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Gringos Aims for Winter Opening on Phelps Street

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A new taqueria is likely to open downtown over the winter, pending the completion of renovations to its building.

On Tuesday, the Board of Zoning Appeals and City Planning Commission voted to recommend approving the taco bar, Gringos, at 20 and 24 Phelps St. The restaurant is owned by Rodney Freel, Ken Vigorito and Jorge Carreno, who also owns Margherita’s Grille in Girard.

“He’s always wanted to do a taco bar because he’s from Mexico. Born in Mexico City and trained as an Italian cook in Warren at Salvatore’s. He wanted to do something that’s back to his roots, back to what he grew up with,” Freel said of Carreno after the meeting. 

Any regulated-use business – the restaurant will serve alcohol – within 500 feet of another requires approval from City Council, which will take up the recommendation. Council meets next on Aug. 28.

The owners are also awaiting approval from the city’s design review committee, as well as zoning department. Once all permitting is completed, Freel said the build out of the space, most recently Commonwealth Land Title Agency of Youngstown, will take about four months. Plans are to open the restaurant in January or February. The space, owned by Bloom Land Co., will be leased.

“It’s structurally sound, but it was never a restaurant. It was an office space. We’re going to have to put a full kitchen in, restrooms, build a bar. It’ll completely change the inside of it,” Freel said, noting that the owners are working with Strollo Architects to design the space. “It’ll all depend on when we get the permits to start work.”

Renovating the space – the building’s second floor will remain vacant – will cost about $200,000, he said. The work will likely happen alongside the city’s replacement of sewer lines near the building, noted deputy director of public works Chuck Shasho. Work will be done over the winter, but streetscaping will be held until the weather breaks in spring.

“It might deter some people. It’s something we’ll have to work through,” Freel conceded at the meeting. “But it’s good for us and it’s good the city.”

Discussions to open the restaurant started about a year and a half ago, Freel said, and were largely driven by the resurgence of business in downtown Youngstown.

“There’s a large university right next door with a growing enrollment and other businesses are opening and having success down here. There’s no other Mexican or taco restaurant here yet,” he said. “Opening a different style of restaurant than what’s already here will give people a new atmosphere. Most people don’t go to the same place every time, so that variety gives them a reason to come back.”

It’s important that investors in the central business district are coming from outside city limits, noted Mayor Jamael Tito Brown.

“You need to find people who have skin in the Mahoning Valley. They already have a place in Girard and now they see value in Youngstown,” he said. “Then you find groups who come together and see value in downtown. It helps the city move forward and helps me as mayor attract more businesses downtown.”

Pictured: Gringos will open in this space, 20 and 24 Phelps Street, after renovations are completed.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.