New owners of Los Gringos Locos continue the established recipes and traditions
By Dana Trumbull
Most people, when it comes time to move closer to the grandkids, begin researching homes and retirement communities that are closer to their children. For Glenn and Vickie Schmidt, though, it meant merging their long years of experience in the restaurant business with their son’s to acquire an established family restaurant as co-owners. Michael, their son, was already a successful restaurateur, with an Italian place in Gilbert. Glenn and Vickie had a longstanding Mexican restaurant in California.
“I was 14 when my folks moved from New York to California and opened their first restaurant,” Michael reminisced. “I worked there every day – my sisters, too. It’s nice when you start from nothing and watch it blossom – one business turns into two, and then into three… It’s nice that, after all these years, we’re back together.”
And together, they ended up buying a restaurant that was not yet for sale: Los Gringos Locos in Apache Junction.
“We looked at this steakhouse that was for sale in Gilbert,” related Michael, “but we weren’t too thrilled with it, and the broker said, ‘Hey, I’ve got somebody who’s interested in selling, but it’s not on the market yet. You should take a look at it.’
“My first impression of Los Gringos Locos was that it reminded me a lot of my dad’s Mexican restaurant in CA: family run and family oriented, very involved in the community, repeat clientele, local customers – and just the vibe. I liked it. It was just the right place at the right time. The previous owners here were a family, and we were appealing to them as buyers, because we were working together as a family. It worked out great – but it was quick!”
The Schmidts jumped into the new enterprise in early December. “I wasn’t too familiar with the concept of snowbirds or the different seasons; we didn’t really know what to expect. It was a little crazy, but as the weeks went on, it got more comfortable. It was actually nice that we took over at this time of year, because now we know what to expect next season and how we can set up the store to run more efficiently.”
The Schmidts will be remodeling the bathrooms, repaving the parking lots and making some changes to the server stations this summer, “Doing the things that you can’t do when you’re really busy…” but one thing Michael emphasizes is that they are not making any major changes to the recipes that have made Los Gringos successful! “A few tweaks” include using a higher grade cut of beef for the carne asada (but the same marinade!), and, heeding customer feedback, they now serve the shredded beef without the peppers and onions, although customers can always add them, by request, at no extra charge.
The third tweak was a switch from cubed chicken to shredded chicken in the established recipes. “Again, we still kept the same marinade and recipes: all the sauces, all the desserts and appetizers, all the margaritas…” They also beefed up the bar with some additional IPA beers that were requested by customers.
Probably the biggest change will come this summer when they redesign the layout of the menu and lower “a lot” of the prices. “We’re not lowering the quality; we want to put out the best food we can at a price that’s affordable, and we can make up the difference in the bottom line by selling more.”
Michael is also excited that they kept “probably 95%” of the staff, although some left during the uncertainty of the transition and then came back, including the long-time general manager, Kim Johnson, who has been working at Los Gringos for 13 years. “A lot of the staff has been here 10-15 years! I mean, really, we’re the ‘new employees’ here! If a customer wants to know what’s in a dish, we have to go ask the cook!”
Los Gringos Locos’ popular Tequila Club is also going strong, despite a glitch in the email database used to send reminders to club members. “We found out that the previous service was sending out unsolicited emails to club members, so we discontinued the contract with them, and now we have to rebuild our email database manually… If you are a member of Tequila Club and haven’t been getting your email reminders, let us know! We’ll get you back on the list.”
Generally, Tequila Club members meet on the 2nd Wednesday each month to sample featured tequilas from vendors and socialize. Club members get every tenth shot free anytime. Go to www.losgringoslocosaj.com/tequila-challenge-club for more info.
“We’ll also be continuing Customer Appreciation Day in July, as the previous owners did,” added Michael. “We really like that. It’s an opportunity to thank the locals for bearing with us during the crazy months and just let them know that we appreciate them.”
Check out the “new” – but pretty much the same – Los Gringos Locos, located at 280 S. Phelps Dr., Apache Junction, AZ; 480-288-LOCO or www.losgringoslocosaj.com.
Photo above: Michael Schmidt – one of the new “locos gringos” who purchased the popular restaurant, along with parents Glenn and Vickie Schmidt, last December.