Construction Watch

Construction Watch: More Details on Cochino Taco

Johnny Ballen, co-owner and resident prom-tux model at the Squeaky Bean Farm + Table downtown, is pretty good at keeping a secret. After all, he landed the property at the corner of South Downing Street and East Hampden Avenue nearly two years ago and has been working on converting the former gas station into Cochino Taco for the past several months. But yesterday he let the pig out of the bag, giving neighbors and pork fans alike something to look forward to.

Ballen just filled us in on a few more details about the taco shop, which will shine a spotlight on the humble pig, both on the menu and in the decor. Of a roster of perhaps a dozen tacos, he expects at least four to be stuffed with pork; he's also considering a twice-weekly outdoor pig roast. Cochino will offer chicken, fish, beef and vegetarian tacos as well as salads.
The building itself was originally a Phillips 66 gas station that Ballen guesses was built in the 1950s (real estate records confirm a 1956 birth date). Mid-century modern elements include flagstone pillars, slanted floor-to-ceiling windows that let in plenty of light, and glass doors that will open onto a wrap-around patio (currently being installed). Inside, multicolored tiles with a crackled glaze cover one wall and a wood floor, recovered from a school gymnasium, will soon be laid over the original concrete. An old drop ceiling was removed and the original wooden joists were sandblasted to remove decades of grime.

Ballen chose the space in part because he lives only a few blocks away. "There's nowhere near here to sneak out for a quick whiskey," he explains. Driving past what was most recently a Star Express on a near-daily basis, he noticed the potential for the Englewood property. Working with the city has been exceptionally smooth since he submitted plans and began the permitting process, Ballen says.

Ballen has been collecting curios to enhance the decor, including vintage medical-stand lamps, a towering 1950s Bevador cooler, and plywood advertising panels from a defunct Stuckey's. Pig art will grace much of the space, including variations on the Cochino logo (a stylized pig's head) and a wall displaying a collection of piggy banks. Outside, a bicycle parking station will be watched over by a mural of a pig on a bicycle.

If picturing how all these disparate elements will make for a cohesive ambiance is difficult, you need only look inside the Squeaky Bean, with its oversized bingo board, spoon chandelier and shrine to fallen celebrities, to envision how Cochino will come together. Or just head over in late April, when the restaurant expects to open its doors to the public.