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MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Pancho Villa is locked and shuttered.

The base shut down the Mexican restaurant July 22, terminating its contract with the Pancho Villa concession holder. Base officials declined to name the concession holder, but restaurateur Dave Scott previously has identified himself as the Pancho Villa proprietor.

The restaurant opened this spring in a building formerly housing an Italian restaurant, after a $600,000 renovation including a redesigned kitchen, an outdoor patio overlooking Lake Ogawara and a Mexican-theme interior.

Scott had a contract with the 35th Services Squadron to manage and staff the restaurant next to Misawa’s golf course. He also contracted to provide golfers a beverage cart and food service.

“We wanted those three parts of the business to meet our expectations,” said Col. Tom Yanni, 35th Mission Support Group commander. “That hasn’t happened. After much discussion, we determined that to continue the contract would not be in our best long-term interest.”

Yanni said he could not provide more details as to why base officials felt the arrangement wasn’t in the “government’s best interest.”

But he did say it was a painful decision. “We really wanted that place to succeed and we tried. We put every available resource we had …. to make the place succeed. It’s a huge disappointment.”

Scott, contacted Monday afternoon at his home in Kanagawa near Tokyo, said the closure surprised him.

“I had no complaints. They didn’t tell me to do anything differently. I had no notice. They called me at 5 o’clock and told me over the phone ‘You’re closed,’” he said. “It wasn’t right. I had no intention of closing it. It’s a complete shock to me.”

Misawa’s Pancho Villa was Scott’s third restaurant. He opened the original one — a small, cozy establishment between Camp Zama and Sagamihara housing area — 11 years ago. For two years, he’s operated Pancho Villa at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo. He said the Yokota business is going well.

With a 120-diner capacity, the Misawa Pancho Villa was Scott’s largest venture.

The restaurant opened March 29 but closed again after a week of long lines and slow service. Scott, in a previous interview with Stripes, said it was “a soft opening,” and that he had too little time to train the staff and “have everything running perfectly.”

The restaurant reopened April 28.

Some base residents indicated the restaurant’s food and service were uneven.

Jaime Freeborne, a Department of Defense Dependents Schools teacher at Misawa, said she and her family ate there recently and waited more than an hour for their food, she said. They asked for the kids’ meals to come out early, and “they didn’t offer compensation for it being a bad experience,” she said. “The service was pretty poor and the food was so-so.”

Senior Master Sgt. Walter Humko of the 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron said, “We had to wait an extra 15 minutes for iced tea. I never went back again.”

Airman 1st Class Evan Fish, however, was disappointed to hear the place closed: “The servings were big and the salsa was fresh. That’s the only Mexican place that we have here.”

Yanni said base officials intend to put another restaurant in the facility, though there are no guarantees. “Whether we do it ourselves, whether it’s another contractor, we just don’t know yet.”

He noted that services held a job fair three days after Pancho Villa closed for the restaurant staff. Services officials said 11 employees came to the fair and three currently are working for services. Scott in May said he had a staff of 55.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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