Jose Pistola’s Partners Talk Sancho Pistola’s

By Danya Henninger  |  December 30, 2013
Credit: Danya Henninger

Six and a half years after opening in Center City, Jose Pistola’s co-owners Casey Parker and Joe Gunn are launching a second venture, and they’re bringing in new chef Adan Trinidad as partner. As first reported by The Insider, Sancho Pistola’s will go into the former Bubba’s Texas BBQ at 19 West Girard, half a block from the busy Frankford Avenue intersection.

While Fishtown already has several great beer bars, Sancho’s will be one of just two Mexican joints we can think of in the neighborhood (Loco Pez is the other). We caught up with the three amigos to find out more about what to expect when they open - a pre-Super Bowl launch is targeted.

Zagat: Had you been actively looking for a second location?
Joe Gunn: We’d always kind of wanted a second place, but we weren’t going to put much effort into it. We were waiting for a really great opportunity to come along.
Casey Parker: Adan is one of those guys who is - in the best sense of the word - restless. We have always wanted a new place, and when Adan joined us this year we knew we wanted an opportunity to bring in our chef as a partner.
Adan Trinidad: When I had my first serious talk about joining Joe and Casey, I told them straight up, “We’re going to open more of these places.”

Zagat: Stepping back for a moment, how did Adan end up as chef at Jose Pistola’s to begin with?
Casey: We’ve known Adan for more than a decade now. When Joe and I used to tend bar at Fergie’s, he was at El Vez - he took over there after Jose Garces left. So we were his after-work bartenders and we just all became friends.
Joe: So then Adan went off to NYC and did all this fancy cooking with Richard Sandoval. When he returned to Philly in early 2013, we were in the middle of a chef search at Jose Pistola’s. It was taking weeks - we must’ve gone through 100 applicants, and had narrowed it down, but all of a sudden one night he said, “I’m willing to help you guys out.” At first I thought he just meant he’d do consulting, but turns out he wanted to be our chef!
Adan: I’ve been a customer at Pistola’s for years, and I always saw the potential for it to be more than just a great beer bar where you could also eat chips and salsa. When I moved back to Philadelphia, I started joking about becoming chef. Then one day I decided I actually wanted to do it. My one caveat was: I have to have complete freedom with the menu. Don’t come asking me to do a cheesesteak.

Zagat: No cheesesteak, but you have added lots of new items to Jose Pistola’s menu (mole buns, ceviches, upgraded tacos). Will the food be the same at Sancho Pistola’s?
Adan: It will be similar, but no burritos, no quesadillas. More mid-sized entrees. For example, monkfish a la Veracruzana and chicken confit with mole. I’m still playing around with the menu. And, we’re going to have a raw bar.

Zagat: Whose idea was the raw bar?
Casey: All three of us are huge fans of raw bar fare, and since Adan came to Pistola’s he’s been killing it with ceviche shooters and tiraditos. He does that so well! It probably started out like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we do something like those places in Belgium where you just toss the shells on the ground.” Of course we’re not doing that in Fishtown, but the raw bar brunch on weekends is going to be crazy fresh.
Joe: It was probably Adan’s idea to begin with, but I’ve wanted my own raw bar for like 20 years. When we first opened Jose Pistola’s I was super excited about having an unlimited supply of guacamole. Now with Sancho’s I’m looking forward to oysters, oysters and more oysters. Raw fish is my favorite thing to eat in the whole world.

Zagat: Will the pricing be different from Jose’s?
Casey: Prices will probably be slightly lower, since we’re in Fishtown, not Center City. For beer, we’ll start with the 10 drafts and maybe 30 bottles, and people will be able to get a couple different IPAs for around $4.50 and other more exciting beers for $5.50 or something.
Joe: The clientele in Fishtown is way different, so we’ll have a bit of a different mix, too. Probably more Yards, more Philadelphia Brewing Company.
Adan: For food too, likely a bit lower. For example, we’ll do the same prix-fixe, bottomless-drink brunch on Saturday and Sunday, except instead of $35, it might be $30.

Zagat: How did you come up with the name?
Casey: We messed around with so many names. We’d find one and love it for a week and then start hating it. We knew we wanted to keep the “Pistola’s” part so it was just a matter of coming up with something to go with it.
Adan: “Sancho” has a not-so-nice slang meaning in Spanish (“the other guy”) and it’s used that way in restaurant kitchens a lot, so when I first suggested it, both Joe and Casey were like, no way. Then I reminded them it’s also the name of Don Quixote’s sidekick, and it turns out there’s a Don Quixote statue in Fishtown just a few blocks from the restaurant.
Joe: Don Quixote was the dreamer, but Sancho was more grounded, down-to-earth. It fits: Jose Pistola’s has kind of a party atmosphere, but Sancho Pistola’s will be more of a neighborhood place.

Zagat: Will you be doing any renovations to the interior?
Casey: We’re planning a few renovations - if we weren’t we’d be open tomorrow - but not too many, at least not at first. We’re not putting in a hot tub or anything. [Ed note: why not? Please?] We’re gonna “Pistola-ify” the space.
Joe: There are these antler chandeliers that just have to go. And there’s a weird graffiti front to the bar - I think they were trying to fit in with the neighborhood. We’ll do more renovations at some point after we open. For instance, we’ll probably eventually add more beer taps. There’s room for it.

Zagat: Will Sancho’s be open every night?
Joe: Definitely, seven days a week, serving food through 1 AM. We’ll start out with Saturday and Sunday brunch, too. We might start lunch, down the road. I’m not really sure if the neighborhood can support it.

Zagat: So Adan will be running both kitchens every night? Who will be second in command at Jose Pistola’s?
Adan: I plan to be at Jose Pistola’s every day for a few hours, doing prep and ordering, but at night - at first, at least, while I get Sancho’s up and running - Jose Luis will oversee the kitchen in Center City. He’s been working with me for 15 or 16 years. He was at Alma de Cuba, then El Vez, and then he went to Capital Grille.
Casey: The team Adan set up at Jose Pistola’s is so, so strong. All the nightmares I ever had about my kitchen have totally disappeared. I knew within about six hours that we made the right move hiring him. Even our food runners say things like, “It’s so cool being in the kitchen now, it’s like Top Chef or something!”

Zagat: Anything else?
Joe: We’re gonna do a big mezcal list. We might also experiment with cocktails - maybe frozen drinks, since when the weather is warm we get 28 more seats outside.  Also, I don’t know too much about the neighborhood - we love Johnny Brenda’s, of course, and we’ve been to Fette Sau and Barcade and Kraftwork a couple times - but I hope we don’t bother people when we show games on the TVs. Of course, we’re not a sports bar at all - we just love bars and also love sports. I hope Fishtown likes us!