The Downtown Project’s Container Park retail center won approval for a temporary tavern license Wednesday but only after developers agreed to refrain from using exterior signage for a business with a name considered offensive by many Spanish speakers.
The council voted unanimously in favor of a three-month temporary license at Container Park, one of the highest-profile developments to date from Downtown Project, the $350 million urban renewal effort backed by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.
The vote followed testimony from residents protesting the use of the name “Pinches Tacos” by one of the businesses.
To many Spanish speakers the word “pinche” is offensive because it’s often used as a vulgar emphasis in front of nouns.
The owners already use the name on their chain of taco restaurants in Southern California and had intended to use it at the Container Park. The company’s website says the name is derived from another usage meaning a cook.
But after months of criticism from Councilman Bob Coffin and others they agreed recently not to use it on signage facing the street or a children’s play area in the middle of the center.
“At 26 years old I could never even bear the thought of saying that in front of my mom,” said Ebeth Palafax, one of several people who testified Wednesday. “It is a mockery to my culture and my traditions.”
Behind-the-scenes discussions about the controversial name continued to the 11th hour.
As recently as Tuesday evening Coffin lamented that the owners were planning to post the sign.
“I frankly am disappointed in those taco people in California,” Coffin said late Tuesday. “I tried to offer them compromises and they won’t accept any.”
By Wednesday morning Coffin said there was an agreement to not use the sign, which developer Andrew Donner confirmed during his testimony before the council.
“As a landlord, as a manager of this complex we have taken a position there will be no exterior signage of the name ‘Pinches,’ ” Donner said. “We share the sensitivities of the public.”
According to the company’s website, the name comes from a story about Mexican general Pancho Villa calling to his cooks to bring him tacos. And the word can be used to refer to cooks.
But others say it is unlikely anyone familiar with Latino culture would see the word without thinking of it as a vulgarity.
Gustavo Arellano, author of the syndicated “Ask a Mexican” column and author of “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America,” said it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where the word would be put on a taco shop without offending lots of people.
“Pinche is not a word that you could ever print in a daily newspaper,” Arellano said. “Does the word somehow lose the offensive connotation when it is the name of a restaurant?”
He questioned whether there is a double standard at play among people who might overlook use of an offensive Spanish word in public while the English equivalent would prompt more outrage.
“If it was in English would they allow it? I doubt it,” Arellano said.
Although the taco shop name was a big reason the Container Park got scrutiny from Coffin, the city didn’t bar the owners from using it.
That’s because to do so would have potentially deprived the owners of their First Amendment right to free speech, City Attorney Brad Jerbic said.
“Fortunately for us it was resolved privately,” Jerbic said of the agreement to refrain from posting the word on the exterior of the shop.
In addition to settling the name debate, the developers agreed to a long list of conditions for the project. They include adherence to city-approved security standards, maintaining $2 million in liability insurance, and regulations for operating the “common consumption area” of the development where patrons can walk between businesses with alcoholic beverages.
A soft opening is expected Monday. The Container Park has more than 30 businesses, including restaurants, bars and retail.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenSpillman702.