Minneapolis' Pepitos restaurant struggles as owner battles illness

For 46 years, Pepitos has been a staple in south Minneapolis. But the Mexican restaurant has suffered a series of setbacks and it could close its doors for good.

For Joe Minjares, just catching his breath is a daily struggle.

"They gave me six months to a year six months ago. It's like the sand is running out of the top," Minjares said.  

But the possibility of closing the restaurant he's owned for nearly half a century is knocking the wind out of him, too.

"I can't even tell you how horrible it is for me, the thought of walking away from that place. I can hardly talk about it," Minjares said.

Minjares was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis about six years ago, leaving him in need of a lung transplant and unable to work at Pepitos at 48th and Chicago.

To make matters worse, Minjares says his business never recovered from the great recession, nor a security breach at its deli a few years ago.

And after surrendering his liquor license about a month ago because he fell behind paying the sales tax to the state, Minjares says he may not be able to afford to keep the restaurant open much longer.

"We built it up to the place where we were one of the top 300 restaurants in the country. But when you fall behind, it's almost cruel to the restaurant to see it fall like it has," Minjares said.

Since he bought the Old Colonial Pub and Pizza back in 1971, Pepitos has been a local landmark in south Minneapolis.

Minjares is also an actor and standup comedian and a steady stream of famous faces have stopped by for a bite when they were in town.

"When Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis had Flyte Time Records, we had Kenny Loggins, Cher, Janet Jackson. Prince was there. Just hundreds and hundreds of celebrities," Minjares said.

Minjares isn't sure what the future holds for either his restaurant or his health.

But knowing he's served up 46 years of meals and memories is helping him breathe a little easier.

"I don't worry about it. I take it one day at a time," Minjares said.

Minjares hopes the restaurant can survive the winter, but regardless of what happens here, he says the deli at 46th and Nicollet will stay open.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help him cover his medical costs.