Brunswick St is a tough and unforgiving place to trade. The Fitzroy culture of individuality extends to businesses and has a propensity to spit out chain businesses like the immune system expelling foreign bodies. The Amigos chain of ‘Mexican inspired’ Melbourne restaurants opened in the space of the former cafe Via Volare on Brunswick St in 2012, and less than two years later it has closed. I’m not surprised. Fitzroy rejected a Brunetti’s franchise from one suburb away in Carlton.
Opening an insipid restaurant with shopping centre aesthetics serving a simulation of an increasingly popular ethnic cuisine is surely going to fail when it has to compete with endless competitors serving simulations of the same cuisine but with more contemporary (hipster) aesthetics. For all I know Amigos may have made good food, but the ambience and aesthetics suggested that it would be bland and banal and I never tried it.
With this cynicism in mind, and not having eaten there, I can’t say anything about the quality, authenticity or provenance of the food at the new restaurant Hecho en Mexico (Made in Mexico) on Brunswick St that replaces Amigos. I can only speculate based on the amateurish quality of its graphic design and its total absence of online presence. It looks like it has been put together quickly and without much thought. Being the last to adopt a trend usually also means being the least authentic or interesting.
It smacks of the amateurishness of the short-lived Ta-Co’s Chock Shock cafe and Latin Passion (both previously on Brunswick St) with an added dose of attempting to cash in on the current trend without really understanding what that trend is all about. The nouveau Mexican trend arguably began in Melbourne with Mamasita. There’s now many new, mostly informal and inexpensive, restaurants serving Mexican food in Melbourne. But there’s more to it than tacos.
It’s all about youthfulness, spontaneity and mobility. Online marketing is vital to ensure awareness. The three types of food providers scoring highly with youthful diners are food trucks (whatever their cuisine), nouveau Mexican and American street food (burgers, sliders etc). It’s all hipster. The buzz is all online. The consumers are all mobile.
La Condesa is a good example. Hipster Mexican. Cheap and fun. Ubiquitous backstreet location with space to mingle and loiter. A comprehensive online presence that made it easy for knowledge of their existence to spread. In contrast, Hecho en Mexico has to overcome looking like it is still Amigos, being on a busy main street where it is all too easy to keep walking on by to see what else is available, and building awareness of its existence with no online presence. Can it succeed?