Charles City’s Bob Thomson still making his mark on business world
By Bob Steenson, firstname.lastname@example.org
At a time when most people who make it that far are enjoying retirement and taking it easy, Bob Thomson is still making his presence known in the business world.
Longtime Charles City businessman, entrepreneur and philanthropist Thomson, age 93, was recently awarded the Pancheros national Franchisee of the Year Award for his five restaurants in the Twin Cities area — for the second time, having earned it previously in 2016.
“I’ve enjoyed my contacts with Pancheros. They’re good people,” he told the Press this week.
The recognition and award ceremony took place at the company’s 2019 annual franchisee conference in Chicago.
According to information from the company, “the honor is presented to a franchisee who demonstrates strong sales performance, significant year-over-year growth, high customer satisfaction, contribution to the Pancheros brand awareness and dedication to the menu’s principle of simplicity.”
Thomson earned the honor “for his operational expertise and dedication to his five area Pancheros restaurants and the 60 staff members he employs.”
Thomson said, “We’re very happy to accept the award, of course, and we’ve got a great team.”
“I’ve been in the restaurant business for over 25 years, and I know that Pancheros continues to be successful because we have the right people on board. This team is the complete package, and it’s the reason I’ve continued to open more restaurants at age 93.”
His director of operations for the Pancheros restaurants is Charles City native Craig Noah, the grandson of Thomson’s former business partner, Keith Noah, who died in 2007, and the son of Ron and Toni Noah of Charles City.
“Pancheros was born in Iowa, and as you know, their product is good,” Thomson said. “You find a young person who graduated from Iowa City, the University of Iowa, they’ll know all about Pancheros. They love it.”
Thomson has been involved in business since he came to Charles City in 1953 to direct the Chamber of Commerce. After about five years at that job, he became owner of the Ben Franklin Store on Main Street. He also helped start Allen Travel.
Thomson eventually owned five Ben Franklin and Thread Shed stores, but sold them and began a Subway empire, eventually owning 26 of the sandwich shops. He said he has about 20 or so now, including the one in Charles City.
Thomson said he is an advocate of the franchise system, because it gives you the help and marketing of a national organization and the chance to discuss mutual concerns, but is still locally owned.
Thomson said his Subway in Charles City and others he owns were among the first 1,000 locations of the business.
“Now they’re worldwide, they’re over 40,000. So they’ve really grown, and we were a part of that,” he said.
Thomson now owns five Pancheros restaurants in the Twin Cities area, and is planning to open a sixth in Apple Valley in the spring. His other Pancheros are in Fridley, Bloomington, Golden Valley, Brooklyn Park and Arden Hills, the last two just opening this year.
He said he would like to bring a Pancheros to Charles City, and has thought about it, but after talking with the company’s owners they decided Charles City just doesn’t have the demographics to support that kind of restaurant.
Thomson said he still enjoys being in business and plans to continue as long as he can.
“As long as a person has their health, and their bodily parts are working OK, I think it’s good to continue,” he said. “I’m very interested in what’s going on in the world, and I’m very interested in the people who are working for us.”
Thomson, who graduated from the University of Minnesota, as did his sister and his brother, who are now 90 and 92, respectively, spends about half his time in the Twin Cities area, where he has a condo in Wayzata.
He said he enjoys watching the Twins and cheering on the University of Minnesota teams, of course, and at one point had season tickets to the Vikings. He said he went to school at the U of Minnesota with former Vikings coach Bud Grant, and they had a couple of classes together.
“He’s old now, like me,” Thomson said about Grant, chuckling. “Time doesn’t wait for anybody.”
Despite his business interests up north, Thomson still calls Charles City home, and said his house here is his primary residence.
The operation backing his business ventures is also located in Charles City, and he credited his “No. 1 assistant” here, Donna Koebrick, as “running a good ship” with her staff.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of people around here,” Thomson said from his home in Charles City. “I love the town and I don’t intend to leave it, ever.”