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La Senorita

Al Parker - July 26th, 2007
The year was 1980. A peanut farmer was in the White House, first-class stamps cost 15 cents each and Sony was riding high, thanks to its amazing new Walkman. And Traverse City was getting its first taste of real Mexican cuisine when La Senorita opened its doors on Garfield Road.
Jimmy Carter’s presidency is a distant, somewhat painful, memory. It now costs 41 cents to use snail mail and iPods are now the music machines of choice.
But La Senorita endures, thriving and expanding over the decades. “We’re six stores now – two in Traverse City, Petoskey, Mt. Pleasant, Gaylord and Lansing,” said regional manager Dave Scott.
La Senorita was the leader in bringing Mexican food to the Traverse City area. In the ensuing years, other eateries offering the cuisine have popped up, but La Senorita’s popularity has not waned.
About seven years ago, La Senorita’s founding family, the Kleinricherts, sold the company to Mexican Restaurants, Inc., based in Houston. That smooth transition has resulted in very few changes that La Senorita visitors would recognize.
The local management team retains control of the restaurants, including
the twice-a-year menu changes. Standard-ized recipes and menus mean that you can get the same high-quality La Senorita meals in Lansing that you can in Petoskey and Gaylord.
“Mexican has become mainstream now,” said Scott, with a smile. “But we were the first and we continue to do
very well.”

100 DISHES
Vital to La Senorita’s success has been its time-tested and tasty menu items. A quick count of the eatery’s current menu shows more than 100 different dishes, ranging from the classic Mexican items like fajitas, burritos and tacos to the more exotic, such as a seafood chimichanga filled with shrimp, cod and con queso.
Boasting the ‘best margaritas in town,’ the summer menu offers 22 flavorful blends of tequila and fruit juices, including peach, banana, strawberry, mango and Mexican sunset. Their premium margaritas are The Ultimate, Green Iguana, Blue Caribbean, Sangria Swirl, Red Rover and Loco Rita.
For those who choose to stay north of the border, there are also grilled chicken dinners, lightly battered cod dinners
and chicken strips with a variety of
dipping sauces.
“We’re always adding new foods,” explained marketing director Nancy Edginton. “It keeps the menu interesting.”
Scott, Edginton and company president Steve Arnot are all involved in researching and developing new menu items.
“We just printed new menus and didn’t raise any of the prices,” explained Scott, who noted that the price of cheese, for example, has risen 45 cents a pound over last year. That’s pretty impressive when you consider that each La Senorita restaurant goes through 300 to 400 pounds of cheese each week.
“Steve and I travel a lot and always search out Mexican restaurants,” added Scott. “Mexican cuisine is varied, depend-ing on the region of the country. You know, Mexican food from the coastal areas is seafood-based and very different from Mexican food from the central area which is more chili-based. We’re an authentic Mexican restaurant.”
While La Senorita officials are always looking for new dishes, they won’t eliminate longtime standards. “We don’t want our customers to miss their old favorites,” explained Arnot.

PROMOS
Over the years, La Senorita has become noted for its promotions and food specials. Each Sunday is Little Amigo’s Day, when most entrees for youngsters 12 and under are only 99 cents. Children under 12 can also enroll in the Sombrero Sam birthday club and receive a complimentary meal for their birthday. They also receive other mailings through out the year.
For those over 60, there is a Senior VIP club and they also receive a complimentary meal for their birthday. Seniors can also receive a card that allows them a 10 percent discount at every visit.
Every April, the eateries offer a hefty four-pound burrito, The Big Juan, chicken or beef behemoth. “It’s a fun thing,” said Scott, who came up with The Big Juan a few years ago. “Anyone who orders one gets a t-shirt, whether they finish it or not. One person ate two at one sitting.”
Each October the restaurants run a scratch-off promotion with the grand prize a trip to Mexico.
A big part of La Senorita’s success can be credited to its staff, which ranges from 400 to 500 employees at the six sites, according to Edginton.
“A lot of our people have been with us for years,” she explained. “But we also take a lot of kids for their first jobs. We always have because we believe that’s part of being a community. We take kids and train them and many of them stay with us for a long time.”
Longevity is a hallmark of the manage-ment team, too. Arnot has been with the company for 27 years, starting as the gen-eral manager of the Garfield Road eatery. Scott has 20 years with La Senorita,
while Edginton has been with the company for a decade.
La Senorita is proud of its contributions to the communities that support the restaurants. They fund-raising programs for non-profit organizations where the organization sells $5 La Senorita gift certificates and get to keep $2.50 for each certificate sold.
Restaurant employees do payroll deductions and the company adds funds to an annual Adopt-a-Family program. Each year at Christmas more than $14,000 is raised to aid less fortunate families. La Senorita also donates thousands of dollars in gift certificates to area organizations holding fundraising events. Each November, La Senorita gives turkeys to local organizations to provide Thanksgiving dinners, and has also contributed meals to area soup kitchens.
“The management here realizes how important our people are,” said Arnot. “Whether they work two days a week or five days a week, our staff is very
important to the success of La Senorita. We’re six stores, but we’re all very community based.”
 
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