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Spice of life

Paul Johnson is the owner of The Taco Shop

Q & A

Paul Johnson didn't eat tacos until he attended North Dakota State University in the 1970s.

Now, the owner of The Taco Shop has four business locations in Fargo.

The Taco Shop was opened in 1961 by DuWayne Engness, who introduced tacos to Fargo patrons after living in California.

Engness used to make taco shells in his garage just down the street, Johnson said.

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The first Taco Shop was at 308 13th St. N.

"He built this by himself about two years later," said Johnson, referring to the current 420 N. University Drive restaurant location.

A second restaurant was opened in 1991 at 1825 S. University Drive. Since 2000, The Taco Shop has operated an eatery at Newman Outdoor Field, home of The RedHawks baseball team.

Another one was opened in June at 4474 23rd Ave. S. in Fargo, said Johnson, 53, who has a business administration degree from NDSU and an accounting degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Q: Was The Taco Shop the first Mexican restaurant in town?

A: It was the first one in the tri-state area - Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Q: How long have you owned The Taco Shop?

A: We're on our 22nd year. He (Engness) had it for 25. A friend of mine, Joe Crary, bought it and I ran it.

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Q: When did you become owner?

A: About 10 years ago, somewhere in there.

Q: What changes have you seen?

A: Not a lot, other than so many restaurants in town. We still have our same clients. We do everything exactly how we used to. As far as competition goes, I guess there's a lot of burrito bars coming to town. It seems like everyone is doing the burrito bar thing.

Q: Has the competition hurt or helped your business?

A: We haven't noticed a lot. We've kind of stayed even. Our south store is actually growing. And obviously the new store, we expect to grow a lot. That's just a booming area. We expect to grow with it.

For the most part, we don't really notice when the new restaurants come to town. Maybe because we are different, or we've got our niche carved out.

Q: What's the most popular item on your menu?

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A: I'd have to go back to the staple item - the taco.

We've introduced a lot of things, and still the taco is the thing we sell the most of.

Q: Is everything made fresh?

A: Yeah. That's the one thing we try to stress. We cut our own cheese. We cut our own lettuce every day. Obviously, the sauces, the meats and the chicken - that's all made every day.

Q: How many people do you employ?

A: About 44. A lot of them are part time, obviously.

Q: Was buying the restaurant a good decision?

A: Yeah, I think so. We started with one, and now we have three. You're always looking to expand again.When you own your own business, it just becomes a part of you.

Q: What led to you decision to open at Newman Outdoor Field?

A: I love the venue and baseball. I grew up in the Roger Maris-Mickey Mantle era. I thought it would be so much fun to be there. Somebody left and I put in a proposal of what I would do there. They took me in. It started a little slow, but the last few years it's done really well. It's been great for our stores. The exposure really did help.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502

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