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Gringo's reflects on first year, plans anniversary celebration

The tacos, tequila and mezcal bar has brought a modern twist on classic Mexican cuisine to North Phelps Street. Some of Gringo’s most popular items are trash can nachos, the barbacoa which is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked for 12 hours and a churro waffle with cinnamon ice cream for dessert. 

[EDITOR'S NOTE — Each week, this feature section, “Movers and Makers,” will feature the stories of the movers, launchers, entrepreneurs and makers who contribute to the vitality of the Mahoning Valley. This section is supported by our first community partner, Farmers National Bank.]

YOUNGSTOWN — Gringo's, a tacos, tequila and mezcal bar, has brought a modern twist on classic Mexican cuisine to downtown. 

The restaurant, 26 N Phelps St., is themed after the Mexican holiday, Dia De Los Muertos, the Day of the Dead celebration of life and death. The walls are covered with colorful flowers, skulls and characters. 

For its one-year anniversary, Gringo’s will host a week-long celebration during the first week of November — during Dia De Los Muertos — with food and entertainment. Dia De Los Muertos is on Nov. 2.

Ken Vigorito, owner of Gringo's, said he was initially inspired to start the restaurant four years ago. He was soon joined by his partner, Rodney Freel, and Gringo’s operator, Jorge Carreño. 

Today, the trio manages the restaurant by honing in on each of their individual skills — Vigorito’s background as a contractor, Freel’s background in real estate and Carreño’s authentic Mexican recipes and experience as a restaurant owner of Margherita’s Grille in Girard. 

Vigorito said he noticed taco bars having success in other cities, and wanted to bring the idea to downtown Youngstown. 

“[Freel, Carreño and I] just got together and I already had my concept down. I wanted a taco bar, and they bought into it and we just took it from there,” he said. 

Vigorito said Gringo's focuses on fresh food made daily and takes inspiration from authentic Mexican dishes. The restaurant plans to add a “build your own” option to the menu in the near future. 

“Jorge's mom actually came up from southern Mexico [to help with our menu],” Virgorito said. 

Its most popular items include trash can nachos — a mound of tortilla chips atop a paper-lined table with a plethora of toppings — barbacoa which is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked for 12 hours and a churro waffle with cinnamon ice cream for dessert.

Gringo’s aims to connect with other downtown businesses to build a fun atmosphere along Phelps Street that appeals to visitors and businesses.

“I actually put together the first party on Phelps. We had [Suzie’s Dogs & Drafts] that got into it, West 34th got into it … and we had the whole street shut down. I coordinated it, I sent all the paperwork in for the city,” Vigorito said. “We had the street closed off, we had open containers on the whole street, we had a band.” 

“What we told [other bar owners is] we're not here [only] for us. We want everybody to get along. If everybody brings their own crowd down, we all benefit. So we all need to work together,” he added. 

Vigorito told Mahoning Matters that the one-year anniversary will mark a new era for Gringo's, with new menu items, concepts and hours of operation. All changes are yet to be finalized, so for up-to-date information follow the restaurant's Facebook page or their Instagram account.

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