Booming burrito: Mex on Main delivers fresh, convenient food for all Trumbull eaters

Nick Montanaro and Bill Neary, co-owners of Mex on Main, stand together under the new business’s sign. The fresh Mexican grill restaurant opened in March and has been serving customers non-stop ever since. — Steve Coulter photo
Nick Montanaro and Bill Neary, co-owners of Mex on Main, stand together under the new business’s sign. The fresh Mexican grill restaurant opened in March and has been serving customers non-stop ever since. — Steve Coulter photo

For Trumbull residents who love Mexican food, the wait is finally over.

Mex on Main has arrived and taken off since opening its doors two months ago, filling one of the town’s greatest restaurant needs and bringing an anchor business to the Long Hill Marketplace, located at 6528 Main Street.

“Everyone who comes in says there’s nothing like this around here,” said co-owner and lifelong Trumbull resident Nick Montanaro.

“From a Mexican standpoint, you had to travel out of town 20 minutes to get your fix before we opened,” he said. “It’s clearly something that everyone wanted here because we’ve had people come back for lunch the day after they had dinner here, and we have kids biking here on Saturday mornings and waiting until we open up at 11.”

With a business built on fresh ingredients and fast service, Montanaro and co-owner Bill Neary have witnessed Mex on Main reach the entire demographic of Trumbull, ranging from couples to teens to parents to entire families.

And the positive feedback has exceeded the owners’ wildest expectations.

“Right idea, right location, right timing — if you were to strike a nail right on the head and do it perfectly, we’re that close,” Neary said of the key to the business’s early success.

“We’re all about the community,” he added. “We’re here, we’re interacting with them and they’ve told us face to face how much this means to Trumbull.

“We hear it several times a week,” he said. “A customer walks up to the counter and he or she says, ‘We’ve been waiting for so long for this place to open.’”

If human interaction inside the restaurant wasn’t enough, the praise is also pouring in on social media, where Montanaro has been tracking Facebook likes and comments, and he said it’s like nothing he’s ever seen before.

“The consensus seems to be that this is really something that the community needed,” said the Trumbull father, who also works as an Allstate Insurance agent in Trumbull Center. “We’re always hearing in the store and online people say how they’ll be coming back again and that they’re addicted to our burritos or something like that. …

“One lady, who comes in every Monday to eat, refers to us as Mex Monday on social media,” he added.

Return customers

There’s perhaps no better way of tracking return customers than the store’s rewards app that can be downloaded on any smartphone.

The app, called “Perka,” serves as a digital punch card that customers may use to earn rewards at several local businesses.

When eating at Mex on Main, customers who purchase 10 meals get the next one free.

And customers are already redeeming, even though the business opened officially on March 7.

“We’ve had one mother redeem three times already and we’ve only been open seven weeks,” Montanaro said.

“People have phones in hand and app ready to go when they come in,” added Neary, who lives in Oxford and works in Shelton. “You know you’re getting the return business when that’s happening.”

The best part is that these aren’t the only forms of returning customers the business has served in its infancy.

“There are people who come in so often and order the same thing every time that I can call out their order to our employees on the line right as they walk in the door,” Neary said.

“We assume that anybody who comes in here will come back, based on what we’ve seen,” he said.

Neary, who’s a lawyer when he isn’t at the restaurant, believes he and his partner are “blessed” to have such a strong following after opening just this year.

“I worked in restaurants as a teen and I saw how and why those businesses were successful — it’s because they take care of the people that are in there every week and those customers began to develop ties to the business,” he explained. “They liked the food, they liked seeing the same people — it was that important to them.

“Fortunately, for us, that’s what has started to go on here,” he said. “To build that type of relationship with your customers is not something you necessarily get less than two months after opening your business. It’s not something you see very often.”

Paying it forward

Montanaro and Neary, who met playing golf in Bridgeport, said that giving back to the community and doing the right thing is inherent from their respective childhoods.

