FOR JON CARLOS Rangel, growing up in the family that started a beloved Mexican eatery just blocks from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway didn’t guarantee he would one day take over his parents’ business. In fact, his mother wouldn’t even give him a job. “I helped out in the kitchen now and then as a kid,” Rangel says, “but Mom knew if I worked there, I’d just goof off most of the time. So she made me get a job at Jimmy John’s.” By this point, Rangel’s parents, Larry and Lori, had moved La Margarita to 86th and Township Line Road, where they were growing a dedicated clientele. But Rangel, who as a boy was more interested in playing his neighbor’s Dr. Dude and His Excellent Ray pinball machine than he was learning to make salsa and guacamole, had his sights set on a career in sports journalism. He went off to Indiana University in Bloomington, later completing internships with the Pacers and the Fever basketball teams.
Fortunately, mother knew best, and she was scheming to give Rangel the job she hadn’t years before. After his father passed on, Lori was operating the family restaurant at 96th and Meridian Streets. “One night she took me to the Aristocrat,” Rangel says, “and she asked me if I’d like to run my own place in Fountain Square.” Rangel put his reporting career on hold, and in 2011, he opened the current location of La Margarita in the Murphy Building on Virginia Avenue, where he’s worked to make it a one-of-a-kind casual hangout with a scratch kitchen and plenty of craft beers, top-shelf margaritas, and mezcal cocktails. And, of course, pinball.
As his own collection of vintage and new pinball machines has grown, Rangel, who ran out of space in the restaurant, built an upstairs spot called PinVault that’s open on First Fridays and special occasions, such as the popular pinball tournament he’s hosted that this year marked its tenth anniversary. Now, Rangel is opening a private event space in the Argyle Building on Massachusetts Avenue that he calls Proper, which will offer cocktails some nights to the public, as well as ticketed events for collectors and hobbyists. The vibe, of course, will be just as laidback and approachable as all the Rangels’ places, which is what the family intended all along.