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Restauranteur Dan Defossey on bringing BBQ to Mexico City

BusinessRestauranteur Dan Defossey on bringing BBQ to Mexico City

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Growing up in Long Island, New York, Dan Defossey, 44, always thought he would go into politics.

And while Defossey did begin his career working in politics, he eventually became a teacher & Teach For America Corps Member in Texas before landing a job as an educator at Apple in New York.

He was in that position for just over three years, when he was promoted in 2009 to Head of Marketing in Education for Latin America. Defossey relocated to Mexico City.

In 2013, Defossey and his friend and Mexico City-local Roberto Luna were hiking in the city when he turned to Luna and said they should do something else with their lives. Despite having no experience running a restaurant, the two decided it might be a good idea to open one.

“We had no idea how to operate a restaurant and were basically learning on the fly,” Defossey said.

Defossey and Luna opened the first Pinche Gringo restaurant in an airstream in 2013.

Tasia Jensen and Beatriz Bajuelos Castillo / CNBC Make It

In 2013, Defossey and Luna bought an airstream in Texas, drove it back down to Mexico City. In it, they opened their first Texas-Style BBQ restaurant.

“I knew we were going to put everything into it because we thought we had something that was unique. There were no barbecue restaurants here in the city; we are so close to the United States. Mexicans love meat,” Defossey tells CNBC Make It.

“There was a great opportunity to open up a new food category… And when you have that window to be able to do something like that, you have to seize it.”

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The pair decided to name the restaurant Pinche Gringo, which means “Darn American,” and pokes fun at the idea of them opening a BBQ restaurant in Mexico City.

“It gave us a bit of humility, which I think brought down a wall and allowed our Mexican customers to be more open to something that was very unique and different,” Defossey said.

The Pinche Gringo BBQ warehouse is the biggest location and can hold up to 3,000 people.

Tasia Jensen and Beatriz Bajuelos Castillo / CNBC Make It

In the beginning, Defossey and Luna spent hours giving out samples of brisket and explaining the meat to locals.

Defossey tells CNBC Make It that at first, he and Luna were bringing in $30 USD a day and the food didn’t taste good.

“We gave a sample of our food to some dogs in the neighborhood. The dogs didn’t eat it, and that’s when we were like, okay, this is a problem. But we kept on practicing,” he said.

One day a local reporter came by to try the food and ran a positive piece on Defossey and Luna’s restaurant. Since then, Pinche Gringo has had a consistent customer base.

Being a Texas-style BBQ restaurant in Mexico City isn’t the only thing that sets the Pinche Gringo brand apart. They also didn’t tropicalize anything for the location which means they don’t offer any traditional Mexican ingredients on the menu.

“I do not have tortillas. I do not have agua Jamaica, agua horchata. I don’t have chilis toreados. And the most sacrilegious thing is that I do not have limes and Mexicans love limes on things,” DeFoseey says.

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“And why? Because I wanted to offer something that was unique, that was different than anyone has ever seen before.”

The Groupo Chilango Gringo currently has 105 employees.

Tasia Jensen and Beatriz Bajuelos Castillo / CNBC Make It

Defossey and Luna opened that first airstream restaurant in 2013, but have since expanded into what is now known as the Groupo Chilango Gringo. The group owns and operates seven restaurants, including sandwich shops, a bar, and the Pinche Gringo BBQ warehouse. It’s the largest location and can host up to 3,000 people at a time.

In 2022, Groupo Chilango Gringo’s revenue was $159,121 USD and it had over $9 million USD in sales, according to tax documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.

The restaurant group has 105 employees and sells 15-20 metric tons of meat a month

“We actually opened this restaurant to share with Mexicans an authentic part of our culture so that we can bring the two countries together,” Defossey says.

“This is the power of being able to share my beautiful American culture with Mexico. And this is how I can give back to the country that has embraced me so much.”

Defossey and Luna’s restaurants sell a combined total of 15-20 metric tons of meat a month.

Tasia Jensen and Beatriz Bajuelos Castillo / CNBC Make It

Right now, Defossey’s goal for the Groupo Chilango Gringo brand is to keep expanding, while still sustaining the positive and welcoming culture that has been cultivated among the staff.

“I always believe that the soul of our restaurant is our people. It makes me very happy every day to go to work. I love my people. I love the restaurants. I love being here. And I’m living that dream,” Defossey says.

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