Gourmet Gringos been so busy dishing out tasty Latin American cuisine and growing their brand that other cultural staples – a siesta maybe? – have been hard to come by! Gringos owners Krystian Catala and Terry Nicolaou have very very busy since they launched Toronto’s first Latin-American influenced food truck in the fall of 2012.
Fans will already know about their new sit down restaurant at Bathurst and St. Clair, a cheery, 24-seat eatery that doubles as a prep kitchen for the busy food truck that opened in early November. We caught up with co-owner Krystian Catala to talk about Gringos’ expansion and hear what’s coming down the pipe. First off, the flagship restaurant is going great, says Catala: “The neighborhood has embraced us. It’s a very friendly community scene there.”
Asked if he’d always wanted to open a restaurant, his answer is a surprise: “No. We always wanted to open a food truck,” Catala laughs. “We wanted to avoid opening a restaurant. It’s so much work and only 10% of them make it.” So what happened? For one thing, it was a prudent financial move. Like many food trucks, Gringos had to rent commercial kitchen space to prep food for truck service. It was expensive and inconvenient to remove all their tools and ingredients in between shifts. And then, of course, there was the wild success of the food truck.
“I guess in the truck, we ended up testing out a concept and it turns out we were more busy than we expected. It just made sense to give it a try.” There’s little doubt the food truck helped build brand awareness before setting up shop: “For sure. It definitely gave us exposure. It’s like a moving billboard.”
As anyone who has ever eaten a perfectly spiced, authentic taco from Gringos knows, the real secret is in the authenticity of the food: “If you can offer good quality, homemade, authentic food, you’re gonna do well. Everything we make is fresh. Our guacamole will always be made every morning with fresh avocados. We use fresh meat – local. Fresh produce – local. Everything is made from scratch and Toronto has embraced that. We’re proud of our food. It speaks for itself.”
The quality, of course, continues in the sit-down restaurant, which goes on a bit of a limb to offer things that truck doesn’t offer. Like cheese. What? Fear not, authenticity lovers. While talking to me on the phone, Catala went to great lengths to describe the cheese debate. (Cheese is not an ingredient you’ll find on a Mexican taco.) It’s something that pleases customers – many have asked – and with the extra elbow room that comes with the restaurant, Gringos decided they could accommodate the request. Flour tortillas? Still under discussion.
905ers will be happy to hear that Gringo’s is heading north, too, with an Aurora location (at Bayview and Wellington in the Home Depot plaza) opening in December 2013. “The Aurora is already under construction. Hopefully it will open before Christmas. I live in Aurora and my business partner Terry lives in Richmond Hill. It’s a great family area and we’re in need of some good family restaurants here.”
How does it compare to downtown location? “It will be a lot bigger,” says Catala. “We’re opening up with a liquor licence. It’s going to be grab and go lunch and dinner will be sit down.” There’s also a Yonge/Bloor location slated to open in 2015 and a Woodbridge location in the works, too. For these new enterprises, they’re hard at work standardizing their menu to offer up a set selection of 10 favourite items.
The Bathurst/St. Clair location will remain distinct, operating as a sort of flagship boutique, with a changing menu: “The Bathurst restaurant and the truck will have our old logo and will remain unique in the way we operate them. The menu will change and be more adventurous. That will keep them really relevant, too.”
Some may be wondering where the Nazca food truck fits in, with Gringo’s brand expanding so broadly. Catala says another truck owner hired the Gringo’s team to run Nazca as a 50/50 partnership, which they did for about 3 months in summer 2013. Though it’s not official yet, with Gringo’s expansion, it’s unlikely they’ll carry on with Nazca. What about those downtowners who have come to rely on Gringos for their lunch service? “We’re 100% about Toronto. Thats our home base for the lunch service. The Toronto truck will always be there.”