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Corridor of Commerce is booming

Taco John’s opens near new Kohl’s

October 16, 2011
By TERRENCE DWYER, Messenger staff writer , Messenger News

The hoped-for boost to the local economy from the Corridor of Commerce initiative is moving into high gear. In September, the new Kohl's store opened its doors. On the heels of that major addition to the Fort Dodge retail world, Jay and Christine Sitzmann have launched a Taco John's restaurant at 2949 Fifth Ave. S., just north of Kohl's. The Fort Dodge Taco John's began serving customers Oct. 7.

There are more than 400 Taco John's restaurants nationally according to information provided by the company. Nearly 98 percent are operated by local entrepreneurs on a franchise basis. The Sitzmanns also own Taco John's outlets in Storm Lake and Spencer. Jay Sitzmann said the decision to expand into the Fort Dodge market was strongly influenced by the enhancements under way on Fifth Avenue South and elsewhere in the city.

"The new corridor," he said, reflecting on why he views Fort Dodge as an attractive business venue. "Everything that's happening - Kohl's, the aquatic center, everything that's going on down in this area."

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Jay Sitzmann, owner of the recently opened Taco John’s at 2949 Fifth Ave. S., shows off a platter of Super Potato Oles. He and wife?Christine, who also own Taco John’s restaurants in Storm Lake and Spencer, opened the Fort Dodge location on Oct. 7.

The cuisine at Taco John's features Mexican specialties that include burritos, tacos, quesadillas and much, much more.

"When people think of Taco John's, we want them to think of freshly prepared, high-quality, more authenticate Mexican food served in generous portions," said Barry Sims, president and chief executive officer of Taco John's International Inc., in a statement announcing the opening of the Sitzmanns' Fort Dodge store.

The Fort Dodge Taco John's has a seating capacity of 58 in the dining room. There are tables outdoors for use when the weather permits. Jay Sitzmann said that when fully staffed, there will be about 30 employees, a mix of full- and part-time staff members.

The Taco John's in Fort Dodge has two drive-through windows. Sitzmann said, based on his experience in Storm Lake and Spencer and the company's analysis nationally, the business here will be 60 percent drive-through and 40 percent dine-in.

"It's about 60 percent and going up," he said. "People are busy and on the run."

The grand opening for the Fort Dodge Taco John's will be Oct. 20-23. Various specials and giveaways will be featured.

Meet the Sitzmanns

While they have only been in the restaurant business since 1997, Jay Sitzmann said he and his wife are longtime fans of Taco John's.

"We grew up in Le Mars," he said. "We went to Le Mars-Gehlen there. We were high school sweethearts. ... We grew up hanging out at a Taco John's in Le Mars. That was our hangout."

Sitzmann said the couple developed the passion to be business owners early on.

"We always wanted to own our own business," he said. "Even when we first got married at 25, we were interested in looking at doing something. We looked at several different concepts. ... We had worked in high school. My wife Chris worked at a Dairy Queen. I worked at a Godfather's. We had food service knowledge."

Sitzmann said given that background, becoming proprietors of their first Taco John's in Storm Lake in 1997 made sense. He stressed that they are very much hands-on owners.

"We actually work in the Storm Lake store every day," he said. "I venture to Spencer and then I'll add this to the route a couple times a week."

Sitzmann said part of the attraction for him of running a Taco John's is the chance to interact with both the customers and employees.

"I'm kind of a people person, so I think my favorite part is just visiting with the people who come in and getting to know everybody," he said. "You get those regular people. In Storm Lake, we have people who have grown old with us. It's just nice getting to know people, and employees, too. We get a lot of young people. I enjoy working with them."

Sitzmann is bullish about the future of the Fort Dodge Taco John's and his other properties, but said food prices are making it increasingly difficult to keep prices low.

"I think the biggest challenge right now that we face is our food costs are so high anymore," he said. "When we first started, food was reasonable."

The general prosperity of the farm economy, however, has helped his businesses thrive, Sitzmann said.

"We've had less of an impact (of the economic slowdown) here in northwest Iowa because they are farm communities and we've been on a pretty good run there," he said.

Local managers

While Jay Sitzmann will be in Fort Dodge periodically, he said he is especially pleased to announce that his local managers will be Greg and Kristina Swanson, who though only 30 years old have a long history with the company.

"They opened the Storm Lake store," Sitzmann said, noting that they were teenagers when they first began working for him and his wife. "They fell in love and got married. Greg went to culinary arts school. They were working in Omaha. He was a chef at a Holiday Inn. We were going to open Spencer. They moved to Spencer and opened that store with us. We asked them to move here."

He said the couple now lives in Fort Dodge and have 10-month-old daughter named Emma.

Contact Terry Dwyer at (515) 573-2141 or



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