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Owner serves up new cuisine

Tae Andrews | Sunday, March 16, 2008

Jim Herter knows the ins and outs of the restaurant business. That’s because he’s been working in one, in some capacity or another, for the past 35 years. After starting with part-time and summer jobs while he was still in school, Herter took a job with Taco Bell from 1980-88, working his way up from an hourly employee in 1980 to the position of District Manager in 1986. He left the company two years later for the position of business manager with Notre Dame Food Services, where he remained for 17 years before leaving to start Rico’s Filling Station in December 2005.

Over the course of his career, Herter has traveled far and wide in the pursuit of culinary perfection. Rico’s Filling Station represents his latest venture into the restaurant industry. The name says it all.

“I was looking to partner with a local Arby’s franchisee to develop some regional franchise restaurant concepts that were up and coming in the national restaurant picture,” Herter said.

After tossing around ideas, Herter decided that his own ideas might work best and set out to create his own restaurant. His partner supplied a vacant space in an Arby’s that had closed a year earlier.

“His name is Richard, so ‘Rico’ popped into my head – short, simple and representative,” he said. “Besides, ‘Ricardo’ sounded too much like a Mexican restaurant and we want to be known for all the cultures of the Gulf and Caribbean.

“It took on a life of its own after that. What became very fitting was the Latin meaning of rico (rich). [It] really became a manifestation of the rich cultures and cuisines and also the personification of my traveling and adventuring spirit.”

Rather than pigeonhole his unique collection of culinary offerings into the category of Mexican food, Herter describes his dishes as “MesoAmericano.”

“We have those familiar Southwestern items that rival or better the national brands way out in Mishawaka,” he said, “but we are decidedly different with affordable other items from Meso America. We use that term loosely to define a geographical area.”

That geographical area encompasses a variety of flavors drawn from cultures spanning the American Southwest to Latin America to the Caribbean.

In Rico’s, Herter has brought back many of those flavors and assembled them under one roof. And while he may have gone to great lengths to procure new dishes and recipes, he stresses that he decided to locate his restaurant close to campus so Notre Dame students wouldn’t have to. “The convenience and proximity to campus [is] important to [Notre Dame students who frequent Rico’s],” he said.

In Rico’s Filling Station, Notre Dame students now have a new one-stop shop for all things MesoAmerican.

Contact Tae Andrews at tandrew1@nd.edu