Pancho Villa Mexican Restaurant — a business with heart at its core
I’ll never forget that humid May afternoon--I’d just finished my freshman year of college, and was in search of a cool summer job. I spoke Spanish, and knew I wanted to keep it up, but the idea of working in a Spanish-speaking environment in central Minnesota seemed a tad bit unrealistic. Sure enough, my dad and I sat down for lunch at Pancho Villa, a local Mexican restaurant in Monticello, Minnesota. We’d drove past it a couple of times, but I never gave it more than a passing glance. Its quaint, Latin American ambience seemed displaced in the primarily gentrified, suburban town surrounding it. It really stuck out, and I knew I’d encountered a gem. Pancho’s manager, Mercy, happily took our order. A short, youthful Ecuadorian woman with a radiant smile, I mustered up the courage to ask her in Spanish if they were hiring servers. Taken aback, she immediately responded. “Puedes empezar mañana a las cuatro?” Asking if I could start the following day at four o’clock. Without hesitation, I meekly responded, “Sí.” The search was over--I got the job.
The name “Pancho Villa” is a nickname derived from one of Mexico’s first Revolutionary generals, José Doroteo Arango Arámbula. Family-owned and operated, the local establishment seeks to honor his legacy through a traditional cuisine rooted in both Mexican and Ecuadorian culture. As a new employee, I was thrust into a fast-paced, fully bilingual environment in which I was being trained to provide excellent service to multiple tables in both languages. Needless to say, it was initially a very overwhelming experience, but the support and camaraderie of the staff not only made my job more enjoyable, but made me feel like I was making an impact on their business. As I progressed through college, my spark for foreign languages only strengthened, and I owe so much of that to Villa’s staff, correcting my mistakes, teaching me new words and trying to contain their laughter when I used the wrong phrase. I utilized most of my free moments working at Pancho Villa, mixing margaritas, pushing through late-night rushes, hilarious banter with Rodrigo, hearing touching stories of Mercy’s past life in Ecuador, and creating bonds that I will cherish forever
Pancho Villa is owned by Kristina and Ivan Cárdenas, a hardworking Minnesotan couple who’ve established two locations in the Twin Cities metro area. Functioning primarily as a family, each time they bring in a new employee, they never fail to make them feel a part of their world, as they’ve done so beautifully with me. While the demographic of the area is fairly white and monolingual, I commend Pancho Villa’s integrity for maintaining a truly authentic environment that doesn’t sacrifice cultural and gastronomical elements of the restaurant’s mission. It’s truly what, in my eyes, has bolstered their presence in the Twin Cities’ food scene and made them a household name--a go-to stop for a couple of carne asada tacos or warm bowl of caldo de res. In fact, they’ve won multiple awards, including “Best Margarita” in City Pages magazine and Best Mexican Restaurant of 2010 in Mpls St. Paul magazine, among various others.
In these unprecedented times, we look to our essential employees on the front lines of this crisis, persistently keeping their business afloat amidst grim economic outlooks. Pancho Villa is no exception, and is a truly remarkable restaurant to support during this uncertain period. I
am so fortunate to have left an imprint on their business, as it doesn’t compare to the profound impact they’ve left on my heart. A family of honest, diligent individuals who wear their heart on their sleeve, Pancho Villa goes beyond cuisine--it’s a successful restaurant that is propelled by the love of its owners, employees, and most importantly, loyal customers like you.