
Don Pancho comes from a family of thirteen children born in three different towns in the state of Sinaloa. His parents Enrique S. Ochoa and Conchita Zazueta de Ochoa, are from a from the State of Chihuahua, from a town called Morelos. His mother’s family migrated to the state of Sinaloa and his father, very much in love, followed her and they got married in the town of Yecorato in 1934. His parents then went to live in the small town called Bacayopa. They had their first son, Jesus Enrique, however he died at three months of age. He said that after the bitter experience of losing their child, God rewarded them (as they always said) with twelve more children. “It was Conchita, Armida, Nelly, Juan Francisco, that is me, and Laura; the five of us were born in Bacayopa. Then Jesus Enrique (the same name as the brother who passed away), Jaime, José, Lupita, Jorge, and Alba Inés; these six were born in El Fuerte (colonial city in Sinaloa). Finally Celina was born in Guasave, also in the state of Sinaloa,” he said.Don Pancho told Texas Border Business that it has been more than 40 years of struggle, hard work and dedication. During this time, he has had successes, defeats, difficult times and then accomplishments. In the bright future that he sees, the new generation will take over at some point. He said, “My children and nephews, will have to take the helm of the business.” He asserts, “For sure it is a different situation from the one than my brothers and I lived.” He is confident that success will continue, “There are hundreds of families that depend on the chain of restaurants,” he said. He pointed out that the Ochoa family feels that responsibility of accomplishing goals that have been set, so in any case, the company will continue to grow. Don Pancho is a man who has never surrendered to adversity and has proven that there is always room to be better.Don Pancho’s concept of success is believing, first on an idea. “If we believe in it, if we trust and work hard, surely we can attain success and reward.” He said, “Part of my legacy is to convey a message; it is for all of us to realize that we have an infinite potential which can be channeled for good things or the opposite.” He continued, “We can also remain passive, just dreaming for a miracle to come and give us what we need. The true dream is in the heart, in the mind, and deep within our being; we have to discover it, understand it, love it, take it out and start it with all the energy that we have. The reward will come; there is no doubt. We need, above all, to believe in ourselves, if we want others to believe in us.”Don Pancho’s story demonstrates an inexhaustible strength based on simple core values; the main ingredient for a recipe for happiness: family, friendship, love, integrity, consistency, commitment, and above – all faith. Whoever meets Don Pancho Ochoa will be impressed with his simplicity, generosity, and his spirit of solidarity towards all people. TBB