Sunday, November 10, 2013

Taco Shop Drama

This is the story of the Studio City "Taco Apocalypse."  Had you asked me a year ago, I would have told you my neighborhood was in a major meltdown over the end of our historic neighborhood darling, Henry's Tacos. 

Young and old alike, we were witnessing the long, slow death of a fixture that held personal meaning to each of us.   The smallest restaurant I've ever seen, for John and I, mere adolescents in Studio City residency years, Henry's was the nourishment that got us through the move into our house and countless weekend house projects thereafter.  We signed our offer papers while seated at one of the 5 picnic tables available to patrons.

Many a Hollywood location scouts utilized Henry's as a backdrop for their storytelling.

TV Show - Adam 12
The prolonged drama between the landlord/tenant started the strife.  Henry's Tacos owner (i.e. tenant), Janis Hood, with the best of intentions, wanted to place the corner taqueria building on the city's historical register as a Googie-style, mid-century treasure.  The landlord of several decades, was concerned the historical landmark designation would limit future sale or development opportunities. When it came time to re-up the lease, the negotiations turned bitter and became very public. 

Elijah Wood
Celebrity protests, Occupy style eat-in rally, on-line petitions and farewell gestures caught the national media's attention.  Henry's wasn't going down quietly.

Occupy Henry's Rally

Henry's Tacos had been in the neighborhood for over 51 years being built by Hood's grandfather Henry Comstock during the early '60's way before anyone thought of a Taco Bell.  His specialty, "gringo tacos," are also considered a mid-century relic.  But in January of 2013 this family run business lost the epic battle with the owner of the building and Henry's was shuttered forever.

Or so we thought.

Janis sold the business to her longtime chef, Omar Vega to carry on the taco stand tradition with it's original recipes.  He vowed to reopen and did so later in the spring.....about 50 yards away!

All had returned to normal in sleepy Studio City!

Maybe.  The new tenants in the old Henry's location naturally decided to turn it into a...wait for it...a taco shop!  Cactus Taqueria #3.  Henry's was up and running months before Cactus finished their extensive re-model -- an upgraded the kitchen, dining area and exterior finishes.  They did a lovely job, but the Googie features have now been muted and because it's a "#3" it has lost it's architectural uniqueness.

Both serve great but very different versions of Mexican-like food.  Cactus has an more extensive menu than Henry's.   Their food takes longer to prepare.  They are also more expensive.

Cactus style - Rolled Tacos with Guacamole

Henry's Classic Gringo Tacos

Henry's has stuck with their no frills, low cost menu.  Both seem to be pacing okay but the competition has diluted the taco business.  (The lines at Henry's are shorter than they were in the old spot). This why the story is still important today.

If the fine folks of Studio City want to have street tacos in the future, then all the Occupiers and lovers of tacos need to come out and consistently support both.  Otherwise, Henry's and Cactus might sadly disappear from the landscape and that battle to keep street tacos alive will be lost to the war of consumer's next passion of the day.

1 comment:

  1. Nice column! Here's another!


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