So long, Jimmy Gringo's

Westdale’s Mexican take-out restaurant closes its doors

It had pulled pork, rice, beans, lettuce, lots of tomato, green peppers, cheese, salsa and guacamole. For Noah Ciglen, it wasn’t just a burrito. It was end of an era.

Ciglen, a fourth-year Arts & Science student, had the “sad honour” of purchasing the last burrito from Jimmy Gringo’s Burrito Factory, a favourite student haunt at King and Marion in Westdale, before it closed for good on Jan. 26.

“I had heard before winter break that Jimmy’s was closing, but I had no idea when,” he said. “Then I read on Twitter that it was closing that day and I thought … that I was going to regret it if I never had another burrito from them.”

Although students and local residents alike frequented the takeout restaurant, co-owner Ewan MacLachlan said that operating the business has not been an easy time.

“We’ve been open five years, and it’s been a fight since day one,” he said.

“I chose a location in Westdale because I wanted to cater to students and I liked the village atmosphere … but some of the locals didn’t like us.”

The restaurant operated as a takeout eatery only, but that wasn’t MacLachlan’s original plan for it. His initial vision was of a restaurant with seating, an outdoor patio in the summer and a liquor license so as to sell a small selection of drinks like sangria.

“They’ve got deep pockets and politicians on their side,” he said of the Westdale residents, who were resistant to the business’s presence in the neighbourhood.

The ill will was not new to Jimmy Gringo’s.

An April 2010 article in the Hamilton Spectator, reporting on the success of Hamilton’s business districts, quoted Joe Catanzano, co-owner of the restaurant. “We almost have to close our doors,” he told the Spectator. “Everybody says the city should be supporting you but, nobody here wants another Hess Village.”

Because of the residents’ issues with the restaurant’s late-night business and often rowdy customers, MacLachlan said he was often faced with a series of city inspectors and fines.

In September 2009, less than a year after its opening, Jimmy Gringo’s was brought to a City of Hamilton licensing tribunal for having a small collection of tables and chairs in its storefront, which violated code.

MacLachlan was consequently forced to pay a $1,500 fine for operating illegally, as the restaurant’s license designated it takeout-only. He alleged that this fine was imposed despite a city official assuring him he would not be violating code because the restaurant had already put in an application for seating.

As a result of the tribunal, the restaurant’s license was suspended for a day, and as well as being told to immediately remove the seating, it was ordered to put up a sign indicating that the establishment was take-out only.

So, after a tough five years, MacLachlan finally took an opportunity to close up shop.

“The timing was right, and the lease was up,” he said. “I’d had enough.”

Although students won’t have a reliable source for burritos in Westdale, some may find consolation in the opening of the American chain restaurant Taco Del Mar at Main and Emerson. But Ciglen, who considers himself among Jimmy Gringo’s cult following, won’t be among them.

“I tried [Taco Del Mar] to see if I could change it up, but it was too clean, too calculated and precise, and just not good,” he said.

There’s still some hope that Jimmy Gringo’s won’t be gone forever. MacLachlan, who said he has loved serving students, noted that he had the intention of moving elsewhere to “do what [he] had originally hoped.”

But with no location yet in mind, those loyal to Jimmy’s will be going hungry for a good burrito.

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