Founder of Pancheros talks business

Editor's note: This is just one story in a recurring series that features interviews with top-level execs in the fast casual industry. If you would like us to feature a specific exec, please make your request in an email to Cherryh Butler at

Although Chipotle is the top seller when it comes fresh Mexican cuisine in the fast casual catergory, Iowa-based Pancheros Mexican Grill is growing strong. Rodney L. Anderson founded the 50-unit chain in 1992 and has plans for a minimum of 10 more by the end of 2013.

The chain's signature fresh-pressed tortillas is one way it stands out from competition, Anderson said. Another is the use of a unique plastic spatula, known as "Bob The Tool," that he said ensures that all ingredients get "properly mixed for an enjoyable taste in each bite." The menu also includes quesadillas, tacos, burrito bowls and salads. Anderson took a few minutes to discuss with his plans for growth, provide advice on succeeding in the business and outline how he uses technology and social media to grow the business.

Q: What is your growth plan?
Anderson: We have several development agreements that are in the works in California, Nevada, Oregon, Minnesota and Connecticut. In particular, we are excited about our California development as this will be our first big move to develop on the West Coast. In the end, our growth will depend on how quickly we find real estate. We hope to grow to 75 units or so next year and 100 the year after that, but available quality real estate is the key determination factor for this occurring.

Q: What is your advice to other restaurant owners who may not be experiencing as much success as Pancheros?
: It is all about what happens within your four walls and the customer experience. Don't worry about anything else until that is taken care of. At Pancheros our top priority is serving our customers to the best of our abilities. Without our loyal fan base, we would not be where we are today.

Q: What do you think the biggest trend to shape the Fast Casual industry will be in 2013?
: I think operators are realizing that you have to achieve all that fast food does, but with better food and decor. The importance of speed and customer throughput is vital. Those fast casual concepts that cannot move the food out quickly will have to adapt. Also, new entrants into the market will definitely need to take speed into account. Overall, Fast Casual is more "fast" than "casual".

Q. What is your stance on social media and mobile technology? How do you use them?
: Digital media is an ever-growing part of our communication with customers. We think it is a great way to help promote the brand online to engaged fans but also an avenue for us to listen to constructive feedback from our most loyal customers. Our largest platform that we utilize is Facebook, where we communicate events, store openings, photos and other Pancheros quirkiness to the community. We know it is a customer's choice to participate with us through a social medium, so we try to keep it engaging and interesting.

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