The farmers market said to omit Mexican food at Point Ruston. What happened was a mess – Tacoma News Tribune | Region & Cash

What would normally be a mundane vendor update for a farmers market turned into a social media frenzy in Point Ruston on Sunday.

The reason appears to be an intricate triangle consisting of a developer, a restaurant in a marketplace with dozens of small businesses operating daily, and a weekly event.

The Tacoma Farmers Market posted on its Facebook and Instagram pages Saturday night that two vendors would be unable to attend the market that day in the Point Ruston development’s Grand Plaza.

The market received an “order” to “stop selling Mexican-style food” at its Sunday event, it said, affecting two proposed vendors: El Guero PNW, a new local pop-up, and Burrito Boy, a truck serving operates the now-closed Josefina Mexican restaurant in Tacoma’s South End. The policy came from the Point Ruston Owners Association, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Point Ruston developer Loren Cohen, according to state records.

“We have responded to PROA and are trying to negotiate a solution. TFM was not involved in this decision and policy but must abide by it and try to reach an amicable settlement with PROA,” the social media posts read. “We are deeply saddened by this abrupt news and apologize to the vendors and small business owners who have been impacted, as well as to our market community as they seek their food offerings at our Point Ruston Sunday Market. We do our best to represent and advocate for the small business owners and sellers that we host on our marketplace!”

The posts received more than 1,000 comments and had been shared more than 1,200 times as of Monday afternoon.

El Guero shared the news on his social media on Saturday night, writing that “due to unforeseen circumstances” they would not be selling at the farmer’s market the next day. “We learned tonight that there was a complaint about the sale of Mexican food at the market,” owner Jesus Rodriguez said, adding he was disappointed and hoped it was only temporary.

The post has since received 1,300 likes and almost 200 comments.

The News Tribune reached Rodriguez’s mother by phone on Monday and, through a translator, said she was unwilling to discuss the matter further.

Racist shouts erupted on social media, with many believing Mexican food was singled out. Others noted that there may be a legal issue since the only all-Mexican restaurant with a permanent presence in the area, Taco Street, had a non-compete clause in its contract.

Point Ruston responded on its Twitter and Facebook pages with a statement on social media at 8:33 p.m. Sunday, confirming that there are “certain exclusivity deals in place to support our brick-and-mortar vendors — including a contractual exclusivity on Mexican cuisine.” We intend to honor this exclusivity clause and we will continue to work to ensure opportunities for small businesses of all backgrounds have a place on the waterfront.”

It added that it has a “productive five-year relationship” with the farmer’s market and that “today’s misunderstanding … is not something we take lightly.”

Taco Street co-owner Elonka Perez did not immediately respond to an email request for comment Monday afternoon. A manager who answered the phone at the Waterfront Market restaurant directed The News Tribune to a contact form on the website.

Loren Cohen, developer of Point Ruston, did not respond to The News Tribune’s call. His mailbox linked to his work line was full on Monday.

Responding directly to the commenters on Point Ruston’s Facebook post, Cohen confirmed that Taco Street has a contract “granting them the exclusive right to offer Mexican cuisine as a primary genre of dining at Point Ruston.” Other vendors may “offer tacos, etc., that complement their main genre (like Wildfin’s fish tacos) — but a taco stand or burrito stand that exclusively offers Mexican cuisine violates that exclusivity clause.”

The goal, he said, is to “support the family-run brick-and-mortar shops and restaurants that have invested in our development.”

He bemoaned the poor communication of those details, which “we will definitely stand for and make amends for,” adding, “But allegations of racism, bias or any other bad faith are completely unfounded and are the complete opposite of what we as a company stand for and.” Family.”

Point Ruston vs Waterfront Market?

The situation has been overshadowed by a series of lawsuits between Cohen and his company, MC Construction, and another company, Serpanok Construction.

In 2020, a judge ordered the Point Ruston parking garage to be auctioned off after Serpanok sued for non-payment. Last year, an arbitrator ruled in favor of Serpanok, ordering Cohen and Cohen to pay $11.5 million — what was owed, plus interest.

After that date, in June 2021, the public market at Point Ruston changed hands. Now both the parking garage and the Waterfront Market, the new name of the open-air market, are owned and operated by Serpanok.

Waterfront Market general manager Paul Kunitsa said Monday morning that they were caught off guard by the flare-up between the Tacoma Farmers Market and Point Ruston.

“Honestly, we have nothing to do with it. We don’t work with them,” he said, referring to Point Ruston. “We have no influence on that. We didn’t ask for anything. When that all came out, it came out of the blue.”

When asked for details about the transition period between ownerships last summer – and specifically how leases with the original and new company might have differed – he said he didn’t know without looking back at the paperwork.

He stressed that the Waterfront Market does not communicate with Point Ruston on a day-to-day basis.

To make matters worse, the Tacoma Farmers Market was originally stationed at its current location in the Grand Plaza, but was temporarily housed in the Waterfront Market parking lot in 2020 and 2021.

Jack + Adeline, a woodworking shop and bakery, has been a seller since the marketplace opened at 5101 Yacht Club Road two years ago. Co-owner Leanne Franetovich tried to clear up misinformation that was spreading like wildfire on social media.

Previously, she told The News Tribune on Monday, leases with then-Public Market were fairly “standard,” but she noted there might be differences compared to “developed” anchor tenants, which include Owens Meats, Only Oatmeal Cookies and Taco Street. One of those tenants, Dancing Goats Coffee Bar, withdrew from the project in December 2021.

Franetovich said they used to have exclusivity clauses for companies in the actual market. Another seller couldn’t come in and sell, for example, salvaged wooden cutting boards or furniture, the core of Jack + Adeline’s housewares business. But things changed when Serpanok took over.

To their knowledge, there are no exclusivity agreements in the market and as it is no longer affiliated with Point Ruston, that notion is moot.

However, it is a unique situation as dozens of small businesses operate under one roof. On any given day, the space also welcomes temporary vendors.

“We’re working as hard as we can and doing everything we can to support and build the community here in Ruston, with small businesses and customers and everyone,” Kunitsa said. “We want to be a meeting place for the neighborhood”

What happens next?

On Sunday, El Guero – who debuted in May and served at Puyallup Night Market and Puyallup Farmers Market – posted again, thanking everyone who messaged them throughout the day.

They kindly declined offers of monetary donations, instead urging people to reach out to PROA and “let them know of our frustration at this difficult time.” They said they are awaiting more information and asking supporters to support the other small businesses at the Tacoma Farmers Market on the Grand Plaza.

One vendor, Komadre Kombucha, said on Instagram after the market closed at 4pm that it was sold out.

“Turns out you all support the locals,” wrote owner Julie Davidson, who is also Latina, on Instagram. “We particularly appreciate your words of support regarding our Colegas and Amigos who have been impacted by a change in food vendor guidelines. Thank you to the Tacoma Farmers Market for upholding equity and diverse representation; We support you in your efforts to right this injustice.”

Britt McGrath, executive director of the Tacoma Farmers Market, was reached by phone Monday afternoon and said she is actively working with the PROA. She cannot comment any further at this time.

This story was originally published July 25, 2022 3:20 p.m.

Kristine Sherred joined The News Tribune in December 2019 after spending ten years working in Chicago for restaurants, a liquor wholesaler and a culinary bookstore. She previously worked in the grocery store for Industry Dive and William Reed. You can find her on Instagram @kcsherred and Twitter @kriscarasher.
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