On Friday, October 23, a man named Victor was captured on video openly harassing and trying to dismantle a taco stand in East LA called Tacos El Manys. He berated the stand’s owners, overturned the stand’s canopy onto the top of a parked car, and moved equipment from where it had been placed. Victor, the alleged property manager of the building on the southeast corner of Whittier Boulevard and Saybrook Avenue, gave sibling owners Abraham and Ana Rodriguez permission to operate on the sidewalk in front of the property when it opened in January.
According to the Rodriguezes, a few months ago, Victor began asking for a cut of the stand’s profits, to which they responded that they could not afford to do so. The tension came to a boiling point this past Friday. In the video, Victor says, “If you guys don’t move, it’s going to get torn down.” He proceeds to overturn the canopy then says, “Go to another corner. It’s not going to work here.”
Each month, more and more Angelenos, from food industry professionals to home cooks, are selling food out of their homes and on the streets of LA to make a living during the pandemic. Street vendors like the Rodriguezes have to live under the constant fear of harassment. It’s especially troubling to see what the siblings had to endure while trying to make ends meet and stay healthy. Abraham Rodriguez wrote on Tacos El Manys’s Instagram: “This person is taking advantage of the situation for street vendors, and we just want people to respect us for making an honest living.” Later, when reached by text, Abraham Rodiguez also told Eater that “[It made] me feel very sad at that time because I’m putting my dream into this work and this person comes and starts doing these crazy things.”
In addition to operating the barbacoa stand, Abraham drives for Uber. Since the start of the pandemic, the income of rideshare drivers has been devastated with so many riders staying home. His personal health is at risk due to constantly being in close contact with passengers. Prior to the pandemic, Ana had been working at a restaurant before leaving the position. In early 2020, the Rodriguezes decided to start their own beef barbacoa taqueria using their family’s recipe from Guadalajara.
After serving for a few months, they were forced to close down when the city effectively banned street vending in mid-March. The Rodriguezes hoped they could reopen the stand by summer 2020. As the months dragged on, and the Rodriguezes’ situation became dire, they returned to selling their juicy beef barbacoa tacos, a traditional morning stew from the Mexican state of Jalisco that’s popular in cities like Guadalajara. They also serve a consomme on the side to dunk the tacos, like LA-style beef birria, as well as barbacoa mulitas.
Though the incident took place on Friday, Tacos El Manys has returned to business one block away on 6200 Whittier Boulevard. But without any protections or a viable licensing system for these vendors, they will continue to endure harassment from law enforcement and locals who don’t want them in their neighborhood. Abraham was hopeful despite the resistance he received from Victor: “We’re going to keep selling tacos so people can try it to see how it goes. I would like to have a lonchera or a restaurant — that would be my dream.”
Tacos El Manys serves at 6200 Whittier Boulevard, East LA on Saturday and Sunday mornings. (562) 644-1517/(323) 445-6913