CMC Student Brings Burritos to Cairo

Next semester, many CMC students will fan out across the globe during their semester or year abroad. Those who have good experiences in their host countries will hopefully return some day. Maybe they'll even start a restaurant. At least that’s what Dave Franzel, CMC ’10, did. Franzel studied in Egypt during his time at CMC, and after graduating, he returned to Cairo, where he co-founded Gringo’s Burrito Grill. Check out the menu here.

Franzel spent the summer following his senior year studying Arabic in Tangiers, Morocco. “It was great for my Arabic. It was an intensive program, with six hours of language instruction a day… although the Arabic they spoke there was not similar to the written Arabic we were learning,” said Franzel. “I made some really close friends there, but the program itself was very poorly organized. I actually learned a lot about how not to run a program and how not to organize people, including employees.”

After studying in Morocco, Franzel traveled to Cairo, where he worked as a teacher and a translator before starting his restaurant. Then, last fall, plans finally started to come together for the establishment of Gringo’s Burrito Grill, which now serves handmade burritos within walking distance of the Nile River. Part of the inspiration for his restaurant, Franzel said, came from the CMC Athenaeum.

“I talked to the chef of the Athenaeum about coming out here, and we talked about the idea of opening a restaurant because I love to cook, and there’s not great food out here. The idea’s been in my head, and then a couple friends were interested in doing a restaurant as well.”

Gringo’s might have opened sooner if not for political turmoil. “We started planning it out, but then the revolution hit… For a couple months it was just disarray, and no one really knew what was going to happen with this country," said Franzel.

After things had settled down a bit, Franzel and his business partner returned to work on Gringo's. “We started planning it out in the fall and did our first marketing event, our first tasting event, in November, and then I went home for a month and a half... When I came back from New York, everything was pretty much done. The kitchen needed a few finishing touches, and three weeks later we were open.”

Gringo's Burrito Grill is now up and running and has been a big success. These Egyptian journalists certainly think so.

Even after the Egyptian revolt “fizzled,” in Franzel’s words, Egypt has still suffered from political instability. Just last week, its interim military government dissolved the elected, and its leading generals are now struggling to maintain power in the wake of the electoral victory of the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday. Still, Franzel emphasized the economic problems rather than any social unrest. “In general, I don’t feel unsafe. There’s nothing about it that’s making me feel scared. The economy is in ruins; that’s the big issue,” he said.

Despite this, Franzel encourages students to visit Egypt. “You’re going to see such an incredible intersection of modernity and time… You get this juxtaposition of the old and the new, which is really fascinating… It’s a really interesting place to be, and people here are phenomenally welcoming.”

As for the future, Franzel plans to return to the US sometime in the future, but he wants to see Gringo’s expand on its own once he’s gone. Maybe even CMC students will get the chance to take a bite of a Gringo’s burrito right here in the US, but that’s far from certain. When asked if he would be able to bring the brand home with him, he explained, “We totally can, and I’d love to see it, but it would be difficult.”