Gringos Celebrates Opening in Phelps Street Gateway

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — With the unseasonably warm weather this weekend and the recent opening of the Phelps Street Gateway, Rodney Freel is hopeful that Gringos will get a boost in foot traffic.

The tacos, tequila and mezcal bar at 24. N. Phelps St. celebrated its official grand opening Friday, though its doors have been open since Sept. 8. Business has been “pretty good” so far, said Freel, who co-owns the restaurant with Ken Vigorito and Jorge Carreño.

“We’re getting a lot of repeat customers and people are very happy with our food,” Freel said.

During the construction on Phelps Street, Gringos’ only available entrance was its back door. Since the city cut the ribbon to the gateway Oct. 30, he’s seen more customers coming in.

“It’s been hard to find us coming through the back parking lot,” he said. “But with the warmer weather, we’re seeing an influx. We’re hoping to build some new clientele before the winter’s here so they’ll know where we’re at.”

Gringos co-owners Jorge Carreño, Rodney Freel and Ken Vigorito.

The statewide 10 p.m. curfew, however, has minimized the bar crowd, he noted.

When the pandemic finally lifts, Gringos will feature more consistent live entertainment on the weekends and will make use of the open space in the corridor.

The owners say they look forward to working with neighboring restaurateurs to start building the nightlife culture of Phelps Street.

As spring 2021 warms things up and pedestrian traffic increases in the corridor, Vigorito expects the restaurant will have more food and drink specials and different menu items as well, he says.

“Right now, it’s just getting through with what’s going on,” Vigorito said. “We did start our lunch specials and our happy hours, so we’re hoping that helps a little bit.”

Grand opening festivities continue today with a DJ from 1 to 4 p.m. and a live band from 7 to 10 p.m., as well as food and drink specials.

City clerk Valencia Marrow, who’s worked downtown for about 14 years, was present for the ribbon-cutting. She’s excited to see something different downtown. The addition of the Gateway and the overall cultural shift to downtown is fantastic, she said.

“I travel a lot,” Marrow said. “You see this in other cities and we never had it here. So it finally feels like it’s coming together as opposed to having to jump in your car and go to Cleveland or Pittsburgh.”

City Council President DeMaine Kitchen agreed, saying the opening of the pedestrian-friendly Phelps Street walkway “adds another layer of attraction for the residents for the surrounding area.”

“I think the restaurants, the businesses, the shops on this street will be even more patronized, because you open it up,” Kitchen said. “I’m looking forward to the spring when the weather is consistently nice.”

Kitchen congratulated Gringos, saying businesses opening during the pandemic is a positive sign and a testament to the city and the vision of the owners.

“Doors have been shuttered and businesses have been closing,” he said. “It’s exciting to see that in downtown Youngstown, businesses are opening during one of the most difficult times financially.”

Added T. Sharon Woodberry, the city’s director of economic development, “Their enthusiasm and confidence in downtown is inspiring. We’re here to help them in whatever way that we can.”

During the pandemic, the city is working to get as many resources and support as possible to businesses, Woodberry said.

“We know that these are some challenging times,” she said.

“We are working on trying to make the operations of our restaurants more adaptable to COVID. We’re looking at downtown outdoor refreshment areas, all of those things that can help them boost sales.”

Pictured at top: On hand for the ribbon-cutting at Gringos were Claudia Gomez, head server, Jorge Carreño, Director of Economic Development T. Sharon Woodberry, City Council President DeMaine Kitchen, Rodney Freel, Ken Vigorito and Selena Valentin, bar manager.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.