Pancho’s Mexican Buffet and Café Sicilia

Good eats and great company in northeastern Texas
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
James Logan

Fernando Nogueira and Joseph Seyedmorteza are partners in running two local restaurant chains, Pancho’s Mexican Buffet (PMB) and Café Sicilia (CS). Fernando and Joseph both come from backgrounds in the restaurant business. The partners now operate seven restaurants: five buffets and two Italian full menu eateries, spread between Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington and Bedford, Texas.

Pancho’s Mexican Buffet

PMB first opened its doors in 1958 in El Paso, founded by a former Navy cook, Arrambide, who saw a market opportunity to provide inexpensive family dining. “I started working at PMB 30 years ago,” Fernando explains. “I trained up over the years, eventually becoming vice president of the company. I like being involved with this business because I like taking care of people. I take great pride in serving a good, quality product to families.”

The restaurant’s budget-friendly dining options have helped PMB hold ground throughout the recession. “A family can enjoy dinner for less here,” Fernando elaborates. “We offer all you can eat dining at a low price. Children eat free and it has been this way for a long time. We have a loyal following in the region. Consumers see the value and appreciate what our restaurants offer.”

As far as the menu, PMB is constantly changing buffet options for diners. The kitchen team offers up specialty items each weekend. “We cannot add too much because we are locked into one price, but we try to add variety,” Fernando notes. “We also offer a variety of desserts, such as homemade cookies, ice cream and brownies on our dessert bar. Our salad bar has around 20 freshly made on-site items to choose from.”

While new items are on the buffet line over the weekends, Fernando says his customers come back for classic favorites. Many of these dishes have been available at PMB for decades, such as tasty Chili Rellenos and Tex-Mex enchiladas. PMB has become a recognized brand throughout the area, known for good food and a family and community atmosphere.

Café Sicilia

CS has been in business since 2002 and Fernando and Joseph purchased the business in 2010. “We both come from a background in restaurants, but cooking for PMB with such large volume is much different from sauté dishes and smaller plates,” Fernando explains. “We both fell in love with the smaller system.” When Fernando and Joe bought the restaurant, the partners kept all staff members to help them learn.

In 2013, the opened a second location in Arlington. Being able to custom-design and build the restaurant from the ground up was a very memorable experience. “We were able to incorporate a traditional Tuscan aesthetic,” Fernando explains. “We have grape vines hanging from the ceiling in the dining room, a water fountain and a big fireplace inside for the winter. We also have an outdoor patio and we incorporated clay tile for pergola roofing inside and out.”

Both partners have been hands-on in the growth of the café. The eatery specializes in single-plate Italian cuisine, including pastas, pizzas, seafood, veal and other entrees. The business also features lunch specials starting at only $6.50. Customers return to the eatery for lunch or dinner out with the family, as well as special occasions. CS also offers full catering services for events.

Much like PMB, CS is a family and community establishment. Fernando and Joseph have kept the previous owners involved in the restaurant. The founders sit on the board and offer their experience and insight to help the restaurant grow. This relationship has allowed the partners to retain consistency; keeping longtime customers coming back even through the change in ownership.

A family affair

Fernando has a lot of respect for his employees. He knows that their performance matters to the success of the business. “We consider ourselves a very family-oriented company,” he explains. “We do things to benefit the employees and families who have worked for us for many years. We have staff members who have been with us for 25 years, which doesn’t happen often. Both managers at our CS locations, Renee and Lidia, have been with us for 30 years; actually, they both came from PMB concept.”

The secret, he explains, is offering opportunities. “We give our employees the opportunity to excel with expertise,” Fernando clarifies. “We cross-train them and allow them to explore different roles in our restaurants. Our workers often become better in different positions. A manager in one of our restaurants was hired as a line server 15 years ago. Now Hector is general manager. He worked his way up from a line server, to a waiter, to assistant manager, to associate manager and eventually becoming general manager. Sergio, a 25-year veteran, was the chef of one of our other locations and is now a general manager, as well. When we can provide upward mobility, we can satisfy our employees’ desires to accomplish their professional goals and make more money.”

This employee-friendly atmosphere is a large component of what makes PMB and CS are so special. Fernando and Joseph’s employees have more job satisfaction and stay longer. Less turn-over means more experience and familiarity with the operation. They are able to perform better and satisfy customer needs. With a strong and supported team, Pancho’s Mexican Buffet and Café Sicilia continue to grow under a strong brand identity throughout northeastern Texas.