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The owners of Pepitos, a 46-year-old once-popular Mexican restaurant in south Minneapolis, have put their building up for sale due to financial woes and the declining health of founder Joe Minjares.

Minjares’ daughter, Pamela Senkyr, who now runs the restaurant along with brothers Paul and Joe Jr., the general manager, said the decision to sell comes on the heels of a string of hardships.

After struggling financially for several years, Pepitos surrendered its liquor license about a month ago after falling far behind on the taxes. And her father’s worsening condition has played a big role as well, Senkyr said. Minjares, who was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis several years ago, is currently on an oxygen tank and waiting for a lung transplant. As he has deteriorated physically, so has the restaurant, Senkyr said.

“Ever since my dad got sick, it feels like the restaurant is sick,” Senkyr said. “It feels like the restaurant is dying with him.”

Pepitos originally opened at E. 48th St. and Chicago Av. in 1971 as Old Colonial Pub and Pizza. Soon, the name was changed to Pepitos, and the eatery became ingrained in the neighborhood. It was the anchor of a commercial corner that has added more boutique shops and eateries over time: a women’s clothing store and an upscale pet shop, an ice cream shop, a bakery, a sushi restaurant.

City Council Member John Quincy said Pepitos has been a “total savior” to Minneapolis, from providing parking spaces to business associations to supporting school programs. He noted the family even took over the old Parkway Theater, which had been showing pornography, and turned it into a neighborhood theater.

“They have made investment not only in their building and their business, but in the neighborhoods,” Quincy said. The restaurant’s closing “would be a real tragedy for the institution that it is, what it has done for south Minneapolis and across the neighborhoods.”

Mike Kmiecik, owner of the nearby Bikes and Pieces shop, said Joe Minjares was one of the first to welcome him to the neighborhood eight years ago. Minjares’ generosity brought the community together and encouraged business owners in tough times.

“Pepitos is a restaurant that kept this corner stable because they have been there through the hardest and the darkest parts of these corner’s existence,” Kmiecik said.

Vicki Jones, who lives two blocks away and took a job as a hostess at Pepitos in January, said the news of the restaurant’s possible closure was disappointing.

“It’s horrible,” Jones said, crying. “My hope is that this restaurant will continue and we can get back up on our feet.”

Other customers at Pepitos on Wednesday said meals there are woven in with family history.

Jim May’s wife, Tiffany, fell in love with the restaurant’s salsa when she was pregnant 17 years ago — and they’ve been eating there ever since. Tom and Bev Osiecki held their 50th wedding anniversary party and many birthday parties at Pepitos. They’re sorry about the restaurant’s struggles and Minjares’ health.

“It has been a big part of our family for a long time,” Tom Osieki said.

More than 150 students from Delano High School packed the restaurant during lunch hour Wednesday to eat and deliver a get well card for Minjares. Teacher Amy Poppler said the school has been bringing students to the restaurant for nearly two decades.

Senkyr said her dad believes family business is about “taking care of your community.”

But in the years since Pepitos’ heyday, the neighborhood has undergone significant growth and gentrification, which Senkyr said she believes helped contribute to the restaurant’s downturn.

“A lot of the regulars that have been coming in for a long time don’t even live here anymore,” she said. “The neighborhood has really changed a lot. With all these small restaurants opening, it seems like people don’t do sit-down anymore. It’s all counter-service, and get-a-number. This restaurant is just too big.”

The building that houses one of the family’s other businesses, the Parkway Theater, has been up for sale for about a year, Senkyr said. Pepitos Deli, at 46th S. and Nicollet Av., meanwhile, will remain open.

As for the restaurant, Senkyr said there isn’t yet a prospective new owner and no timeline for shuttering. For now, they are continuing on as usual, only sans alcohol.

“I’ve known this my entire life,” Senkyr said. “This is my home. The employees here are family … it’s really hard.”

Amelia Rayno • 612-673-4115

Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-5348