Dan Defossey is probably the only restaurateur in Mexico City who has interned with Bill Clinton.
The co-owner of the Pinche Gringo barbecue restaurant in Narvarte worked for free for the former president as a personal assistant to his personal assistant in Clinton’s New York City office. Defossey did the year-long stint in 2004 while working on his master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in public administration at Columbia University.
“He was my idol. I was a Clinton fan,” Defossey said during a recent interview at his restaurant. “It was a really great experience. He is a brilliant person.”
Defossey said he could not say any more because he had to sign a nondisclosure agreement in order to join Clinton’s staff.
The restaurateur grew up on Long Island and got his first taste of Mexico from 2000 to 2004 with the Teach for America Program. Defossey taught high school history his first year in Roma, Texas, on the Rio Grande. The 37-year-old businessman started a television station at the school his next year and worked with Mexican-American students, some of whom had trouble with English, but had no problem wielding cameras.
“It was a profound experience in my life,” he said. “I was able to build a station from nothing.”
Among the shows produced by The Gladiator Television Network was a dating game played by school administrators.
“All the town went nuts,” Defossey said. “We pushed the limits.”
During that period in his life, Defossey got acquainted with Mexico, crossing the border on a regular basis. He also got introduced to Texas-style barbecue thanks to his next door neighbor, Mexican-American Ludy Moreno.
“She taught me what barbecue was,” Defossey said.
After working for Apple in New York City, he was sent by the computer giant to Mexico City in 2009 as its education point person.
By the fall of 2013, Defossey and his friend and now-business partner, Roberto Luna, decided they wanted to introduce barbecue to Mexico City. Defossey said he was always surprised that Mexico does not have a tradition of eating barbecue as Mexicans are known to be big meat-eaters.
In preparation for opening the restaurant, Defossey and Luna drove from Texas to Mexico with 50 cases of Country Time Lemonade.
“It probably was not a good idea to drive through Mexico with white powder. We got stopped 11 times,” Defossey said.
The restaurant opened officially in December 2013 out of the Airstream trailer the two men used to haul their stash of powdered lemonade from Texas to Mexico City. Airstream trailers debuted in the United States in 1936. The at-the-time, luxury camping trailers are distinctive by virtue of their rounded, polished aluminum coachwork.
Initially, all the cooking was done in the trailer, which has been nicknamed the Silver Twinkie. At that time, the only seating was at eight picnic tables. Defossey worked as the restaurant’s cashier. The business had such long lines of people who wanted to eat their food, which is served cafeteria style, that the business partners added more seating. Pinche Gringo now boasts 31 picnic tables and can seat 210.
As part of his role as marketing and sales person for the restaurant, Defossey schedules comedy nights in English once a month and sees to it that a traditional turkey dinner with all the accoutrements is served on Thanksgiving. A lot of Mexicans who have lived in the United States and have experienced that holiday come to Pinche Gringo’s Thanksgiving feast, Defossey said.
Pinche Gringo marks the Fourth of July with an eight-minute brisket-eating contest. The record is four sandwiches and the winner is awarded 2,000 pesos.
Defossey said many Mexicans want to experience U.S. culture and that coming to Pinche Gringo is a good way for them to do that.
“People can come and experience our culture in a very authentic way,” he said.
According to Defossey “Pinche Gringo” translates roughly into Mexican Spanish as “darn gringo.”
He believes lots of Yankees approach Mexico with a sense of superiority.
“The word ‘pinche’ gives us humility,” he said. “We are making fun of ourselves. People love our name. It is one reason we became popular so fast.”