I am writing to you about an article “Taco Punk: Hey, Ho, Let’s Go somewhere else” written by the Editor-in-Chief Rae Hodge, published on the June 7, 2012 in The Louisville Cardinal. My criticisms of Hodge’s “review” of Taco Punk in your publication are numerous and diverse.
First, as a former student journalist, I am appalled by the abuse of the position of Editor-in-Chief to mount a near-baseless assault against me, Taco Punk, and the East Market District. The Editor-in-Chief is the most powerful position on the staff and the cliché is true: with power comes responsibility and accountability. Furthermore, discretion is one of an editor’s best assets and choosing to meld complex social criticism with a food review in the limited space allowed is simply a bad idea and never should have been attempted, given Hodge’s flimsy grasp of the facts.
Hodge did little primary research into Taco Punk. I NEVER had a food truck. I investigated the possibility as a back-up plan if I could not get into a brick and mortar space. Yes, numerous publications reported that I operated a food truck, but there is not one photo of me in a truck, or a direct quote from me saying, “I am operating a food truck.” We had vending booths at festivals and the Douglass Loop Farmers’ Market for pre-opening publicity and product testing. Remember, you can’t always believe what you read.
Our name is not some brash claim of “Punkness,” but rather a father’s desire to connect with his son. When he was five, Ezra and I were playing around when he said, “Dad, you’re a Taco Punk.” The phrase immediately resonated as a name for my taco shop and it stuck. It is as simple as that. The logo, created by a Latino, is not intended to be offensive or demeaning towards anyone.
Taken as a whole, Hodge’s piece asserts I am a racist, capitalist taco baron profiteering off of others’ misfortune. Not only is this baseless, but dangerously veers towards libel. While the larger topic of Louisville’s urban development is a complex issue worthy of discussion, Hodge’s decision to throw me into the center of the ring without researching my business model illustrates her lack of judgment and indulging her own agenda at my expense violates basic journalistic standards.
Taco Punk has experienced little windfall from the YUM! Center. In fact, events like the NCAA tournament sucked business away and dumped it into the pockets of The Cordish Co. via 4th St. Live!
What is happening in the East Market District is more than the NuLu image and is actually the complex interplay of the old giving way to the new. The investors in this area have largely done a valiant job preserving while modernizing the architecture. There are a wide variety of business in the area including a hardware store, barbershop and medical facilities. Furthermore, this project is far from finished. Many more amenities are planned for the EMD that will make it into a great neighborhood for all kinds of people to live in and visit.
She was a high school freshman when my wife and I lived in apartments on Clay and Market. Except for a few hidden gems, the EMD was largely a dirty, barren eyesore. Drugs were dealt openly, vagrancy was epidemic and petty crime was a daily constant. Brave people have taken great personal risk to bring art, culture and beauty to a previously desperate area of Louisville. These efforts deserve an honest examination not a classist diatribe from a rookie editor.
This area is being revitalized with private capital as well. Taco Punk sucked no “tax money marrow” in its financing. We are privately financed by a small group of investors and a non-forgivable METCO loan, requiring me to put my 1000 sq. ft. home in Germantown up for collateral.
She repeatedly criticizes the prices at Taco Punk, but makes no effort to understand how these prices are set. We have principles and they come with a price. First, all of our ingredients are of the highest quality available and we make everything from scratch, by hand, every day. Our protein selections, purchased from family farmers, are priced two to three times what the commercial equivalent sells for. How is this possible? The Federal Farm Bill. If you don’t know it by now, agribusiness has bought our government out. The Farm Bill favors industrial giants like Cargill, Perdue, and Monsanto. Corn, wheat and soybeans are federally subsidized so heavily that they sell for far less than what it costs to produce. What do most industrial factory farms feed their animals? Corn, soy, and wheat. Thus, any food service operation that chooses to use conventional sources of protein offers prices that are artificially low. If the public would like for my prices to drop, they can contact Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell and tell them they want family farmers to be included in the Federal Farm Bill.
Furthermore, I pay my employees, including two refugees, 20 percent more than other jobs in the industry. Another added expense is due to a commitment to responsible waste disposal. All of our service ware is made of compostable material. It is triple the price of Styrofoam and double the price of petroleum plastic. We also use Blue Sky Services to compost all biomass and recycle all plastic, metal, paper and glass. To date our composting and recycling program has diverted over 80 percent of our waste from the landfill.
Taco Punk’s prices are determined by simple math not a desire to gouge the customer. After all, responsibility comes with a price. Our food is not cheap but it is an excellent value when these factors are taken into thoughtful consideration. In addition, we offer many daily specials and group discounts including a student discount. Any student with a valid ID receives a 10 percent discount.
We are also involved in numerous charitable organizations and are constantly looking for ways we can help our community.
It is entirely possible Hodge received a bad meal. Nearly all restaurants have lapses in quality and we are not immune. However, it is unreasonable for a newspaper critic to smash a restaurant over a single menu choice. Taco Punk has a satisfaction guarantee. If you are not happy with your meal, please tell us. We will gladly correct the problem or refund your money. Engaging in a dark fantasy (that borders on terroristic threatening) about tossing a firebomb as an expression of “punkness” is not only personally disturbing but irresponsible journalism –especially from the desk of the Editor-in-Chief.
The goal of an opinion piece is to use facts to back up the columnist’s opinion and persuade the reader. Hodge ultimately only persuaded a whole lot of readers to see though her lousy Anthony Bourdain impression to see a young journalist completely unprepared and unqualified for the positions of critic or Editor-in-Chief. (She doesn’t even know the difference between a pallet and the palate.)
I have spent my entire adult life dedicated to the art of bringing people together over a shared meal. Hodge’s sensational work only reinforces the tired “us vs. them” trope. If we are to solve any of the serious problems facing our civilization we must work together towards change. I wish my prices were lower. But until a lot more restaurants start buying from local farms and use green products and practices that simply cannot happen. Taco Punk is trying to change the way quick service restaurants are run by offering clean, healthy and socially responsible food for affordable prices.
Rae Hodge’s piece in The Louisville Cardinal on Taco Punk is an inaccurate, irresponsible excuse for journalism and beneath the high standards of the University bearing its name and she should be held accountable for these lapses.
Chef/owner, Taco Punk