Gringo’s Mexican Grill closes before downtown meal plan

The recent closing of Gringo’s Mexican Grill has played an important role in an ongoing discussion about a possible downtown meal plan.

The proposal would  allow students to spend part of their plan at local restaurants.

Plans for a downtown meal plan are beginning to form, according to Clay Moran, ’13, a member of the group I Heart Meadville.

“I Heart Meadville recently drafted a business proposal to send to Financial Services,” he said, “who will then work closely with us on the implication of the meal plan.”

Michael Zanie, general manager of Parkhurst Dining Services, is also involved with the tentative future downtown meal plan.

“We attended a forum held at Grounds For Change  to see about creating a framework to open up some bucket of money associated with the meal plan for use in downtown restaurants,” he said. “It’s a real initial conversation about what that might look like and what might have to be done to make that happen.”

The plan, which includes the Creative Crust, The Whole Darn Thing and Julian’s, would permit students to spend a portion of their Munch Money downtown in the same manner they spend money at McKinley’s. The balance will expire at the end of every semester, unlike shop money, which rolls over. Moran believes this arrangement would encourage students to make the most of their downtown options.

A third-party vendor would provide and service the extended network in downtown restaurants for a fee of one hundred dollars per year. Currently, many businesses downtown offer a ten percent discount to college students. With the downtown meal plan arrangement, students would pay full price with their allotted munch money. Ten percent of the original price would go to Allegheny to offset the cost of maintaining the swipe machines.

“We hope to create a cycle where we would have money to fund the machines without having to put Allegheny or Parkhurst or the business owners out,” Moran explained. “The idea of having it as an added option to the meal plan is so that we’re not hurting Parkhurst and Meadville.”

Morgan Schrankel, ’13, supports efforts to offer an alternative meal plan, especially in light of Gringo’s closing.

“This restaurant going out of business is an argument for the fact that if students would be able to go down to the community more, then possibly these businesses would have more support,” she said.
Before its closing, the Mexican grill factored into the downtown meal plan.

“Gringo’s was a nice addition to downtown,” said Moran in an e-mail. “Gringo’s was a First Friday business and I Heart Meadville tried to support them.”

When Christian Detisch, ’11, worked in Meadville last summer, he enjoyed stopping by Gringo’s for a quick meal.

“I [went] to Gringo’s two or three times a month,” he said. “My experiences were always good. Service was always fast.”

The restaurant’s closing surprised and upset many students, especially upperclassmen familiar with downtown businesses.

“I wasn’t aware it had fully closed until Springfest, when a few [graduates] came back and were complaining about it, because they had wanted to stop by,” said Schrankel. “I thought it was just reduced hours at that point.”

According to Schrankel, competition from the Cantina option in McKinley’s may have reduced Gringo’s sales.

“I would say that competition from Parkhurst was very much a factor,” she said. “If you look in Meadville, there’s not much Mexican food competition except for Taco Bell. So their biggest competition was probably the Cantina.”

Zanie is skeptical of these claims.

“We saw no spike in sales after Gringo’s closed,” he said. Financial records actually show a decline of the total sales after Gringo’s closing.

Zanie was also unaware of competition between Gringo’s and the Cantina, explaining students’ meal plans were pre-paid.

“We serve a similar product, but students don’t spend cash with me,” he said. “90 percent of what students spend is either meals or munch money. So if someone’s going to spend with me, it wouldn’t have been money Gringo’s would have had an opportunity to get, anyway.”

Parkhurst opened the Cantina for business after receiving student requests for a Mexican food option on campus.

“We offered it sometimes at the international station or sometimes at Brooks, but [students] wanted a daily option, so that replaced the international station,” said Zanie.

The popular Cantina tripled the sales of the former international station in McKinley’s, according to Zanie.

“We might impact what they choose to eat downtown because of what we have available, perhaps,” Zanie said. “But if they’re going to spend downtown, they’re going to spend downtown, anyway, because what they spend with me is the funny money, the monopoly money that’s associated with the meal plan.”