“My parents always taught me to help out others any way you could and to be charitable whenever possible, and that’s why we haven’t said no to anybody,” Neary said. “I often say it’s about paying it forward — if we take care of them, they’ll take care of us — but it’s not like paying it forward was the first thing we wrote down when we started to brainstorm this idea. It’s something that’s subconscious in both of us.”

The partners started talking about getting into the restaurant business three to four years ago and initially targeted the Trumbull Center, right next door to Montanaro’s Allstate business.

However, rents were too high and they heard rumors about a development in the Long Hill area of town.

“This place started going up and we knew this was perfect for us,” said Montanaro, who will be moving his insurance office next door to Mex on Main this month.”

The restaurant was always going to be Mexican food with a fresh and fast model — one that Montanaro learned while eating regularly at Señor Salsa on Post Road in Fairfield.

Montanaro’s taste preferences and intuition have paid off, as he says the business is serving an average of 350 people a day — most of whom are calling in orders to pick up and eat out.

“It takes a little time to take their order on the phone,” Neary explained. “We’re not keeping our phones off the hook, we promise, it’s just that the phones are constantly ringing from about 5 o’clock until we close. We’ve been doing a ton of pickup.”

The owners estimate that for every 10 tickets rung in at the register, eight of them are pickup orders.

“We’ve started to tell them on Fridays and Saturdays that it’ll be 15 to 20 minutes before it’s ready; lunch, we tell them to come in immediately because it’s more of a steady flow,” Montanaro said. “We’ve decided to double our staff on the counter and register for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday dinner shift, and hopefully that will help solve that challenge for us.”

‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat’

Mex on Main received its name from Trumbull resident Robin Tanase after a monthlong naming contest in the fall that yielded 300 responses.

As a marketing move, it proved to be one of the best ways to spread the word that the town’s newest restaurant was coming — and that it was putting community first, every step of the way.

“One day I come home and my daughter tells me that in her business class they used Mex on Main as a model,” Montanaro said. “They did this lesson before we even opened.”

If being part of the curriculum wasn’t enough to say that the business had arrived, Mex on Main’s opening night solidified how much anticipation had been building for Trumbull’s newest restaurant.

“I was on vacation and watching the cameras from Aruba and it was an absolute madhouse — you would have thought we were giving away food,” Neary recalled. “So I called Nick at the end of the night and said that quote from Jaws to him, ‘I think we’re going to need a bigger boat.’ Never in a million years we could have imagined we would have had that type of a turnout right away.”

For Neary, the naming contest got the ball rolling, and momentum hasn’t slowed since.

“The naming contest and the story that was written in the fall about it really gave the community an insight to our business, helping them think along the lines of, ‘Wow, they’re opening up a business and they want the community to name it,’” Neary said. “When we came up with the idea, I remember doing the research and not seeing that anywhere.

“I think that shocked the anticipation into orbit, and it hasn’t stopped from there,” he added. “And thank God it hasn’t stopped. Ever since the doors opened, it’s been an instant success.”

Growing business

Maintaining that level of success is what will motivate the owners of Mex on Main as they enter their first summer in business.

They’ve already seen a steady flow of customers eat out on the patio, which gives the business almost double the seating occupation.

“It’ll be a real asset for us,” Neary said. “I anticipate it being busy all summer long.”

With more customers coming in later from sports or work or just to hang out on the patio on a Friday night, Montanaro and Neary are considering extending the hours of operation.

“We know what it’s like to go from this gym to that gym or that field to this field and have to prepare dinner,” Montanaro said. “We want to be that option — that place — for families and parents and young athletes to go when they need to eat something quick at night after a long day.”

“As long as you stay involved and people see you and you don’t skimp on your product, you should be here for a long time, and that’s what we’re hoping for,” Neary said. “We’re building something special here, and it’s working out well so far.”

Mex on Main is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. To place an order, call 203-889-9882.