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  • Anderson, Cathie - Sacramento

  • Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Jimboy’s Tacos remodels restaurants with a Mayan look

Published: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 - 8:24 am

The Knudson family has poured roughly $1 million into retooling their 60-year-old Jimboy’s Taco chain in an attempt to revive comparable sales that had pretty much flatlined.

For customers, the most visible sign of the changes occurring at Jimboy’s are remodeled stores that borrow elements from Mayan pyramids, symbols and sculptures.

“My boys went down to Mexico, and they brought back photograph after photograph of, you know, the temples down there … and so we used those in order to create the look,” said Karen Knudson Freeman, now chief executive of the company founded by her parents, Jim and Margaret Knudson. Her sons Erik and Patrick work in the family business.

Two corporate stores – one at 1821 Douglas Blvd. in Roseville and the other at 7401 Fair Oaks Blvd. in Carmichael – are having “grand reopenings” from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today to show off the new design.

“We’ll give away two tacos to anybody that comes in, two ground beef tacos, and of course, we do partner up with the MDA ( Muscular Dystrophy Association),” Freeman said. “We’d like to see people, if they’re saving a little on their food that day, we’d love to see them donate something.”

Jimboy’s Tacos debuted the new look with its Folsom store back in February of 2012, and closely tracked comparable sales for a year. They shot up by nearly 50 percent. Now, Freeman and her team are sharing stories about the success with franchisees and offering them incentives to invest in updating their restaurants. A few are already making plans.

The Jimboy’s executive team has done more than simply redesign stores, though. They have updated technology: checkout registers, inventory systems, accounting programs. They created customer service training classes and set an example for reinvesting in communities by having company stores partner with nonprofits. They redesigned employee uniforms. They reviewed recipes with a fine-tooth comb and pushed for consistency.

Freeman told me that all the work is paying off, and she’s seen annual revenue increase by 9 percent for stores in the Sacramento region. Now, she said, Jimboy’s Tacos is actively seeking new franchisees to expand its geographic footprint. They’ve gotten interest from as close as Alaska and as far away as India. The franchisee fee is $35,000.

Taking the bait

Sacramento inventor Christopher Johnson’s 15 minutes of fame came to a dramatic conclusion on ABC’s “Shark Tank” last night, as billionaire Mark Cuban entered the fray at the last minute and snatched the bait from his fellow sharks Robert Herjavec and Kevin O’Leary.

Johnson endured a healthy dose of skepticism about his Rapid Ramen microwavable cooker, which retails for about $6 at Raley’s, Safeway and other retailers. All the sharks told him alternately that it was a fad that would burn out or that competitors would move in and eat his lunch. Some, like Cuban, expressed skepticism that it would sell.

“Why not just do it the old-fashioned way?” Cuban asked. “Take a cup, put some water in it, stick it in the microwave and pour the noodles. You eat it, you go to sleep, you wake up and recover from your hangover.”

Johnson told the sharks that he’s been cooking ramen in microwaves for a long time but that he couldn’t get the stovetop taste until he developed his product. He also said that in the last three months he’s done $164,000 in sales and expects more than $2 million in sales over an entire year.

Johnson asked for $300,000 for a 10 percent equity stake. Cuban and other sharks bowed out, but Herjavec and O’Leary bargained for a bigger payoff. Johnson kept negotiating with them and moving them closer to what he wanted, but not close enough. Just as he appeared on the verge of saying no, Cuban jumped back in and sealed a deal: a $150,000 loan and $150,000 cash for a 15 percent stake in Johnson’s business.

Now you’re up to date ...

Eight businesses and nonprofits are vying for a marketing makeover valued at $50,000 in a contest created by local companies anxious to showcase their merchandising skills. “Our goal is for the winning business to experience an exponential growth in their business over the 12 months of support they receive from us,” said Adam Frick, co-founder of the uLinkNetwork, the alliance of marketing firms working on the project. A winner will be announced Oct. 21, and the public’s online votes at will decide the contest. The eight finalists are Orangevale’s All Heating Air Conditioning & Appliance, Rancho Cordova’s Blue Valley Remodeling, Sacramento’s nonprofit Casa Garden Restaurant, Sacramento’s nonprofit Crocker Art Museum, Folsom Dog Resort & Training Center, Folsom’s Nevius Chiropractic, Rocklin Ranch Veterinary Hospital, and Folsom’s Symmetry for Health. ...

Last April, the Sacramento Region Community Foundation helped 78 local arts organizations raise more than $525,000 in an Arts Day of Giving. The foundation isn’t resting on its laurels. It’s now planning a 2014 Day of Giving, and it’s inviting nonprofits to sign up. To find out what you have to do, visit and reserve a seat at one of two Oct. 14 orientation sessions. Seating is limited.

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.

Read more articles by Cathie Anderson

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