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May 21, 2024 | The real beef with Famous Taco

May 21, 2024 | The real beef with Famous Taco

Hey Locals,

You probably saw Fort Wayne make national news again last week due to the infamous dispute between Famous Taco and the Allen County Plan Commission. But there's more to taco-bout here that the national media isn't reporting. We share the real beef.

We also have details on a new City Councilwoman to fill Mayor Sharon Tucker's vacancy in the 6th District, and she's making public transportation one of her top priorities. Speaking of which: Our Local Spotlight features a landmark regional transportation assessment coming out this week, which could help rally support locally and at the statehouse.

In Small Talk, we share exclusive details on another new restaurant by the owners of Mercado on The Landing – this time at The Pearl Downtown!

Also: Thanks to everyone who came out last Saturday to help with our first community project! We helped a neighbor in need clean up her backyard for the summer. Here's a quick photo from the day:

Don't forget: In May, we're also partnering with GK Cafe & Provisions to bring all paid subscribers one of their sinfully delicious Cinny rolls for FREE. We give our paid members a freebie every month at a local business to cover the cost of membership. See what the paid membership is all about with this 30-day trial and you can get a Cinny roll too!

Our newsletter this month is brought to you by Visit Fort Wayne and our paid subscribers.

Now, let's get started!

Sure, "tacos are Mexican-style sandwiches," but there's more to taco-bout here.

We break down the latest local controversy to hit national media – and what wasn't reported.

Developer Martin Quintana's second location for Famous Taco in his strip mall at 6626 W. Jefferson Blvd.

What's happening?

You might have seen the humorous conclusion to a not-so-funny, four-year standoff between local developer Martin Quintana and the Allen County Plan Commission in which Allen Superior Court Judge Craig Bobay ruled: “tacos and burritos are Mexican-style sandwiches.” Several regional and national media outlets, like The Hill, picked up the story. But they didn't report key details that provide context to the real beef.

Here are three things to know:

  • Famous Taco's controversial Southwest location – and it's adjoining strip mall – started off as a "residential garage." That's what Quintana asked for a permit to build four years ago onto a home at 6626 W. Jefferson Blvd. in a residential – not commercial – area. "The result was an 8,820-square-foot addition with no windows, but with two bathrooms and a laundry room," The JG reports.* "After an anonymous complaint drew attention to the unusual residential 'garage,' which was the size of 1 1/2 basketball courts and had only one garage bay, the Allen County Building Department issued a stop-work order in 2019."
  • Quintana's stated plans have changed multiple times, and he's sought forgiveness – not permission – from neighbors and local government. It wasn't until after his structure was built in June 2019 that Quintana asked for his property to be rezoned to commercial and sought a waiver because the building violated even commercial standards. This was when he first mentioned opening a Famous Taco and offering space for other retail tenants. But his plans changed in Aug. 2019, when his representatives said the building would be enlarged to 11,800 sq. ft. and house four lower-volume retail units, including a potential "Subway-style sandwich shop without a drive-thru window or outdoor seating" – hence, the "sandwich" terminology. At the time, his representatives said: "A sit-down restaurant was not being planned," and their requests were granted. Then Quintana changed plans again and said he was going to build a sit-down Famous Taco (which he owns). "In fact, he installed signs on the property before receiving a response to his request, once again jumping ahead of city officials’ process," The JG reports. That's what prompted the Plan Commission to reject his request in November to change his agreement to build a "sandwich shop."
  • The judge upheld Quintana's controversial moves anyway. Quintana sued the Plan Commission for denying his restaurant in 2023, calling their moves "arbitrary and capricious." Robert Eherenman, the Plan Commission’s attorney, argued in his court filing that: "Because the Plan Commission is an administrative agency with expertise in zoning issues, its decision is presumed to be correct and cannot be overruled by a court – except in specific circumstances that don’t apply in this case." Apparently, Allen Superior Court Judge Craig Bobay did not agree because, in a somewhat odd turn of events, he ruled that tacos qualify as sandwiches, allowing Quintana's plans to proceed. The Plan Commission can appeal the ruling. We reached out to them for comment and are waiting to hear back.

Why it matters

The national media picked up only the flashiest, headline details of this story, making it seem like a case centered on cuisine (tacos versus sandwiches). Most national reports we saw failed to mention the local context of how Quintana sidestepped processes to construct his strip mall or how the "sandwich" contingent on his development came to be in the first place. This is why your support of local reporting at The Journal Gazette, The Local and elsewhere is important.

