Three years ago, taquerias were the talk of the town. Then came the onslaught of barbecue. Then fried chicken. Then, more barbecue. But with today’s announcement that Gringo in the CWE will become the city’s third Mission Taco Joint, the spotlight has momentarily shifted back to the taqueria.
Chris Sommers, owner of eight Pi Pizzerias, will sell Gringo (his only Mexican-themed restaurant) to brothers Adam and Jason Tilford, who own nothing but Mexican-themed restaurants (Tortilleria Mexican Kitchen, Milagro Modern Mexican, and two Mission Taco Joints).
Sommers told SLM that Gringo will close after service this Sunday, February 14 and that he "hopes to see many of Gringo’s guests before that to give him and his staff the opportunity to thank them for their business and friendship.” Adam Tilford says the remodel is expected to take six to eight weeks and that the city’s latest joint should open sometime in April.
Alert readers will remember that Gringo and the original (Delmar Loop) location of Mission Taco opened within two months of one another in the spring of 2013: Gringo’s vibe (above) was by-the-sea chill, while the more rough-hewn Mission sported a wall-size, corrugated-tin mural of San Francisco’s Mission District (below).
Gringo had a rocky start but rebounded after the hiring of star chef Cary McDowell; Mission came out of the chute como un toro loco and has yet to slow down (even after a second location opened in Soulard in 2014).
That’s why Adam Tilford isn’t worried about the CWE location cannibalizing his flagship. He told SLM he sees the CWE and the Loop as "two totally unique, amazing neighborhoods." He added that “Chris [Sommers] has already proven that with his two locations [also in the Loop and the CWE], which have been crushing it for years. Plus, neither place is really that big—the Loop Mission seats 87 and Gringo only seats 100.”
But then there’s the Tilford brothers’ other restaurant in the CWE—Tortilleria Mexican Kitchen—located just half a mile down Euclid from Gringo. Adam Tilford wasn’t worried about its effect, either: “Tortilleria is a more traditional Mexican restaurant, a place we’ve owned for 11 years,” he said, “so the idea of having a sister restaurant on North Euclid is very exciting."
Adam and Jason Tilford
He and his brother had been looking for another location for Mission Taco for some time, and when Sommers called about the Gringo space, they knew it was the right opportunity. Adam Tilford said of Gringo: “They’ve done a great job building an audience for a modern take on tacos in the neighborhood. We hope to slide in and fill the void.
“They did an amazing job with the space, and Gringo's patio is top five in St. Louis, in my opinion," he continued. "We’ll be working with Tom [Niemeier] at SPACE architects again, to make it feel like a Mission, but the bones are great.” When asked what improvements might be made, Tilford said there’d be a large mural, just like the other locations, and perhaps some perforated-metal window treatments, "maybe to cafe height, to soften the impact of the floor-to-ceiling windows…something to add a little more intimacy.”
Another reason the space appealed to Tilford was Gringo’s downstairs dining area: “We are often turning away parties of 20-40 people at Mission because we have nowhere to put them" he said. "And I know Jason would like to do some pop-up and themed dinners. With a full bar, draft lines, and a small kitchen, we both see a lot of potential there.”
The Tilfords have another Mission Taco in the works in 2016, this one in Kansas City's Crossroads Art District, in a warehouse space they're sharing with another St. Louis original, International Tap House (iTAP). That location is slated to open in the fall of 2016.
For his part, Sommers (right) was equally excited about the change. He said, "The sale to the Tilfords will allow us to focus on the growth of our pizza business and allow the Tilfords to expand their Mexican food empire. It's a win-win-win -- for our restaurant group, the Tilfords and their team, plus our neighbors, who can continue enjoying modern Mexican food on this corner."
Sommers’ plans are to open a Pi in Bethesda, MD (just outside Washington, DC, home of the highest-grossing Pi) in two months. He’s also working on an entirely new concept to open this summer.
Sommers was gracious in thanking the team at Gringo for building such a loyal audience “who we are confident will frequent the new Mission Taco with as much frequency as they did Gringo.” He added that “all current Gringo employees are being offered new jobs at Pi Pizzerias, and that Mission Taco is also anxious to hire the Gringo team."
Customers holding gift cards are not out of luck, either, as all Gringo gift cards will be redeemable at any Pi location.