OGDEN — Sometimes market forces take you in an unexpected direction.
When she launched her business, Edith Vargas sold clothing catering to the Latino market in Ogden. Later, after the operators of a beauty salon next door asked her to expand her offerings to food, things suddenly started morphing. The salon operators mainly wanted a nearby place where they could get an afternoon snack, but after others learned of the distinctly Mexican offering and demand took off, Vargas realized she was onto something.
“The food earned me more money, sold better,” said Vargas, originally from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Indeed, the original offering, the Piña Loca — a fruit cup of pineapple, mango and more — frequently drew long lines of customers snaking outside the door of her clothing store.
That was 2014. Realizing the future was in food — mixed fruit cups with spicy, tart and salty condiments on top — the clothing store soon closed, and in 2015 Changarro Loco at 3037 Washington Blvd. was born. Omar Vazquez, Vargas’ husband, left his job as a bread distributor to help out. The restaurant expanded offerings beyond snack items to tacos, quesadillas and more, and it’s currently in the midst of a major interior renovation, given the business’ growing fortunes. A food truck is coming next year.
Competition is tough among Ogden’s array of Mexican restaurants and eateries. Changarro Loco distinguished itself from many through its snack offerings, the fruit cups. The cups variously feature slices and chunks of mango, pineapple, jicama, cucumber, cantaloupe, watermelon and more, topped with a spicy sauce and chili powder mix. The combination, popular in Mexico, creates a burst of contrasting flavors in the mouth.
In Spanish, such offerings are called chucherías, which Vargas translates as munchies. “It’s like a snack,” something to eat between meals, she said, noting their popularity among high schoolers, who frequent the locale when classes let out.
The fruit concoctions are made on-demand to assure freshness, and in Changarro Loco’s first two years of business those accounted for the majority of its sales. Among other snack-like offerings are slushy drinks doused with the same spicy salsas and powders — like the Chamangos Locos, a mango-based drink.
Since last year, Vargas estimates that business is split evenly between the fruit cups and other fare like tacos, quesadillas and tortas (Mexican-style sandwiches).
“People, they like different things,” said Vargas, explaining the shift from mainly fruit cups.
What’s more, the mix of offerings allows customers to get a meal and dessert at the same place.
“You don’t have to go anywhere else,” she said.
SPICY SALSAS, PARILLADA
For those after heartier fare, like the tacos, Changarro Loco offers a distinct array of salsas, including a sweet-and-spicy pineapple-based mix and another very spicy cranberry-based combo.
Vazquez, in charge of food preparation, points to the Parillada as another unique offering at Changarro Loco. Originally from Mexico City, Vazquez learned the food trade as a child, helping out at a family-run restaurant in the Mexican capital.
The $24.99 Parillada, advertised as feeding four, features a generous portion of grilled meat and sausage along with grilled nopales, onions and peppers. It’s served on a large plate with guacamole and tortillas.
On the snack side, another distinctly Mexican offering you won’t find everywhere — Tosti Locos. That’s a bag of spicy nacho chips split open and smothered with jicama, cucumber, pineapple, Japanese peanuts, spicy sauce and more. The locale also offers hot dogs and hamburgers.
Across the street from Changarro Loco sits Mariscos El Pariente, a small eatery specializing in Mexican-style seafood like ceviche, shrimp cocktail and fish tacos. Vargas’ brother-in-law runs El Pariente, and she said the two restaurants frequently deliver food from one locale to the other for families whose tastes range across the offerings of the two eateries.