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Talk of the bay

More Mexican fare is headed our way

Published January 9, 2006

While working on his MBA at the University of Chicago, Rodney Anderson combed the Windy City's Hispanic neighborhoods every Wednesday in search of funky taquerias.

Classmates were shocked when in 1992 he and his father, a former chief executive of Kemper Financial, opened their first Panchero's Mexican Grill.

"I loved Mexican food, but another attraction was my classmates didn't see the opportunity," said Anderson, who at 24 was among the first U.S. restaurateurs to seize on the fast-casual Mexican food craze now dominated by Baja Fresh and McDonald's Chipolte Grill.

The first Panchero's opened near college campuses in East Lansing, Mich., and Iowa City. Today it has spread to 37 stores, plus two about to open in Citrus Park and New Tampa. He expects to have a half-dozen stores in the Tampa Bay area in two years.

College kids like cheap, fast food in spartan surroundings. But Panchero's cleaned up for the suburbs with 70-seat stores and soft flour tortillas made while you watch from dough made on site.

The average check is $7 for a menu of simple variations on five basic items: burritos, tacos, fajitas, quesadillas and salads.

[Last modified January 7, 2006, 16:44:02]

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