Serving up some Mexican spirit: Eric Partaker, co-founder of Chilango

7 Mar

Eric Partaker, 35, seems like one of those people that just takes everything in their stride. Half-American, half-Norwegian, it was during his childhood in Chicago that Partaker became hooked on Mexican cuisine. When he came to work in London in 2004 and met a like-minded colleague in the form of Dan Houghton it was almost like fate. Three years later the duo had travelled round Mexico and the USA, and carried out enough research to leave their desk jobs and set up Mucho Más.

Eric Partaker (L) with his Chilango co-founder, Dan Houghton (R)

“I suppose it might seem daring but that depends on how you perceive the risk,” reasons Partaker. “Even if it screwed up I knew we’d have something else to do. I just thought gees; it wouldn’t be the end of the world.”

After some fine tuning and a name change, Mucho Más became Chilango, and the first restaurant opened on Fleet Street in 2008. The pair now have four restaurants nationwide with a fifth on Chancery Lane opening in May. “We weren’t happy with Mucho Más. It wasn’t a very inspirational brand name and Chilango offers much more colour. It can represent so much more creativity and direction”.

Named after the Spanish term for a resident of Mexico City, Chilango has been created to ooze the essence of Mexico from every pore. Partaker was inspired by a love of mariachi and especially Mexican wrestling; the latter is particularly obvious from the luchador logo that adorns every shop and menu. The website even features Chilango’s own team of mini luchadors under the heading ‘Our Wrestlers’. Partaker tells me about his own luchador experience at Lucha Libre at the Camden Roundhouse, so caught up in the moment he decided to dive into the ring only to be escorted out the venue by security. “When the normal fun dial is at 10, Mexican wrestling takes it to 11,” he croons. “The costumes and the way the wrestlers behave is just an excellent personification of the fun and energy of Chilango.”

Chilango on Fleet Street

You can tell Partaker and Houghton learned a thing or two about Mexico on their travels, and they’ve set out to reflect this in their restaurants. “We’re inspired by the energy, the vibrance and the excitement of Mexico defined by its people, its food and the place itself. The people we met were really down to earth and willing to throw their head back and have a hearty laugh. And Dan and I are not afraid to go ahead and have a laugh; that’s a big part of our brand. It’s all about living life to the fullest; I think Mexican people are pretty good at that.”

The Chilango co-founders were spurred on by what they saw as a gap in the UK market for Mexican cuisine. Aiming to debunk the trend for Tex Mex, and to challenge established chains such as Chiquito and Taco Bell, they aimed to stay true to the real deal by importing many products from Mexico.

Where the Chilangos are at: Mexico City

Partaker explains in his infectious American drawl: “I was hoping to kill some of the stereotypes about Mexico and Mexican food that are so strong in the US. They do exist in the UK as well, but here the canvas is cleaner and people have less experience with Mexican food. We’re trying to showcase Mexico City and the people there as modern and cosmopolitan just like New York, Paris or London. When people think of Mexico they immediately think of beaches or old spaghetti westerns. This is a side of Mexico few people know about, it’s thriving and vibrant.”

And it seems they’ve managed to pull it off. Chilango has been praised as, “fast food of the future” by the Independent on Sunday and “London’s best Mexican restaurants” by the Evening Standard. And what does the future have in store? “We’ll continue to grow Chilango one restaurant at a time, but never too quickly. We never want to compromise the quality of our food or the energy of our service. I really want Chilango to be a brand that makes people happy. I’m happiest myself as a person when I make others happy and give them that lust for life and enthusiasm.”

So is world domination on the cards? In his laid-back style, Partaker replies: “Well, who knows what will come our way.”

Image 1: Partaker’s own

Image 2: peach-report

Image 3: joemygod

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