We break down more implications of this story in our premium newsletter.

NOTE: Links to Journal Gazette articles are marked(*) and may be behind a paywall.

  • New City Councilwoman-elect Rohli Booker will be sworn in this week, filling Mayor Sharon Tucker's vacancy in the 6th District. Booker was elected in a caucus on Saturday after only one round of voting by 18 Democratic precinct chairs in the 6th District. She joins Councilwoman Michelle Chambers as one of two women and Black residents on council. Booker is a Fort Wayne Community Schools board member and small business owner of Aza Image beauty service company. As Councilwoman, her initial goals include improving access to transportation, creating more affordable housing and keeping existing homes affordable. Her first City Council meeting will be May 28. (FWCS board will appoint her school board replacement.)
  • Owners of Mercado (Johnny Perez and Esli Barrón Perez of Te Gustó Hospitality) are opening a new restaurant at The Pearl. Johnny called us this week with the scoop on his latest concept called "Duckies," which will offer duckpin bowling for all ages, a food hall-style lunch and an elevated, full-service dining experience by night with tropical cocktails. This will be Te Gustó's third new restaurant in two years. It opened Papi's Pizza next door to Mercado last year and is opening Spoke & Ivy this fall at Flats on Main. Duckies is expected to open after that in October, bringing more nightlife energy to Downtown. The Pearl is a mixed-use development by Chuck Surack's Surack Enterprises. It is still under construction at 248 W. Main St. Duckies will be one of its four largest retail tenants, along with an event venue and a second location for Crescendo Coffee. We'll share details in a full story on Friday!

Plus: Fort Wayne's growing population data, a local bar for sale, Indiana's controversial voucher school funding and more. Read all about it in our premium newsletter.

What’s next to improve public transportation in Fort Wayne?

We have details on a new regional study and public meeting.

The nonprofit Community Transportation Network (CTN) partnered with 12 transportation agencies to conduct a landmark regional transportation assessment.

What’s happening?

The nonprofit Community Transportation Network (CTN) is hosting a press conference Thursday to share the results of its landmark Northeast Indiana (NEI) Transportation Assessment in partnership with 12 regional agencies, including Fort Wayne Citilink. “To our knowledge, a transportation assessment of this scale has never been done before in our region,” says Executive Director of CTN Justin Clupper. “It’s our next step in: How do we move forward with public transportation as a region?”

Here are a few key details:

  • Who participated? 4,223 people throughout Northeast Indiana took the public survey, including 532 from Allen County. Almost 29% of Allen County respondents were ages 25-34, the largest age group represented. 
  • For a little history: CTN was formed as the result of a previous assessment within Allen County in 1998, exploring transportation gaps. It provides medical transportation for older adults and people with disabilities within Allen County and subscription-based rides to clients of nonprofit agencies serving children and families with low incomes.
  • The new study may result in more regional collaboration on transportation. “It not only looks at our 11-county region, as a whole, but each individual county within it and the opportunities present there for expanded transportation support,” Clupper says. 
  • It also provides data for statehouse advocacy. “We wanted to create something that not only could our agency peers use in their counties to talk about transportation, but also something to take to elected officials and show: These are the gaps that still exist in public transportation for our region,” Clupper says. “We need to see greater financial support for what we're doing.”
  • Along with funding, public transportation operators also need more autonomy than the state currently allows. Clupper says: “One of the biggest issues that came out of the regional assessment is: intercounty connectivity. It’s critical and a significant gap. Major resources like healthcare are shifting out of each individual county into supporting the region as a whole, so we need transportation that works that way, as well. Currently, we've got archaic legislation that keeps some providers from going outside their county. For others, the way their funding is set up could make it cost-prohibitive for riders.”
  • Within Fort Wayne, public transportation is poised for progress, too. Newly elected 6th District City Councilwoman Rohli Booker named “improving access to transportation” one of her initial goals. Fort Wayne Citilink’s General Manager John Metzinger says the bus service’s routes are also improving within its current budget. “This month, service is being extended on the Route 4 line to the YWCA’s and Bowen Health Services' new location on Washington Center near Lima.” But with flat revenues and growing costs, additional funding is still needed to keep expanding.

Learn more at the public event 10 a.m. May 23, at CTN’s garage at 3401 S. Maplecrest Rd. in New Haven.

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Have a great week, Locals!

-Your Editor, Kara Hackett