Their food truck pioneered Tex-Mex cuisine in M’sia 10 yrs ago, now it’s a restaurant in TTDI

Gringo's Malaysia is a Tex-Mex restaurant in TTDI that had its start in 2014 as a food truck. Here's how it has grown in 10 years.

Their food truck pioneered Tex-Mex cuisine in M’sia 10 yrs ago, now it’s a restaurant in TTDI

Tucked on the first floor of a row of shoplots in TTDI, Gringo’s is a restaurant that specialises in Tex-Mex fare.

Although its current form is only around two years old, the brand has been around for a decade now. Its journey over the past 10 years is one that is commemorated by a wall labelled “Our Journey” instead the store.

Founder Azhan Benny Foo, or Ben, also corroborated their 10-year journey with Vulcan Post. Hailing from Cheras, Ben is actually a lawyer by profession and also the managing partner of ABC Food Truck, the proprietor of Gringo’s Malaysia (Gringo’s).

Gringo, for those who don’t know, is a slang term that’s widely used by Mexicans to refer typically to white American people. Looking up the term, it seems like it is often used in a disparaging way, though.

Ben has a background as a lawyer / Image Credit: Gringo’s Malaysia

So, why use it as a restaurant name?

“We thought the word is catchy where we always hear in the movies, such as Narcos, referring to white people,” Ben explained.

After doing some background search, the team realised that the term isn’t inherently derogatory or racist. This is as gringo may simply mean foreigner, depending on the context.

Image Credit: Gringo’s Malaysia

“As all of us are “foreigner” to the Mexican people, so we can also refer ourselves as Gringo’s,” Ben explained.

Ben shared that Gringo’s first got its start in 2014 with three main partners—himself, Ashraf, and Wu Shern. Later, two additional partners (Saw Eng Sin and Abu Hanifah) joined in.

But how exactly did the brand come to be?

A desire to popularise Tex-Mex food

The reason for Gringo’s start was pretty simple—the three founding partners simply all wished to start up a business. At that time, only Ashraf had the experience and knowledge of the F&B industry, so they dove right in with his lead.

At the time, the founders approached Saw who had just gotten back from Singapore after several years as a sous chef. Then, they had asked Saw to develop a unique menu for Gringo’s.

“We were impressed by the food tasting initially, and immediately we decided to open a food truck (it was the “in-thing” back then),” Ben reasoned. “We immediately raised funds among ourselves to materialise the plan.”

Image Credit: Gringo’s Malaysia

Recalling the scene in 2014, Ben shared that there were only big operators specialising in Tex-Mex cuisine at that time. Therefore, Gringo’s felt like there was a gap for them pioneer Tex-Mex food, which shouldn’t be confused with authentic Mexican cuisine.

Tex-Mex cuisine, as opposed to Mexican food, is considered regional American cuisine that originates from the culinary creations of Tejano people, which are Texans of Mexican heritage.

Yet, to date, Mexican food and Tex-Mex food are widely used interchangeably in Malaysia.

“It does not give the proper meaning of Tex-Mex cuisine. We still continue to promote our identity as Tex-Mex specialist and not Mexican cuisine specialist,” Ben explained.

How it grew to today

With a mission to popularise Tex-Mex food, Gringo’s operated from 2015 to 2019 in the TTDI area.

But for about three months in 2016, they actually moved to Jalan Telawi in Bangsar.

“As for the Bangsar operation, we had the opportunity to turn it into central kitchen and focus on delivery, but the timing was not right as at that time, Grabfood, Foodpanda, and other e-hailing services were not common,” Ben explained.

Image Credit: Gringo’s Malaysia

When the pandemic struck in 2020, though, food deliveries had already become a huge market. At this time, Gringo’s focused more on food delivery and catering, operating out of a central kitchen in Cheras.

Then in March 2022, an opportunity presented itself for the team to relocate to Langkawi. Yet, they only lasted about three months there as the demographic was not suitable for their food.

“One thing that I have to give credit to my team is that we are highly versatile, flexible, and robust when it comes to planning and executing business plans,” Ben shared.

“For example, if we know a certain place or business model is not workable within one to two months, we will quickly change to other methods to keep ourselves going.”

Image Credit: Gringo’s Malaysia

Ending their stint in Langkawi, they set up their physical brick-and-mortar outlet in August 2022.

Interestingly, it was never quite the intention for the team to set up a full-fledged restaurant. Rather, it was only after the pandemic that they decided to pivot, having seen how people were eager to dine out instead of eating on the go.

“When we were in Langkawi, we also realised the decline in popularity of a food truck, hence we made a collective decision to start a brick-and-mortar,” Ben elaborated.

Image Credit: Gringo’s Malaysia

Starting up the restaurant was certainly more pricey than opening a food truck, but they knew it was the right step forward.

Having invested a sizeable amount of money into the physical store, they plan to stay as long as possible at the current location. Ben shared they are in the midst of negotiating for a longer tenancy at TTDI.

“We faced tough challenges along the way,” Ben mused. “We kind of enjoyed and embraced the journey even though some did not turn out as what we expected it to be.”

Developing the Gringo’s brand

Ben shared that Gringo’s is looking to strengthen their brand name first before considering the possibility of expanding.

“If we can maintain another year providing the best food, experience and service, we may consider to license and/or franchise our business and provide technical expertise to those who wants to start a business in Tex-Mex cuisine,” he reasoned.

For other entrepreneurs looking to make headway in the F&B scene, it might seem like Gringo’s journey from starting a food truck and growing into a brick-and-mortar outlet might be a tried-and-true path. After all, other businesses such as Cowboys Barbecue & Grill did it too.

Image Credit: Gringo’s Malaysia

But in actuality, that might not always be the case. Yes, there are people who have made it, but not everyone might.

Ben’s advice to upcoming F&B entrepreneurs is all about perseverance, hard work, dedication, and commitment.

“You must be at your 100% best every day regardless of the business model that you choose,” he said. “If you have all the necessary traits mentioned above, it doesn’t matter if it’s a stall, food truck, or a restaurant. You have a better chance to succeed.”

Learn more about Gringo’s Malaysia here. Read other articles we’ve written abotu F&B here.

Featured Image Credit: Gringo’s Malaysia