Entrepreneurs score big introducing American barbecue south of the border

| by Elliot Maras
Entrepreneurs score big introducing American barbecue south of the border

Partner Roberto Luna Aceves prepares barbecued beef in a trailer in Mexico City. Photo courtesy of Pinche Gringo.

Dan DeFossey learned to love barbecue while living on the Texas side of the U.S.-Mexico border. He learned how to make brisket visiting barbecue pits in Austin, Texas.

When he moved to Mexico City to work for Apple as education marketing manager for Latin America, he soon learned that American barbecue was nearly nonexistent in that metropolis. He was surprised, but he smelled opportunity. 

"There was an opportunity to achieve a new food category in the city of 23 million people," he said.

Five years later, he and his partner, Roberto Luna Aceves, operate two barbecue establishments named Pinche Gringo that are filled to capacity nearly every day.

Humble beginnings

With limited resources, the partners made their way into the Mexico City culinary scene in a trailer.

An Airstream trailer served as the kitchen
for the first establishment.

"We wanted to make sure we offered an authentic American experience," DeFossey said. Having an American trailer was one way to connote American authenticity.

The partners bought a 27-foot, 1973 Airstream Ambassador trailer in McAllen, Texas, replaced its floor and installed a kitchen. They designed the kitchen themselves and hired contractors to build it.

They parked the trailer in a middle-class section of the city on the site of a ceramics factory that had been demolished except for the walls. They placed eight tables in an open seating area around the trailer, which they named "The Silver Twinkie."

"The trailer’s parked inside the restaurant," DeFossey explained. "The trailer’s a cool place for people to line up."

Focus on technology

The partners also installed a POS system, which most Mexican restaurants did not have.

"I come from a technology company, so we wanted to make sure that we integrated a cool experience which involved technology in order to make it cool and make it exciting," DeFossey said.

Dan DeFossey saw a need
for Texas-style barbecue
in Mexico City.

The POS suite includes a mobile ordering system, four POS terminals, and a kitchen display system for the meat-tenders who cut the meat for the customers by the pound.

The meat-tenders weigh the meat on a scale that integrates with the POS. The POS helps streamline daily operations and facilitate customer ordering and transactions.

DeFossey looked at the Revel Systems POS after some of his former Apple colleagues recommended it. He wanted to be able to use iPads as cash registers.

"[The customers] had never signed something with their finger," DeFossey said. "It was a big surprise [for them] and a delight for us. Our customers continuously are surprised and delighted by using an iPad."  

DeFossey did not wish to disclose the upfront costs for the restaurant, except to say that, "When I opened the restaurant, I had about $125 in my wallet; that was it."

Focus on traditional barbecue

To guarantee the genuine taste of traditional barbecue, they commissioned a handmade barbecue pit called the "Black Torpedo."

To achieve the perfect smoke chamber, they cook meat "low and slow" for 12 to 14 hours, DeFossey said. The traditional barbecue menu includes brisket, pulled pork, ribs, sausage and turkey, lemonade and beer. Sides include macaroni and cheese, baked beans, coleslaw and potato salad. 

The "Black Torpedo" barbecue pit was built by hand.

In the beginning, customers were not familiar with the barbecue fare except for the ribs. But once they tried it, they liked it. The menu has now expanded to include artisanal beer, which has become popular.

The restaurant, which is open from 1–7 p.m. weekdays and noon–7 p.m. on weekends, has expanded to include 29 tables.

"That was really fun to watch," DeFossey said. "People were really intrigued." All business came via word of mouth.

"We just kept on building and building and building every time we made more money," he said. Meanwhile, the neighborhood grew, which fed the restaurant more customers.

In February of 2014, they made the local news.

"After that aired, we had a line out the door every Saturday and Sunday," DeFossey said.

Part two of this two-part series will explore how the POS system helped the company expand to a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Food & Beverage, Independent Operators, POS Systems, Systems / Technology

Elliot Maras
Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.

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