By Pat Kessler

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — An iconic Minneapolis restaurant may be closing its doors.

Pepitos Mexican Restaurant has been a mainstay in south Minneapolis since 1971. But the business — and its owners — hit a streak of bad luck and bad timing.

Joe and Sue Minjares opened their family restaurant 46 years ago. Now they are preparing to sell their Minneapolis landmark after a series of setbacks, including pulmonary fibrosis that’s left Joe tethered to an oxygen tank.

“This recession just kicked our butt,” Joe said. “And then we started falling behind. And in this business, when you’re cash poor and you fall behind, it just doesn’t work.”

joe minjares After 46 Years In Mpls., Pepitos Mexican Restaurant Faces Closure

Joe Minjares (credit: CBS)

The family business exploded In the 1990s. Pepitos was counted among the top 300 independent restaurants in the country.

“We were doing phenomenal amounts of business,” he said.

He bought the Parkway Theater next door to the restaurant in 2007, just before the 2008 recession hit.

A computer hacker recently stole customer data, setting the company back further.

And Pepitos lost its liquor license after falling behind on sales tax payments.

“I feel a little empty,” Joe said.

Pepitos began as the Old Colonial Pub and Pizza in 1971, and gained fame with Joe’s mother’s Mexican cooking.

pepitos1 After 46 Years In Mpls., Pepitos Mexican Restaurant Faces Closure

The iconic mural outside of Pepitos Mexican Restaurant (credit: CBS)

Joe says the restaurant launched a new name at the suggestion of a friend.

“He says, ‘What did they call you when you were a kid?’ And I said, ‘Well, when I was little, they called me Pepe,’ and he yells out, ‘Pepito!'” Joe said. “That was it.”

Minjares’ children are running the business now, but business is slow.

There’s an offer on the table to buy the restaurant and theater, and if it goes through, Pepitos will close after nearly a half-century.

Joe says he’s sad about it, but proud of what he has accomplished.

“You can take something like that, follow your heart, put in your time, and you can build it into something to be proud of,” Joe said.

Pepitos Restaurant could close in the next several months, but the family says Pepitos Deli will remain open at 46th Street and Nicollet Avenue.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Minjares family with some medical bills.

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