GENOA CITY — For nearly 20 years, Pancho’s has been the small place that made a big impression on fans of Mexican food.
But the pint-sized restaurant whose state-line location drew crowds from both sides of the Illinois-Wisconsin border is shutting down, leaving customers hungry for more.
“It’s so sad — so sad,” customer Pat Clawson said.
The end officially came March 30 when owner Francisco Roman and his wife, Elena Roman, reluctantly decided it was time to close the restaurant and seek out new business opportunities.
Roman said the couple had been considering the move for about a year.
“It was hard to let it go,” he said. “We did good all those years.”
The restaurant opened in 2001 in a building at 206 Walworth St. that had been vacant for about four years, after a truckstop cafe closed its doors there.
Situated just north of the state line, the property was in a high-profile area where Wisconsin state Highway 12 empties into Illinois — and where motorists pass back and forth frequently between the neighboring states.
Still, Panchos was not an instant success. For the first year or so, Francisco and Elena found themselves waiting for customers to find them.
But soon enough, word got around about Genoa City’s new eatery, which treated customers to large and tasty servings of burritos and quesadillas delivered by a friendly staff in a cozy spot.
“It was a popular restaurant,” Genoa City Village President Bill Antti said.
With seating for about 30 customers, the place officially known as Panchos Burrito Veloz stayed busy six days a week. Customers came from as far away as McHenry and Hebron on the Illinois side, and Lake Geneva and Twin Lakes on the Wisconsin side.
Roman said he credits the success to the quality of the food coming out of his kitchen.
“The people always let us know, ‘It was a great meal, it was delicious, thank you, thank you,’” he recalled.
Lory Wells, who works nearby, said she grabbed lunch at Panchos about once or twice a week, and she occasionally picked up dinner to take home, too.
Wells said the small dining room was often packed with customers, but the food and customer service were always top-notch.
“They were so dependable,” she said.
It was the only Mexican restaurant in Genoa City, which also has Fitzgerald’s Genoa Junction, Wayne’s Pizza, Yolo’s Restaurant and a couple of bar and grills.
Antti said he was surprised to hear that Panchos was closing. Francisco and Elena Roman have been good corporate citizens, he said, but there was nothing the village could do to keep the restaurant going.
“Any time you have a successful business that leaves, it’s a loss,” he said.
Panchos announced on its Facebook site in mid-March that the owners were planning to call it quits.
“Everyone here is looking for a change in careers and in their lives,” the announcement said.
Roman, who lives in Illinois, said closing the place was a tough decision for the whole family. They were especially impressed at the public response after people knew Panchos was closing; the dining room was crowded with customers eager to grab one last plate of food.
A couple of potential buyers already are looking at the property, and Roman said it is possible that the restaurant will reopen under new ownership.
Walworth County tax collectors put the property’s value at $110,000, which does not include the business or its assets.
Mexican food enthusiasts, however, know that you cannot put a price tag on a good restaurant.
Clawson, who lives in nearby Bloomfield, said she was stunned to drive up to Panchos recently to find the door locked and the business shut down.
She and her husband had been regulars for years. They enjoyed the food and were impressed by the customer service. Waitresses not only remembered them, but also remembered the couple’s favorite menu choices.
After a hard day of work or household chores, Clawson said, Panchos was the couple’s go-to spot.
“That was our favorite place,” she said. “It would just make my day.”