Steel shipping containers are being repurposed into everything from swimming pools to full-on restaurants in Denver. Last summer, Adrian and Brenda Bonilla converted a twenty-foot container into a semi-permanent taqueria called TacoBlock, which was slinging tacos for neighbors and workers in the light-industrial area of Athmar Park until May 5, when their food-truck license expired.
But after expanding TacoBlock to a forty-foot container and moving from their original spot at 650 South Lipan Street to a different parking lot at 638 South Lipan, the Bonillas have been unable to sell a single taco or burger (TacoBlock's other specialty) from the new setup. The city decided that the food-truck license was not adequate for the larger setup (the shipping container is not on wheels, after all), and that a kiosk license was needed. Adrian Bonilla says that while TacoBlock has passed health-department inspections, it cannot meet requirements for a new zoning permit because the city is asking for property amendments that are out of TacoBlock's control.
"If they can't grant us a permit, we'll have to move again," he explains.
Jolon Clark, city councilman for District 7 (which covers Athmar Park), has advocated for TacoBlock, Bonilla says, but he doesn't think that support is enough to overcome the obstacles in the way. "Big businesses can get away with a lot, but small businesses can't," says Bonilla.
"We love Athmar Park and we'd like to stay here," he adds. "People in the neighborhood have been very good customers."
He has been scouting other potential properties in Athmar Park (bounded by West Alameda Avenue, Federal Boulevard, West Mississipi Avenue and the South Platte River) but hasn't found anything promising. In the meantime, he says, they've had offers from property owners in Littleton and Broomfield.
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This isn't the first legal issue TacoBlock has faced. Last summer, the Bonillas were forced to re-brand from their original name choice, Taco Box, after they received a cease-and-desist letter from a small New Mexico chain with the same name. Still, they've soldiered on: Because the family business is important to them and tacos are important to Denver, the Bonillas have continued to think outside the box for solutions.
As a short-term solution, the couple currently runs a TacoBlock food truck — styled to resemble their original red shipping container and named Taco Bar — that mainly makes food for catered events. This Thursday, August 16, the truck will be serving food at a neighborhood meet-and-greet hosted by the Mike Schmisek Farmers Insurance Agency at 1100 South Shoshone Street.
TacoBlock will also be one of many taco vendors at Tacolandia, our celebration of Denver street tacos on Sunday, August 19, at Civic Center Park. Join the fun and try TacoBlock for yourself; get tickets on the Tacolandia website.