Since La Cocina’s Caleb Zigas got the go-ahead from city officials several months ago to move a commercial food cart into Dolores Park, he’s been waiting for a less official — yet more important — nod of approval from Mission District groups still grumbling about vendors selling in the park.
“We’re basically ready to go,” said Zigas.
That was a couple of weeks ago, when Zigas was stalling, hoping for the negative air to clear — but that now looks unlikely.
So despite one-time mayoral candidate Chicken John Rinaldi’s latest tactic to scare away park vendors — a manifesto asking those who oppose commercialization of the park to join him in puking all over the trailers at 2 p.m. on Saturday — Zigas confirmed that his client Chaac Mool, purveyor of the popular Yucatecan tacos and tortas, will enter Dolores Park on Saturday, April 30.
Not oblivious to Rinaldi’s plans for the puke protest, La Cocina’s owner has decided to have a soft opening this weekend at the Hayes Valley Proxy Project.
When asked by Mission Local whether he would puke on the trailer, Rinaldi said, “You’ll have to come and see.”
Rinaldi is determined to put a complete halt to La Cocina’s plans “by any means necessary.” So, to add urgency to his battle cry and bring attention to the matter, he decided that threatening to puke on a trailer might just do the trick.
“We have to lower ourselves to threaten to puke,” he said, noting that there’s also a Take Back Our Parks Petition that business owners and residents should read and sign.
For the last six months, a heated philosophical debate about the privatization of parks at the hands of commercial vendors has made the whole ordeal messy at best. After spending a year securing the necessary permits to set up a trailer at Dolores Park, Oakland-based Blue Bottle Coffee bowed out. Not local enough, said some, so owner James Freeman decided his energies and investment were better spent elsewhere.
In an email earlier this month, Rinaldi said he has never threatened La Cocina, but that he would organize against any cart in the park.
“What we are so pissed off about is that there is no public input,” Rinaldi wrote. “That RPD [Recreation and Park Department] is selling out our parks and there is nothing we can do. The Commissioners are a rubber stamp.”
So taking note of the continued opposition, La Cocina, an organization that supports local food startups and considers itself a good neighbor, decided to proceed with caution.
With a finger on the pulse of the neighborhood, Zigas and Chaac Mool were essentially waiting for the moment “when we’re sure the park is the right place to be.”
It was unclear exactly when that would happen.
Michael McConnell, co-owner of Fayes Video, said the timing may never be right. He’s not so much on Chicken John’s side. This, he said, has less to do with losing business and more with upsetting an already chaotic environment of traffic, people and little amenities.
“I love Blue Bottle, I love Caleb from La Cocina,” said McConnell, “but there are no porta-potties at the park. It just doesn’t make sense. Fix the park first.”
(The Recreation and Park Department recently rolled in five new porta-potties.)
Zigas said he’s in continuing talks with residents and business owners, and acknowledges that some have expressed hesitation about the project. While stressing that he is sensitive to these sentiments, he points out that food carts are businesses, too.
“They are well served by finding places to sell where there are consumers.”
La Cocina finds itself in a balancing act as it also tries to build excitement about Chaac Mool dishing up tacos in Dolores Park.
“We want it to be the equivalent of bringing in a slice of pie,” said Zigas.
That slice of pie has cost thousands of dollars. La Cocina has invested $30,000 in the venture, in addition to storage costs and the $1,000 a month it has been paying the park department since March. Add to that the $14,000 that Chaac Mool’s owners have footed.
“It’s been rough on our client,” said Zigas, noting that he also wants to protect Chaac Mool from any backlash.
Despite the difficulties, La Cocina remains undeterred. They hold a permit and are intent on making their way into the park.
“I hope everybody was clear that we’re moving forward,” said Zigas.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was previously published without John Rinaldi’s comments about the puke protest, and has since been updated to reflect that.