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Taco John’s in Charles City ‘closed permanently’

Taco John’s in Charles City ‘closed permanently’
Signs on all the doors, windows and former menu displays at Taco John’s in Charles City say, “Thank You to all our loyal customers of Charles City and the surrounding communities for 23 years of serving you! This location has closed permanently.” Press photo by Bob Steenson
By Bob Steenson, [email protected]

Anyone stopping by the Charles City Taco John’s Sunday morning for a breakfast burrito and some Potato Olés received a sad surprise – locked doors and signs on all the windows saying the restaurant had closed permanently.

Aaron Nelson, the owner, told the Press that the Taco John’s corporation is planning to do some new things as far as the interior and exteriors of their buildings and their menu – things that will require a significant investment in the restaurants.

“They’ve made a lot of changes in the upper hierarchy of their company, and are doing some really neat things,” Nelson said. “And what comes along with that are remodels, new kitchen equipment. There’s actually going to be a new layout in the kitchen. Those changes are rolled out over a period of time, and we had the ability to participate in the early stages, but as it’s coming along here the challenge becomes doing everything.”

For example, he said there are some pieces of equipment he would need for the next changes, and while he could purchase that equipment, it would be one step more toward the other stages of remodeling, “and what they’d really like to do is change everything,” he said.

Nelson said the changes were “positive things” for the company, “but taking us along for the ride in a community our size just wasn’t the right decision.”

According to reports in food industry media, the company is focusing efforts on new interior and exterior restaurant designs, an emphasis on a “more sophisticated menu” while keeping old favorites, improving electronic ordering options and other changes.

Nelson took over the restaurant in March 2019, from his step-father and mother, Carl and Linda Johnson.

Carl had been a longtime Charles City teacher, and when he retired, he and another teacher were looking for something to do to remain connected to the community. They explored franchise opportunities and settled on Taco John’s, purchasing the current lot on Gilbert Street, constructing the building and opening the business in 2000.

Aaron Nelson, a 1999 Charles City High School graduate, was one of the original crew members at the restaurant.

Carl Johnson soon bought out his partner, and proceeded to run the Charles City restaurant for years until health concerns forced him to slow down.

Nelson said when he took over the business 3½ years ago he had the same goals that Carl and Linda had – “bring in new business, be part of the community, still donate and advertise and all those kinds of things. And that’s been successful. Revenues have gone up. We’ve stayed open.”

But with the required changes coming to the business, “we just didn’t feel like it was going to be the right move,” said Nelson, who also co-owns a hobby business in Cedar Rapids.

“In a larger community, that investment might pay off a little bit quicker, be a little bit greater. I just felt like this was the best path,” he said.

Nelson said he had a staff meeting at 8 o’clock Sunday morning to make the announcement and explain it to his 18 full-time and part-time employees.

“I didn’t want them to show up to a locked door and a sign on the door. I wanted to explain it to them,” he said. “They’ve worked really hard to make the place what it is, and it would be shameful to just lock them out and not say goodbye.”

Carl Johnson still owns the property, Nelson said, and they’ll be putting it up for sale.

“Obviously the building is still perfectly capable of housing a restaurant, and that would be the hope, right, that somebody comes in and has a business model to utilize the property for something like that. There are limited dining options in Charles City, so it would be great if another restaurant would be able to come in and utilize that property,” he said.

“As far as a Taco John’s operating in there, any future potential franchisee would need to contact corporate and go through the corporate vetting process,” Nelson said.

“For myself, and Carl and Linda Johnson, we really just want to thank everybody for the loyal patronage and support for the last 23 years. It’s been possible because the people of the community really supported the business, and I can’t say thank-you enough,” he said.

Taco John’s in Charles City ‘closed permanently’
Signs on all the doors, windows and former menu displays at Taco John’s in Charles City says, “Thank You to all our loyal customers of Charles City and the surrounding communities for 23 years of serving you! This location has closed permanently.” Press photo by Bob Steenson

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