OREM — So, where does Bronco Mendenhall hang out?
There's a table reserved just for him and his staff in a corner. It is there, they can have a little privacy, pound some food down while figuring out life as an independent football program.
It's called Milagros, a Mexican restaurant at 800 North in Orem by the new WinCo Foods store.
The owner, Dave Tuomisto, forged a friendship with the very private Mendenhall several years ago, far away from chips, salsa and honey pineapple shrimp salads.
Tuomisto and Mendenhall first met over the tail pipes of a Harley Davidson. Now, Mendenhall will pass up 10 Mexican restaurants on the way to dine at Dave's place.
"He is a friend of mine," said Mendenhall.
And that label is quite the endorsement by the BYU coach who allows very few into his inner circle.
"I grew up in Arizona where my dad, as a businessman, took care of ASU coaches Frank Kush and John Cooper," said Tuomisto.
"He taught me it was a businessman's responsibility to support the local college sports. I look to help Bronco because he's got the toughest coaching job in college football. He's not only trying to win on the field, but trying to impact the lives of his players off it. He tries to be an ambassador for his school and he works hard to try and get his players to live the honor code at a time in their lives when it may be the toughest thing they can do."
Tuomisto's friendship with Mendenhall all started when BYU's senior associate athletic director Brian Santiago approached Mendenhall and asked if he'd be interested in trading something or endorsing Harley Davidson.
"Next thing I know is Brian introduced me to Dave and Dave literally says, 'Pick one.' I didn't know what I was picking at that time. He gave me a helmet, a Harley Davidson jacket, a heater that plugs in and told me 'We aren't even keeping score on this one, it's just for a love of the team and support in the community — consider it a gift from a friend.'"
From that point, Mendenhall was impressed. He began hanging out at Timpanogos Harley Davidson on 1600 North and Geneva Road to escape and find a retreat. Most Cougar Club members don't regularly frequent a Harley stop. "I could go there and it was a nice place to hang out. Dave was a nice guy and great to talk to."
Tuomisto said the key to getting close to Bronco is to not talk football. "I never talk football. I talk surfing, the long or short board, riding motorcycles — anything but football."
Tuomisto founded the once popular Rosa's and current Bajio restaurants. He built Timpanogos Harley Davidson with a creative design — materials came from historic local sites where he mined things like old steel beams and railroad trusses for building material. At the store, he opened up Marley's, a fast-food restaurant that features hamburger sliders, and Mendenhall used to take his family and friends there.
Tuomisto lost the Harley Davidson store two years ago. It knocked him off his feet. About that time, Mendenhall and his wife Holly invited Tuomisto on a trip with the team to escape a circle of pressure that had become discouraging. "I wanted him to just enjoy a nice weekend," said Bronco.
In the worst economy in years, just after losing his motorcycle franchise, Tuomisto dared to create another enterprise. While people lost jobs, 401ks, and savings, Tuomisto created Milagros last January. It grew 20 percent a month until orange cones on 800 North near the I-15 exit pretty much sealed off entrance to his parking lot.
Mendenhall knows the way and he doesn't mind pushing Milagros to help his friend, who was brave enough to try when many businessmen quit, sold out or walked away.
Milagro means miracle in Spanish.
Mendenhall hopes Tuomisto succeeds in his little miracle. That he hit hard times and got back up strikes a note with Bronco. He's a coach for a school that walks to the beat of its own drum, as does Mendenhall. Tuomisto does too, and that's why they've hit it off.
"Dave keeps an open table for the coaches at Milagros any time we are there. I refuse to take anything for free at this point, I just want to support the business. It's a great place to eat," said Mendenhall.
His favorite menu item?
"No question — the ribs. They are unreal. In fact, when we cater for our team, I've used the ribs. The great thing is you can go take out, bring them home for Sunday dinner, warm them up and the meat just falls off the rib, it's fantastic. It is so good.
"I like who Dave is, I like the atmosphere of where he is and he knows how to do things first class.
"It is upscale Mexican food, where you can not just get a lot of food, but great food and not a traditional Utah Valley setting and I think he's accomplished that."
"Anytime our coaches have an afternoon, that's where they want to go and eat. That's a pretty good endorsement from guys who are big and eat a lot."
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