Jimboy's Tacos will be returning to its roots if it succeeds in opening its 42nd store in Grass Valley. In fact, the company name and featured item on the chain's menu both have their roots in western Nevada County.
Jim Knudson was operating Jimmy's 49er Cafe on South Auburn Street across from Hennessy School in 1951 when friends invited him and his wife, Margaret, to dinner in Rough and Ready. The hosts had lived in Mexico, so they served tacos.
"My dad thought they were really good, and he sat down and started working on a recipe for them," said son Scott Knudson, now president of Jimboy's Tacos Inc. in Sacramento.
"He came up with exactly what's done today. It hasn't changed in all that time."
But the tacos weren't exactly an instant success. Restaurant customers didn't order too many of them, and the family decided to sell them out of a wagon at Lake Tahoe during the tourist season.
"The first couple of years, nobody knew what a taco was if they were from Northern California," Knudson said. "Then the third year, it really took off and has been growing ever since."
The first Jimboy's Taco shop opened in downtown Sacramento in 1959, and there are now 41 in Northern California and Nevada. Others in addition to the Grass Valley store are scheduled to open in the near future.
The name "Jimboy" came from a customer at Jimmy's 49er Cafe.
"He picked it up in Grass Valley," Scott Knudson said of his father. "He had a customer who always used to come in and say, 'Hey Jimboy.' He just thought, well, it will make a good name for the wagon."
Jimboy's had a store on Mill Street in the 1980s, but it was shut down after a couple of years. The new store, proposed for the old Togo's building on Nevada City Highway in the Brunswick Basin, would be operated by Ted Laffron, who also owns the Auburn franchise outlet.
The company submitted preliminary plans to the Grass Valley Development Review Committee and now has to prepare a formal proposal. The approval process will take two to three months.
Jim and Margaret Knudson retired from the business several years ago, but still maintain an active interest in food. Scott said Margaret won an international chili cooking contest in 1987 and will be entering the same contest again this year.
As it expands, Jimboy's faces formidable competition from several national chains, but Scott Knudson is confident the family business can hold its own.
"We really try to concentrate on the quality of our food more than anything else," he said. "You want to get people to know who you are, and have the catchy jingle and advertising, but what brings people back more than anything is word of mouth.
"If they hear the food's good, they'll come back."