In 1972, Arturo G. Torres founded Pizza Management Incorporated (PMI), headquartered in western Texas. Torres, a Cuban refugee, had relocated to Amarillo from Miami in the early 1960s, began working nights for a local Pizza Hut, and was soon promoted to manager. After saving enough to open his own franchise, Pizza Hut #1 (as it was called) opened in the border town of Del Rio. Over the next 2 decades PMI opened over 320 Pizza Huts in West Texas, Kansas and Puerto Rico and ultimately became the largest Pizza Hut franchiser in the world. In 1996 in a bid to reclaim all of the franchises and make them company-owned stores, PepsiCo bought PMI.

Wanting to diversify, PMI launched several conceptual restaurants over the years with the prototypes always initially tested in South Texas and usually in Del Rio. Among these were Applegate’s Landing, a full-menu, Italian eatery; China Hut, which offered Asian cuisine with the Pizza Hut theme right down to the pagoda rooftop replacing the red bonnet roof on the restaurant’s logo; and Taco USA, which continued the theme with a southwestern flair. Launched in 1976, Taco USA’s name and logo were again based on the Pizza Hut concept, having a Santa Fe-style, red-clay tiled roof, but with a new American twist. The bottom of the logo was styled from the Great Seal, sporting the Stars and Stripes in celebration of our nation’s bicentennial.

These experimental restaurants had varying successes for PMI. China Hut never expanded beyond Del Rio. Applegate’s Landing, however, ultimately had locations as far north as Wichita, Kansas and as far east as Columbia, South Carolina. But the one concept that would prove to be most successful, the one that would continue to thrive even after the dissolution of PMI, was Taco USA.

Because PMI solely owned all rights to the local spin-offs, there would be none of the corporate red tape that would accompany sub-franchising a national chain like Pizza Hut. This allowed PMI to offer franchises as incentives to current employees who had been loyal to the company but wished to break away with an independent venture. As a result, Taco USA restaurants began to sprout up all over the place: Del Rio (the pilot store), San Angelo, Kingsville, Victoria, Monahans, Amarillo, Ruidoso (NM), and Wichita (KS). There was even a Taco Riko in San Juan. Yet despite its initial momentum, one by one, each of these locations folded within a relatively short time. They had put the cart before the horse. The owners were ready, the equipment and buildings were prepared, but the product was far from exciting.

Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU) was a large college in a small town, and PMI believed that this would be a lucrative combination. Nacogdoches, with its university, was large enough for a business to generate plenty of trade, and small enough for his restaurant to be known to everyone in the city. So in 1978, PMI began constructing the only Taco USA east of San Antonio and north of Houston.

The restaurant that opened at 3402 North Street in August 1978 did not yet have the product that would become a favorite of SFASU students. The food was mediocre at best, and Taco USA would not perfect the recipes for several months. When the initial reception of Taco USA was not what was anticipated, Taco USA began tweaking the ingredients. In the beginning, Taco USA dealt with one menu item at a time, fine-tuning the contents and proportions.

Growth of the restaurant’s popularity was not immediate, but it was swift. By 1982, the store had gained a large and loyal following, especially among students in high school and college. As a result, a second location was built in nearby Lufkin, Texas, and finally a third store in 1989 on the southern side of Nacogdoches, between the two existing locations.

Taco USA chugged along with the inevitable peaks and valleys until 1994. In that year, the restaurants were sold. Unfortunately, under new ownership and poor management, the last three Taco USAs remaining on the planet finally succumbed to the same fate as their sister stores in West Texas. Within 18 months, Taco USA was no more.

Taco USA was gone, but not forgotten. Over the years, those who remembered would reminisce and ask, “What ever happened to that place?” In a different age, this would have been the last references to a place that was gradually fading from memory, but a new age was dawning. The Information Age emerged with email, file servers, hypertext, social networks, newsgroups, phone text, and countless other ways to disseminate information. Within this a buzz began in social circles of SFASU alumni and spread among others who remembered how much they loved Taco USA.

A new generation was listening and in the summer of 2012, when it became apparent that there was a demand, Taco USA was redesigned, rebuilt, and reborn. It would be a place suited to the 21st century but with an old, familiar theme. A throwback to the restaurant’s glory days with the same recipes and the same ingredients but with a lesser feel of fast food and a greater coffee-house ambience.

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