The scene outside the Chaac Mool food cart was tranquil on Saturday. Luis Vazquez manned the burners as his wife, Maria de la Luz Vazquez, took orders and passed plates heaped with tamales, nachos and cochinita pibil through the window. Three of the couple’s children played near the cart, which was parked at the Hayes Valley Proxy Project for a dry run before setting up shop in Dolores Park next week.
Even Chicken John Rinaldi, the man who vows to stage a puke-in protest next weekend when the cart opens in the park, came by for some tacos, according to his Facebook page. But the Vazquezes say they’ve never talked to him.
The Mayan food cart is at the center of an increasingly hostile debate about whether or not businesses should be allowed in Dolores Park. On one side of the issue are the Vazquez family and the non-profit food business incubator La Cocina, who say the cart will add to the park’s vibrance and nurture small business. On the opposite side are Rinaldi and others who believe the cart’s presence will commercialize public space and usher in privatization.
Luis Vazquez knows his opponent: “There’s one person who’s against our cart,” he said. “They say he’s the kind of person you can’t talk to.”
But Rinaldi said last week that he and his supporters were ignored when they raised concerns with the city and had to “lower ourselves to threaten to puke.” He asks business owners and residents to sign a Take Back Our Parks Petition.
Maria de la Luz Vazquez said the family feels “personally attacked” by Rinaldi’s plans to stage a mass vomit in the park to protest their cart, and is disgusted by his tactics. “It is very crude.”
Luis Vazquez said the issue is between Rinaldi and the city. “If he feels like his rights have been violated, he should go and complain to the city, not to me or La Cocina. The city is the one who gave us permission to be there.”
The couple are a little nervous about what will happen next week when they open in Dolores Park. They aren’t underestimating Rinaldi, a one-time mayoral candidate and high-profile activist. “We know he’s a powerful man,” said Luis Vazquez.
Still, he said the conflict only makes him more determined to set up shop and run his business. “We don’t see this barrier as an obstacle that will stop us. Instead, we see it as stairs we can stand on to reach our goals.”
Luis Vazquez also wants to allay the worries of those who think the business will change the park’s vibe. “They think we’re going to bring a different kind of people to the park” he said. “That’s not true, we want to be in the park because of the people who already go there.”
Luis Vazquez is from Mexico, where taco stands and hordes of people share park space without a problem. The cart will employ seven people, he said.
Standing outside the gleaming white cart, Maria de la Luz Vazquez said she’s offended that some of the cart’s opponents have tried to paint her family as outsiders. She opened the door to the cart and called her two sons, ages six and eight, to her side. “They were born in San Francisco General Hospital,” she said. The boys, both with glossy growing-out crew cuts, stood and fidgeted a little. The family lived in the city for more than a decade until high rents finally drove them to Oakland.
Asked if there’s anything he’d like to say to Rinaldi, Luis Vazquez said, not really. “We don’t need to talk to him. We already have all of the necessary permits and filled all the requirements for opening this business.”