Los Gringos Locos Cantina Approaches 2 Million Served

A local favorite, LGL has thrived for 15 years on fresh food and friendly staff

By Dana Trumbull

“We’ve got such a wonderful local following. That’s what gets us through the summers.” Debra Nine, one of the five owners of Los Gringos Locos, 280 S. Phelps Drive in Apache Junction, is excited about the countdown to celebrating the popular restaurant’s two millionth customer – and even more excited that the landmark event will happen sometime very soon. “The computer will tell us who it is, but we’re glad that it’s happening during the summer, when the 2 millionth guest is likely to be a local and a regular customer!”

When the moment comes, the crazy gringos have planned “a big hoopla” to celebrate, showering customers with festive fun and presenting lucky number 2,000,000 with a grand prize. “Can’t tell you what it is… it’s a big secret!” Debra confided.

Gary Nine, also a partner in the business and ever the math teacher at heart, did the calculations about two months ago and alerted the owner group. “For an independent, family owned, non-franchised restaurant to succeed in this industry at all is amazing; but for us to be able to celebrate our two millionth guest is just incredible!” said Debra. The restaurant’s success is even more amazing when you consider that Debra was the only one of the partners who had any experience in the restaurant business prior to opening the doors, and that was limited to her years working as a waitress and bartender while attending high school and college.

“This has been quite an education,” Debra admitted. “This day to day insanity of the restaurant business, the economic rollercoaster we’ve been on in the last 15 years, the competition when Signal Butte came in with all those restaurants… but our customers stayed with us.

“And we got really fortunate with the nucleus of our staff. They’ve been here from the start, 15 years ago. They’re fantastic! Our kitchen staff, our managers; we feel very lucky that we have the staff that we do.” Los Gringos Locos employs anywhere from 30-50 people, depending on the season.

The owners – Gary and Debra Nine, Patty Smith, Jodi and Jeff Ehrlich – all remain active in the management of the business: staff training, marketing, merchandising, accounting and maintenance, but the true secret of the restaurant’s success could be in the kitchen. All of the recipes used at Los Gringos Locos are straight from Head Chef Citlaly’s personal collection, and she insists that everything be made fresh and from scratch every day.

On the bar side, Los Gringos has become known for its Tequila Club. When someone joins the Tequila Club, they get a card and a t-shirt. Each month, the bar’s liquor vendors bring interesting new tequilas to the club meeting. Members get to sample the featured tequilas for free. They also get an appetizer to share with another person and “just kinda hang out.” When members have sampled 60 tequilas, their names go on the wall with artwork painted by a former employee, Tony Gomez. “There’s a couple of different people who have done them, but he does the majority,” explained Debra.

“The first two years were so hard,” concluded Debra, “but in the long run, it’s been a really good move, and we are pleased with where we are and how we’ve grown and learned and adapted to our customers’ wants and needs and concerns.”

As the countdown continues, management advises everyone to “come often” for the best chance at becoming lucky number 2,000,000!

Photo above: The Tequila Club meets monthly at Los Gringos Locos for camaraderie and “new and interesting” tequila samples.

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