By Tim Leeds
Dave and Judy Greenwood have come a long way since they decided to own something of their own in the 1970s.
Since opening their first Taco John's restaurant in Havre in September 1972, their business has grown to include Taco John's franchises in Glendive and Cut Bank, two in Helena, and operations in Williston and Devil's Lake, N.D. and two more in Dickinson, N.D.
Their operations in Havre now include the Taco John's in the Holiday Village Shopping Center, which opened in the mid-1980s; opening Yummy Yogurt in 1987; Pro Putt Mini Golf in about 1994 and buying and remodeling the Holiday Village Orange Julius about five years ago.
Judy said it all began with Dave.
"I'm a nurse and he's a college professor, and he always has these ideas," she said.
He said that at the time, they had always worked for someone else for their paycheck, and they thought it was time for a change. Judy was a nurse in Havre and Dave taught at Northern Montana College, where he also founded the wrestling program.
"We always thought it would be nice to have something that was ours," Dave said.
Judy said Dave saw his first Taco John's while getting his doctorate in New Mexico. He said he saw another when he was in Billings.
"I saw this building, they had really good tacos and burritos, so I got a name and address," he said.
Judy said pretty soon they got a call from the corporate management, and the next thing they knew a manager flew to Havre with his wife and daughters.
"They were really nice people," Dave said.
Judy said he flew around above Havre, then came to tell them he recommended the location on Fifth Avenue.
"'You know, I circled the town and kind of looked at it,' she said he told them, "'... right here is where you want to be."
She said he told them that the location, in between the college and high school and across the street from the ball field, would be ideal.
They said pretty quick their first Taco John's, number 42 in the franchise, was open for business.
"This was a turnkey operation," Dave said.
He said they paid the franchise fee, the the fully equipped trailer came in and was set in place by a Baltrusch Construction crane, they hooked everything up and made sure it worked, got ready and opened.
Greenwoods said Rick Sedahl, their manager in Havre since 1987, has been a real asset to the operations. He worked for them for several years before taking over as manager, as well.
"If it wasn't for him, we couldn't do a lot of the things we do," Judy said. "He's wonderful. He assumes a ton of the responsibilities for Taco John's and Orange Julius, and helps with some of the outlying stores."
Sedahl said he basically oversees the operations of the businesses, as well as working shifts in the restaurants. He and his wife, Julie, also own part of the Orange Julius and one of the Helena Taco John's with Greenwoods.
Rick said he and Julie even met while she was working at Taco John's.
"It was the only time in my life I've been her boss," he said.
"They're a real taco pair," Judy said.
As well as working in the restaurants, Sedahl said his duties include a lot of management responsibilities, such as scheduling, inventory and ordering, payroll and general trouble-shooting and problem solving.
He said he enjoys his job, probably because of the flexibility the most.
"You're kind of tied down to the store, but I can kind of come and go, when needed," he said.
He said he generally works at the two Taco John's restaurants, and while he doesn't directly oversee the operations of the other stores, his management duties certainly does include them.
Rick said he hasn't seen a lot of drastic changes in the business since he took over as manager. He said probably the biggest change has been in the employment market.
"It seems that there's greater competition in the market than there was," he said.
He said his education certainly helps with the management of the business. Rick has a bachelor of science in business administration with an emphasis in finance and a minor in economics from The University of Montana. Julie is now a registered nurse with a degree from Montana State University-Northern and has been working at the Havre Clinic for two years.
Greenwoods said the story of Taco John's all begins with John Turner in Cheyenne, Wyo. They said he was starting a Mexican restaurant in Cheyenne, and wanted to be open in a very short time and open another quickly.
They said Turner contacted a trailer manufacturer and a realtor insurance representative, they put a unit together in about a month, and Taco John's began. Greenwoods said they decided pretty quickly to turn it into a franchise operation. They said Turner was in charge of the food production and supply, "the tortilla man," Judy said. He was in charge of developing the spices and all of the recipes, as well as the franchise's distribution center. The others were in charge of the franchise side of it, they said.
"They were all really, really good people. Very helpful," Dave said.
The first unit was in Cheyenne, and a franchise in Helena was the fourth. Taco John's restaurants are pretty well spread across the country today.
Judy said the trailers built for the restaurants are extremely well-made.
"It's a really solidly-built building," she said.
Judy said when a tornado went through a town in Nebraska some years back, the Taco John's restaurant was the only building left standing.
She said the headquarters of Taco John's International, Inc., are still in Cheyenne, and that makes it a little different than most major franchises. She said most have headquarters on one coast or the other, with personnel constantly meeting vendors and having daily meetings.
"They probably have to work harder," she said about the Taco John's Cheyenne managers.
One difference they used to see from the Cheyenne location had to do with distribution, Judy said. The trucking was pretty limited in the past.
"The first few years we were open, this time of year you had better get a pretty big truck," she said in December, "because you might not see it again 'til spring."
Greenwoods said they have some troubles of their own with locations.
"The joys of ownership," Judy said.
She said one time they got a call from Devil's Lake at 4 a.m. about a problem with their restaurant there. How, at 4 a.m. in Havre, do you deal with a problem in Devil's Lake, she asked.
Judy said they got ahold of an employee and resolved the problem, but it does show some difficulties.
There have been some problems in Havre, as well, Greenwoods said. Along with vandalism and some robberies: "They got the till money for the next day," Dave said; "one thing about it, we learned you don't leave money in it ever;" they have had some other problems.
They said they installed a security system after the robbery. They got a call one night, coming to the Fifth Avenue Taco John's to find the police on the roof and all around the building. The problem turned out to be that the air conditioner had frozen, dropping ice into the restaurant and setting off the motion detectors, they said.
"We get enough calls to know it all works," Judy said.
But, they said, they don't have any major regrets about going into business for themselves.
"It's been fun," Dave said. "One certainly doesn't get bored."