Growing up on Long Island, New York, 44-year-old Dan Defossey always thought he would go into politics.
And while Defossey began his career working in politics, he eventually became a teacher and a member of the Teach For America Corps 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 Education Marketing for Latin America. Defossey moved to Mexico City.
In 2013, Defossey and his friend and Mexico City resident Roberto Luna were hiking in the city when he approached Luna and told her they should do something else with their lives. Despite having no experience running a restaurant, the two decided that it would be a good idea to open one.
“We had no idea how to run a restaurant and were basically learning as we went,” Defossey said.
In 2013, Defossey and Luna bought an airstream in Texas and brought it back to Mexico City. In it, they opened their first Texas-style barbecue restaurant.
“I knew we were going to put everything out there because we thought we had something that was unique. There were no barbecue restaurants here in the city; we’re so close to the United States. Mexicans love meat,” Defossey told CNBC Make It. .
“There was a great opportunity to open up a new category of food… And when you have that window to be able to do something like that, you have to take advantage of it.”
The couple decided to call the restaurant Pinche Gringo, which means “Darn American,” and scoffs at the idea of opening a BBQ restaurant in Mexico City.
“It gave us a bit of humility, which I think broke down a wall and allowed our Mexican customers to be more open to something that was unique and different,” Defossey said.
At first, Defossey and Luna would spend hours giving out brisket samples and explaining the meat to the locals.
Defossey tells CNBC Make It that he and Luna were making $30 in the beginning. one day and the food did not taste good.
“We gave a sample of our food to some dogs in the neighborhood. The dogs wouldn’t eat it, and that’s when we said, okay, this is a problem. But we kept practicing,” he said.
One day, a local reporter came by to sample the food and published a positive article about Defossey and Luna’s restaurant. Since then, Pinche Gringo has had a steady customer base.
Being a Texas-style barbecue 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 don’t have tortillas. I don’t have Jamaica water, horchata water. I don’t have chiles toreados. And the most sacrilegious thing is that I don’t have limes, and Mexicans love limes on things,” says DeFoseey.
“And why? Because I wanted to offer something that was unique, that was different from what anyone had seen before.”
Defossey and Luna opened that first airstream restaurant in 2013, but have since expanded into what is now known as Groupo Chilango Gringo. The group owns and operates seven restaurants, including sandwich shops, a bar and the Pinche Gringo barbecue joint. It is the largest location and can hold up to 3,000 people at a time.
In 2022, Groupo Chilango Gringo’s revenue was $159,121 USD and it had more than $9 million USD in sales, according to tax documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.
The restaurant group has 105 employees and sells between 15 and 20 metric tons of meat per month.
“In fact, we opened this restaurant to share an authentic part of our culture with Mexicans so that we can bring the two countries together,” says Defossey.
“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.”
At this time, Defossey’s goal for the Groupo Chilango Gringo brand is to continue expanding while maintaining the positive and welcoming culture that has been cultivated among the staff.
“I have always believed 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 restaurants. I love being here. And I’m living that dream,” says Defossey.
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