MIDDLEBURY — After 30 years running Senor Pancho’s, Andy Adames has seen Mexican food gain popularity and expects that trend to continue into the next three decades. He told Voices that he owes his success to an ability to respond to customer preferences and changes in the industry.
“What we do is not the traditional food you’d find in Mexico, but something that appeals to the people who come here. It is fresh with the healthier options that people want now. Dishes like rice bowls have become trendy thanks to chains and that moves into mainstream dining.”
He added, “Without going crazy on heavy sauces and spices, people want flavor and we can do that.”
The core recipes such as salsa, guacamole, fajitas and margaritas have remained consistent but the chefs are taking on the challenge to reinvent dishes and introduce items such as street tacos.
The classic Mexican liquor, tequila, is an example of how this culinary experience has changed since Mr. Adames began his business.
“When people tell me they don’t like tequila, I ask why. Usually, they had a bad experience and, honestly, the quality of tequila today is not even close to what it was 20 or even 30 years ago. Mexico is now sharing the premium brands that they’d kept for themselves and that’s become popular around the world.
“We carry a nice selection,” he said. “My staff and I do tastings and select the best because I don’t want to have 100 bottles just to say I can offer that many. We can satisfy every palate and still have unique choices at each location. We’re not a chain; we operate as a restaurant owned by a sole proprietor.”
Anyone who has an issue, or even a compliment, can easily reach Mr. Adames.
“I make most of the purchasing decisions but I give the staff enough independence and listen to their advice so I can benefit from what they know. But, at the end of the day, it’s up to me to make the tough decisions. I don’t have a managerial team or board so many ideas come from gut instinct. We never know where the next trend will come from — Mexico, the Caribbean or California.”
A new special will be a cauliflower rice bowl to support diners on the Keto diet. “I want them to know we use the ingredients that are in their diets and that we’ll go out of our way to make them happy. Every dish is made to order and we’ll alter the choices any way they need.”
Mr. Adames understands that his customers want to have the freedom to eat what they want and need.
“My family is vegetarian so I know what it’s like to go into a restaurant and try to find something on the menu. Here, a vegetarian can get a delicious quesadilla, burrito, salad, fajita, all kinds of dishes.”
That level of trust has built over time. “We’ve been blessed with a senior staff that has stayed with us for a long time and builds relationships. We get to know the community and they know that all of the Senor Pancho’s are good.”
There are four locations: Middlebury, Prospect, Southbury and Thomaston.
“Each one is a little bit different, with different music and atmosphere and food. The Middlebury location has kept some of the Ceviche Latin Kitchen recipes, like the Cuban sandwich.”
Mr. Adames thinks of the restaurant as family-friendly with an ability to take care of small or large groups looking to enjoy their time together.
“On any given night, you can see a group of women ordering margaritas, a group of guys relaxing after a round of golf, a family of four eating dinner and a couple on their first date or anniversary. A lot of different people come here and everyone responds well to what we have to offer.”
Senor Pancho’s can accommodate catering for a business luncheon of 20 or a student gathering of 220 at a local high school. On-site parties may also be booked.
There is a new loyalty program to offer rewards to those addicted to the salsa and flavorful dishes. Creativity abounds on Paint Nite.
All patios are now open, including the new addition at the Thomaston location.
The 30th anniversary marks a corporate milestone. “Each restaurant has its own opening date and we will celebrate each of those as they come up.”
Thinking about his experience, Mr. Adames noted, “Owning a restaurant is a lot of work but there is one thing that has helped me stay sane all these years. I enjoy the customers. The routine might be similar day in and day out but the people change.”
He looks forward to continuing the business and, one day, seeing the staff take the restaurants into the future. The Thomaston location was purchased by a manager with 20 years of experience. “When they’re ready for it, I’d like to see them carry on with the same level of quality.”
Senor Pancho’s is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
More information is available at www.senorpanchos.com.