Pancheros celebrates 30 years of business

After 30 successful years in the burrito business, owner Rodney Anderson reflects on how his business has evolved throughout the past three decades.


Matt Sindt

Employees work at the downtown Iowa City Pancheros Tuesday, October 17, 2022.

Grace Katzer, News Reporter

Rodney Anderson had an idea for a local college-town restaurant in 1992: Chicago-style burritos. With this idea in mind, he opened Pancheros Mexican Grill on Washington and Clinton streets in Iowa City —which has since launched 72 locations in 12 states.

The Tex-Mex restaurant is still pressing fresh tortillas after it opened 30 years ago.

Anderson talked with The Daily Iowan about how the popular business has grown over the last three decades.

“We were pretty successful at what we did from the very beginning, especially with that great location,” he said. “But we learned a lot about the fresh mix type of burrito business and have really improved upon it.”

Anderson said the Iowa City location was the perfect place to open his new business.

“I had lots of friends and family members go to school at the University of Iowa, and I was familiar with the campus, which was why it was one of the places we really wanted to bring this idea to,” he said.

In January 1998, Anderson said the business introduced fresh-pressed tortillas.

“We kind of innovated and really refined what we were doing over those years to broaden the appeal from what was just a college town concept to a nationwide concept,” he said. “We wanted to find new ways to really elevate the experience.”

Anderson currently resides in Coralville and said the business’s success was largely  due to the original location in Iowa City.

“The original Pancheros has driven the success and has spread the word to Des Moines, Minneapolis, Chicago — all over the Midwest and more,” he said. “The students and university have really supported us from the very beginning.”

Pancheros celebrates its birthday every year on Aug. 14. The business created a tradition years ago to serve locals $1 burritos and free merchandise on its founding day.

“We’ve done this celebration every year for at least 15 years,” Anderson said. “Even during the pandemic, although we had to do it a little differently, we have always tried to do fun things for our supporting customers.”

Anderson said Pancheros is expected to reach 100 million sales by the end of October, which is a huge milestone for the company.

Sam Gentil, a UI first-year student, said he visits Pancheros whenever he needs something quick but delicious to eat.

“After my classes are over, going to Pancheros always seems like a good idea,” he said. “It’s the perfect venue for when I want to get some work done.”

Gentil said his friends in Iowa City introduced him to Pancheros, and after a few visits, he became a regular.

“It’s just a nice place to go,” he said. “I hadn’t had it in about a week or so, so I knew it was time to come back.”

For Anna Albaugh, a UI third-year student, Pancheros turned into a relaxing place to enjoy her favorite comfort food since she returned to campus.

“I choose to eat at Pancheros because of the atmosphere in here,” she said. “It feels like there’s always something new, something exciting that is happening here, and I always love that.”

Albaugh said it’s no question that Pancheros is the go-to burrito spot in Iowa City.

“I come here pretty regularly whenever I’m craving a good burrito, and that’s why I’m here today,” she said.

Editor’s Note: In a previously published version article, Rodney Anderson was identified as a University of Iowa alum. He went to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for his BS and the University of Chicago for his MBA in finance. Additionally, the article also said Pancheros was expected to hit one billion in sales.  Pancheros is expected to hit 100 million in sales. The DI regrets these errors.