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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Cinqo Estrellas Por Dos Amigos Burritos Opening in Newburyport, MA

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A sign in the small coastal city of Newburyport, Massachusetts announcing the upcoming opening of a Dos Amigos Burritos was a nice surprise a few weeks ago. Speaking with uber-hands on Amigos co-owner Joel Harris a week later was the queso sauce on the taco.

Other great timing related to the conversation with Harris roughly coinciding with a memorable line from a  recent sitcom. A character observed that he had no need to visit Mexico because they had brought their food here.

The Portsmouth, New Hampshire Amigos location has been a personal favorite for years. Plans to visit the other four Amigos restaurants (all of which are in New Hampshire) are unfilled.

Harris will complete the south-of-the-border venture for Amigos when the Newburyport location opens between June 15 and June 30, 2015. Folks who do not opt to get their meals to go can enjoy their eats in the completely renovated restaurant that veteran Amigos employees will staff. Having Amigos cater a personal or business event will be another way to get your Mexican food fix without traveling to Acapulco.

The Mexican Food Revolution

Similar to the origin story of the Newburyport Brewing Company, which was the subject of a July 2013 Unreal TV article, Amigos began with a casual conversation. Watertown, Massachusetts native (and son of a preacher man) Harris was friends with  future business amigo Portsmouth restauranteur Jay McSharry through interviewing McSharry for the newspaper the employed Harris.

Harris jokingly asking McSharry "what's next" during one of their sessions evoked the response "how about a burrito shop?" This idea coinciding with Harris craving a substitute for the exceptional fare at the Bueno Y Sano restaurant that he savored during his college years in Amherst, Massachusetts led to McSharry contributing the three Ws of "work, wisdom, and wealth" that resulted in Amigos.

McSharry contributed sweat equity, shared his extensive knowledge of the restaurant business, and invested funds that helped make the project a reality. Harris further shared that McSharry sent him to work at Bueno Y Sano and other burrito restaurants to properly learn the business.

The Proof is in the Salsa

The combination of the love of Harris for Mexican cuisine and the hands-on training that McSharry assigned prompted asking the former if he either developed or tweaked the Amigos recipe. He terrifically responded "I certainly trust my taste buds and provide feedback."

Harris further shared that the menu included vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items.

Other sources of feedback include consultations by graduates of the Culinary Institute of America and Harris' table service Mexican restaurant Vida Cantina in Portsmouth.

This discussion regarding the Amigos fare led to discussing the seasonal and shrimp items that Harris plans to add to the menu. A philosophy of being "really staff driven" and "encouraging staff to come up with innovations" is another anticipated source of new menu items.

Why Newburyport? Why Now?

Harris explained that the appeal of the central-retail district of Newburyport related to his motto "we love being downtown; we love local business." An observation that many competing burrito restaurants end up in shopping centers was an aspect of the desired downtown vibe.

The space, which formerly housed Greta's Great Grains bakery becoming available was the primary reason for expanding to Newburyport at this time after several years of looking for the right location.

Thoughts of the "buy local" policy extended to purchasing produce from a local farm and to selling the products of the aforementioned brewery on acquiring a liquor license. The statement "we love to partner with local businesses" indicated an intent to further contribute to the local economy.

The Whole Enchilada 

The above look at Harris and Amigos shows that his instincts regarding the restaurant being a perfect fit for Newburyport are spot on. Making tasty tasty burritos et al available to residents and tourists provide another compelling reason to stroll the downtown area.