Lines out the door, demand so high that they’ve had to extend their trading hours and a huge social media presence - you’d think that Smoking Gringos is a years-old Blacktown establishment, such is the size of their presence and reputation.
It’s hard to believe that they opened their unique Mexican eatery on Muru Way - a short walk from Blacktown Station - just three weeks ago.
Initially launched with a plan to serve dinner from Thursday through Sunday, demand quickly forced the hands of owners Jade Jackson and Richard Borg. The Penrith locals had to extend their opening hours to include lunch service after just one week.
“We weren’t planning to do (lunch) that quickly,” Jackson admits.
“You don’t want to just pull the trigger and not be ready for it - there’s a lot that can happen in the kitchen.”
“But Richard has been working on the recipes for ages, well before we opened. Everyone loved it, so we just rolled into lunches.”
“When you run out of Birria, that’s it,” Borg adds.
“You can’t just go to the kitchen and make some more quickly. But we’re closed for a few days at the start of each week which helps us prepare.”
STYLE AND SUBSTANCE
Smoking Gringos isn’t conventional Mexican as most of us know it, with Richard and his crew serving up an authentic Birria-style, slow cooked offering unlike anything you’re likely to see at the more widely-known establishments found throughout the west.
From the insane three-ply Queso Tacos you can dunk into a tub of consomme to the staggering Mulitas and the newly-added Burritos, it’s a delicious, messy and authentic culinary experience.
“I don’t think anyone is doing it well out here,” Borg admits about the west’s current Birria offerings.
“We always knew the food would be good. The closest options to what we do would be in the city and inner west, but not here - so there’s definitely a market for it.”
“We’ve run out (of meat) on Sundays, but luckily we’re closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because it’s almost a three-day job just to make it.”
“We start with a base, smoke the bones overnight. Then we make the birria with all the chillies and other stuff, and we smoke our brisket overnight as well.”
The end result is a soft, flavour-filled delight to behold, available in various forms and accompanied by some remarkable salsa options and other sides.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
It’s not the first time the Smoking Gringos brand has appeared in the west of Sydney. They originally started in a tiny space in Kingswood, where the growth of their outstanding reputation began, and both Richard and Jade had been around the area long before that.
“It was a little spot, very tiny, smaller than what we have now,” Jackson recalls of the old Kingswood location.
“It was behind the 7-Eleven on the Great Western Highway in Kingswood (on Morley Avenue). It was very hidden.”
Prior to launching the Gringos brand, Richard’s journey began doing his apprenticeship in St Marys, before heading to the City to ply his trade and hone his craft at renowned establishments including Momofuku and the Park Hyatt.
It was the latter location where he met some future business partners, and returned to the west to help establish Burger Head in Penrith - a boutique burger spot which has become one of the most prominent and rapidly growing brands in Sydney.
From that success came the confidence to continue his own journey, and after Jade and Richard met in Penrith, the Kingswood store was born and a fledgling fanbase was created. Despite growing a passionate and loyal following, the decision was eventually made to move closer to the city.
“When we were in Kingswood, the birria went off,” Borg says.
“Then as soon as we got a new spot in Newtown, all our old customers wanted us to come back.”
While Blacktown wasn’t at the top of the list of sought-after locations, the scenic spot at the end of Muru Way has seen a big boost in traffic since opening. It also sits in the middle of an area that is currently being revitalised, with a nearby public square already complete and more residential and commercial developments to come.
“We wanted to go back to Penrith,” Borg admits.
“There’s not a lot of walk-through here. There’s going to be a University and shopping centre and all sorts of stuff - but it looks like that’s still a few years off.”
“You wouldn’t know it with the lines we’ve had lately, but the first week was a little quiet - then it just took off!”
STARS OF SOCIAL
With a slightly obscure location, the ability to let people know where you are and what you’re doing has been critically important to the success of Smoking Gringos, and social media has been vital - with nearly 500,000 views across TikTok and Instagram helping to elevate the brand and build the hype that they’ve delivered on so well so far.
“It’s extremely important. You can’t get your name out there without utilising it,” Jackson says.
“We used the same social media page we did with our last store, so it helped us keep and grow that audience.”
“But there’s a lot of competition (in Mexican food), so social media is massive. It comes down to making sure people know you’re there and know you have something unique to offer. Any place can churn out food, but it’s (about) the quality, the prep behind it, that’s what the boys are trying to achieve and share.”
Richard, too, has learned a lot about the importance of social media - having experienced both the highs and the lows of online engagement.
“If you’re in high-end food especially, there’s a reluctance to buy into social media,” he says.
“We opened Master Fine Dining (in Surry Hills in 2015). We thought we were too cool to market it, that we’d be one of those places you find out about via word of mouth.
“It didn’t go so well, and we had to close down.
“But we learned from those mistakes and brought those lessons with us.”
With such a rapid-fire and intense opening few weeks, you’d forgive the Smoking Gringos crew for resting on their laurels - but that seems to be the furthest thing from their mind, with more developments to come including delivery options, food trucks and (eventually) another store.
“A food truck gives us more flexibility to test out certain areas and demographics,” Jackson says.
“It will help us with events too. We’re already getting catering requests, but that’s all for the future.
“We want to go back to Penrith, too - but we don’t want to jump the gun. We need to build this store up, get a solid team for perfect service and food quality, but Penrith is definitely the next spot.”
Having enjoyed the immersive experience of Birria for ourselves, we couldn’t help but wonder how some of the more delightfully messy meals might travel as the crew prepare to enter the delivery market through Uber.
“It just has to be packaged well,” says Richard.
“As long as it’s packaged right, we should be fine.”
Locals can order it on Uber, but we recommend heading down to Smoking Gringos to experience it for yourself. You can find the store at 1 Muru Way, Blacktown, with plenty of parking nearby. The store is open Thursday-Sunday, from 12-3 for lunch and 530-9 for dinner.