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Papacito's expanding into Detroit Lakes

Lucas Johnson, who has owned and managed the Perham Papacito's for the past two years, will be managing the Detroit Lakes location once it opens, which he's hoping will be in just a couple weeks. Marie Johnson/FOCUS1 / 3
Two large signs, one for the front of the building and another for the back, are expected to be hung within the next week. Marie Johnson/FOCUS2 / 3
Remodeling on the new Papacito's was nearly complete as of last week, with just a few finishing touches left to go. The restaurant has a rustic-industrial feel, with some exposed piping and corrugated steel accents. Marie Johnson/FOCUS3 / 3

Papacito’s Burritos is on a roll.

The little build-your-own-burrito joint inside the Perham BP gas station has seen nothing but growth since opening in 2012. Despite its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it location, the popular fast food restaurant has routinely packed in hungry crowds tighter than its famously overstuffed burritos.

Similar to chain restaurants like Chipotle or Qdoba, but with a more intimate, locally-owned feel, Papacito’s quickly sealed its success in Perham by offering reliably generous portions, fast service, affordable prices and friendly faces behind the counter.

When current owner Lucas Johnson took the business over in 2015, he fanned further growth by expanding the restaurant’s offerings, more than tripling the size of its menu and adding a wider variety of available toppings.

The result? Papacito’s has grown so big it’s now busting out of its Perham shell. A new, second location will be opening soon in Detroit Lakes.

“We’re really excited,” Johnson said last week of how he and his wife, Amy, were feeling in anticipation of the restaurant’s opening. “We felt like Detroit Lakes was ready for something like us (Papacito’s), and the timing felt right with how well the Perham store was doing.”

Johnson is hoping the new restaurant will open by early May.

Interior remodeling work on the building was nearly complete as of last week, and a few key employees were already in place. A few more workers were still needed, Johnson said, and the final inspection had yet to be done, but other than that, things were pretty much ready to go. Signage was expected to be hung within a week or so.

The restaurant will be located at 904 McKinley Avenue, right next to Dairy Queen in the new McKinley Plaza complex.

With wood-trimmed corrugated steel on the walls, some exposed pipes along the ceiling and other rustic-industrial design elements, the restaurant has a clean and modern, inviting style. Its high ceiling and large windows make it feel spacious, yet the seating area is intimate, with room for about 30 people.

“My wife and I wanted a new, yet older, feel,” Johnson said of the design. “It’s supposed to feel really comfortable; industrial but still cozy.”

The Detroit Lakes Papacito’s will feature all the same menu options offered in Perham—and possibly a few extras.

“We’ve got more space here; we have a great big kitchen, so we’re going to add in a few things here,” Johnson said of the new restaurant. “There’s not going to be anything you can get in Perham that you can’t get here, but there may be some things here that you can’t get in Perham.”

Options will include build-your-own burritos, tacos, quesadillas and loaded baked potatoes, as well as southwest-style breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy, and signature items. In Perham, for example, one of the signature items is a chipotle chicken burrito called “The Stinger,” a nod to the school’s Yellowjacket mascot and a favorite with local high school students. Johnson hopes to eventually create a Laker-themed signature burrito in Detroit Lakes.

Johnson will serve as the manager in Detroit Lakes, while his brother, Dusty Nagel, who has been working at the Perham location since last spring, will shift into the manager role there. Johnson, a longtime Perham resident, has years of experience in business. He was a manager at Pizza Ranch and The Cactus’s bowling alley prior to taking over at Papacito’s, and he has owned a local pest extermination company, Lakes Extermination, for about 9 years.

The Detroit Lakes Papacito’s Burritos will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday, to start, Johnson said, but those hours could change or vary depending on the seasons and customer flow. The restaurant may stay open later, or be open on Sundays, during big events like WE Fest or on high-traffic weekends like the Fourth of July.

For more information, check out the Papacito’s Burritos Facebook pages.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their young son and daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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