Amigos celebrates 30-year anniversary

2010-07-17T22:45:00Z 2010-07-19T10:14:13Z Amigos celebrates 30-year anniversaryBy JEFF KORBELIK / Lincoln Journal Star

Soft tacos and crisp meat burritos are the most popular menu items at Amigos -- no ifs, ands or buts about it, according to longtime employee Sheree Aschenbrenner.

"They always have been," said Aschenbrenner, a general manager of four of the 15 Amigos locations in Lincoln.

The soft tacos have the same ingredients as the hard-shells, but they aren't as messy. And they have sour cream.

And the crisp meats ... well, you just can't go wrong with ground beef and cheddar cheese in a fried, rolled tortilla, especially if you have some salsa or ranch dressing to dip them into.

To support her case, Aschenbrenner points to the Cinco de Mayo 5 promotion in 2009, when Amigos sold five soft tacos for $5.

It went over so well, Amigo began running the 5-for-5 promotion monthly.

Then, on Cinco de Mayo this year, the restaurant included crisp meat burritos in the promotion.

"It was the hugest turnout ever at the stores," she said. "I think everybody who lived in Lincoln came to Amigos that day."

Those soft tacos and crisp meat burritos are big reasons why Amigos is celebrating its 30th birthday this year.

Owners Roger and Jan Moore opened the first Amigos on June 17, 1980, at 5500 O St.

That store is still standing, along with 29 others throughout the state.

"Most days it doesn't feel like it's been that long," Roger said during an interview from company headquarters, off the store at 4200 S. 14th St.

And other days?

"The work is pretty demanding, and it's pretty competitive," Jan said. "That's when it feels like 30 years."

Amigos has become one of those Lincoln dining success stories, joining Valentino's, Runza, Taco Inn and, more recently, D'Leon's.

Each started in the Star City and has opened more stores over the years. In the case of Amigos, Val's and Runza, they've expanded beyond the city borders.

In 1980, Roger and Jan, now 58 and 57, respectively, were in the their late 20s and game for a new business adventure.

Roger was a client manager at Selection Research International (SRI), and Jan taught English at a Lincoln middle school.

They were considering two or three established restaurant franchises when a colleague of Roger's suggested they create a concept of their own.

A market study, Roger said, determined Lincoln was ripe for another Mexican fast food restaurant. The only ones in town, Roger recalled, were Taco Bell and Taco Inn.

"Plus, (Mexican) food is colorful and fun," Jan said.

Settling on a name was a bit more difficult. They brainstormed with friends. Roger didn't want anything with too many syllables. The word "taco" was a definite no-no.

"There were a lot of places using ‘taco,'" Jan said. "We wanted to differentiate a bit."

Amigos became the choice because it reflected the "friendly" service and atmosphere of the restaurant.

"Back then, we were getting to know all our customers," Roger said.

They chose to locate on O Street because of its high traffic volume. They also saw the success Arby's was having at 56th and O streets.

"They struck oil," Roger said. "So why not move next door and drill another well?"

The store took off and business was good. The Moores opened a second Amigos in Grand Island a year later.

"Our intent was to open just one," Roger said. "There was no grand plan to open another in July the following year, but we had the kind of success we hadn't anticipated."

The second Lincoln store opened downtown in 1984 and became a hit - and still is - with college students.

The key, the Moores said, was providing good food quickly by an exceptionally friendly staff. It worked.

Aschenbrenner came on board 15 years ago at the age of 21. She's seen the Moores work as hard as their employees.

"They care about their company," she said. "We, as employees, take that to heart. It's as important to me (Amigos) succeeds as it is to the owners."

The Moores knew that to compete, they needed to expand services. In 1996, they co-branded with A&W, a relationship that lasted six years and offered diners the choice of burgers and fries.

In 2002, they added breakfast and co-branded with Winchell's Donuts.

A year later, Amigos introduced the Kings Classic concept to replace A&W. Many Lincoln diners remember the old King's drive-ins and their burgers and cheese Frenchees.

More recently, Amigos co-branded with Kopeli Coffee to make their breakfast menu more competitive.

Not everything worked. A partnership with Church's chicken fizzled. A spaghetti experiment splattered, as did the liquor license to sell margaritas and expansion into Colorado.

"You hope you make more good decisions than bad ones," Jan said.

The local chain has won its fair share of awards over the years. Restaurants Institutions Magazine recognized Amigos as one of the top growth chains in the country. Roger has been named "Restaurateur of the Year" by the Nebraska Restaurant Association and "Entrepreneur of the Year" by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Amigos also is known for giving back to its employees, with a tuition reimbursement program it started in 1987.

As for the future, the Moores say they are at an age when they don't want to take on too much more. They operate 24 of the 30 stores in Nebraska. A former longtime manager/supervisor runs the other six in out-state Nebraska.

The couple said they would like to open a few more stores in Omaha, where there's only one, and introduce more people to those famed soft tacos and crisp meat burritos.

Reach Jeff Korbelik at 402-473-7213 or, or follow him on Twitter at

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