For many south Minneapolis lifers, this writer included, Pepitos occupies a space that's more emotional than gastronomical. The 46-year-old Mexican restaurant is a warm constant, a gathering place where the emphasis is on friends, drinks, and endless tortilla chips.
And soon it might be history.
Pepitos is behind on its taxes, suddenly without a liquor license (no more margs!), and the health of founder/owner Joe Minjares is failing. A former actor and stand-up comic, Minjares has been battling pulmonary fibrosis for years; he's currently awaiting a lung transplant. He put his restaurant ($1.5 million), as well as the adjacent Parkway Theater ($695,000), up for sale this year.
Minjares’ daughter, Pamela Senkyr, runs Pepitos with her two brothers. The business has been struggling for years, she tells the Star Tribune, and her father's health woes have made things worse.
"Ever since my dad got sick, it feels like the restaurant is sick," Senkyr says. "It feels like the restaurant is dying with him."
That's reflected via increasingly harsh Yelp reviews, many of which cite worsening food and service.
Still, it's hard to imagine the landscape of E. 48th St. and Chicago Ave. without Pepitos. The bustling commercial hub boasts plenty of other restaurants -- Town Hall Tap, Turtle Bread, Bagu Sushi, Pumphouse Creamery -- but the faux-Aztec facade of Pepitos acts as a visual anchor.
No potential buyers have emerged for Pepitos, Senkyr informs the Strib. There are no immediate plans to close. For now, the family will trudge ahead with its flagship eatery, theater, and Pepitos Deli, located just across I-35W.