Archive for Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Restaurant changes name, keeps quality

July 19, 2006

After years of success with a loyal following, one Shawnee restaurant has broken off from its franchise and is testing the waters out on its own.

Jim Sauntry recently changed the name of his Taco Via restaurant to Taco Uno.

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For more than 30 years, Shawnee residents have been frequenting the restaurant, enjoying the friendly service and good food.

"The portions are good, and the prices are reasonable," said Sauntry, adding that the restaurant's food quality was much higher than a certain other fast food restaurant that is stingy with its cheese. "On our tacos, you can't even count the strands of cheese -- there are too many."

But with the name change, not much else changes, Sauntry said. The menu is much the same, with its tacos, burritos, nachos and other Mexican fare, including the taco burger and the taco dog. And Glee Freeman, the restaurant's manager of 11 years, is still behind the counter to greet the regular customers.

If anything, the food has gotten even better, because the change has allowed Sauntry to shop around for vendors with better quality lettuce, taco shells and cheese.

Sauntry didn't set out to get into the restaurant business. After graduating from college, he worked for a national insurance company, often getting transferred. After he was transferred to the Kansas City area, a fellow insurance agent asked if he'd like to open a franchise restaurant as a side venture. Sauntry said he resisted at first.

"I said 'I don't like Mexican food,' never having tried (Taco Via)," he said.

But Sauntry went to the nearest Taco Via and found that he liked the food, so he agreed to help his friend open a franchise of the chain. The first location opened in 1974 in the building at 5903 Nieman Rd., now Big Bam's Burgers.

Sauntry was almost immediately transferred to Connecticut, so for years, his partner ran the restaurant. The partner called three years later, saying he wanted to get out of the restaurant business -- so Sauntry picked up and moved back to Kansas, knowing almost nothing about running a restaurant or preparing Mexican food.

Sauntry said he learned the hard way, but after 31 years, he thinks he found the right way to run the business.

"It's gotta be something for a restaurant to be in business almost 32 years," he said.

The restaurant moved to a location in the Ten Quivira Plaza shopping center for 13 years before moving to the current location, at 13220 W. 62nd Terr. east of Hobby Lobby, 12 years ago. During that time, Sauntry expanded, once owning three other metro locations. But he since has sold all but the Shawnee location.

"This is the original one, and we thought we had a nice base here and wanted to stay with the people we started with," Sauntry said.

Sauntry said he made the decision to get out of the franchise last year when it came under new ownership.

"We had some differences of opinion, so we left, as well as three other locations," Sauntry said.

But with better ingredients and the same, friendly services, Sauntry hopes customers won't be thrown by the name change.

"We've got a pretty loyal following," Sauntry said. "People have been eating with us forever."

Taco Uno opens at 11 a.m. every day of the week and closes at 9 p.m. every day except Sunday, when it closes at 5 p.m.

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