Deported Mexicans Are Finding Work At A Restaurant In Mexico City

It's a traditional barbecue spot taking on a new social cause.

When Dan Defossey got to Mexico City, he struggled to find one of his favorite things: barbecue. So the former Apple employee uprooted his life, bought a doublewide trailer, and found an empty lot where he could start Pinche Gringo, a barbecue joint that has become famous for its new effort to hire Mexicans who were recently deported from the United States.


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Pinche Gringo, an ironic name that translates roughly to "damn Americans" or "damn white people," started in 2014 when Defossey and his partner Roberto Luna opened their first restaurant. It was well before President Donald Trump was in office, but with a recent increase in deportations and border security, Pinche Gringo has taken on a certain political narrative for its stance on immigration. 

For Defossey, it started when a human resources manager pulled him into Victor Cruz Ortega's job interview. Ortega had recently been deported from the United States. He'd been in the U.S. for 27 years and was deported after being pulled over for running a red light. Now, he was re-telling his heartbreaking story during a job interview inside Defossey's restaurant: he had come back to Mexico for the first time since he was 11, he had wandered the streets looking for work, had been beaten up at a place he finally found to live, and had broken down crying in public out of desperation because he didn't know if he'd find work.

"I was crying at the interview," Defossey told A Plus. "You couldn't imagine how an American could feel by listening to the result of a policy decision in this human story. I felt I was responsible somehow because it was my elected leaders from my county that were making these kinds of decisions and not caring about what happens to them when they come back."

Immediately after hearing his story, Defossey went upstairs to his computer and wrote on Facebook that these policies weren't just and that he was going to respond to them by trying to hire as many deportees as possible. A reporter from The Los Angeles Times was on his Facebook, saw the story, and ended up writing about his restaurant. Her story ended up on the front page of The Los Angeles Times, which caused Pinche Gringo's popularity to explode.

After Defossey's post, he learned that there were already seven employees at his restaurant with similar backgrounds: men and women who were deported from America or left for personal reasons and were now struggling to re-adjust in Mexico. One of them, Hugo Hernandez, was deported from the United States for a DUI offense after being there illegally for 10 years. When he returned to Mexico, he struggled to find work with the kind of pay he got in America — until he got to Pinche Gringo. He said finding the restaurant was a blessing for him. 

"It was a kind of a miracle that I found Dan and Roberto," Hernandez told A Plus. "The restaurant had six months open when I applied for the job. I realized they had an amazing proposal for the business. I decided to invest my time here and it been the most impactful four years of my life, it really has changed me."

Hugo Hernandez
Hernandez at work inside Pinche Gringo.  Yara Cavazos

When Hernandez came back to Mexico, he felt a similar feeling of displacement that Ortega felt. 

"Even though you speak Spanish, your accent changes and the way you behave and see things are different," Hernandez said. "So people kind of recognize you as Mexican, but they don't really see you as Mexican."

For Hernandez, finding Pinche Gringo meant finding a place where he could really be himself and feel comfortable. The restaurant, according to Defossey, has the feel of any barbecue place you might walk into in Austin, Texas. The waiters and staff speak English, it's a "fast, casual gourmet" dining experience where you get your food on plastic trays and paper and eat at picnic tables. 

More importantly for the employees, the benefits of working at Pinche Gringo are largely unrivaled by other Mexican restaurants. Typically, the average wage for a waiter in Mexico is a little more than 88 pesos a day, according to a Pinche Gringo spokesperson. That's about $4.70, which is the minimum wage by law. Mexican employees also receive a just six days of vacation in their first year working somewhere and get an additional day every year they work there. Often times, if you are in the restaurant industry, you work six or seven days a week for nine hours a day.

But at Pinche Gringo, all of that is different. Defossey's employees get American holiday schedules and vacation time, and are paid higher wages. A spokesperson did not immediately respond with the average wage of workers there, but described "bigger wages" that included tips, which isn't always the case in Mexico. Workers spend just eight hours a day on the job, are paid for their lunchtime, receive pantry vouchers and twice a year the entire team takes a retreat. 

Dan Defossey
CEO and co-founder Dan Defossey.  Yara Cavazos

"They feel comfortable here because we have different rules," Defossey said. "We do it because it's something that we want to do. We built a home for them, and that's what I'm most proud of."

After struggling in their first few months, Defossey says Pinche Gringo has now had over one million customers and recently opened a second restaurant about four miles away from the original in Mexico City.

For him, the experience hasn't just forced a reflection on America's government and American culture. It's also forced him to think about the lens Mexico is often viewed through from across the border. Defossey noted that most times Americans hear about Mexico, it's when the news covers devastation, violence, and the drug war. But for him, he's found a home full of opportunity and acceptance.

"That's completely the opposite of the experience of this country that I've been having since I moved here," Defossey said of the American news coverage about Mexico. "In this country, there are beautiful people that are warm and friendly and accepting and welcomed me with open arms and allowed me to build this beautiful business here."

Cover photo: Yara Cavazos

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