DFW Music News

Taquería el Picante, Denton's Punk Haven, Has Been Forced to Cancel All Upcoming Shows

In a cracked parking lot, sharing a mercantile space with Sprockets Bicycle Shop, sits Taqueria el Picante, home to one hell of a barbacoa taco and formerly the best DIY performance space in North Dallas. The Lego-yellow colored business' owner and operator helped give local bands and their fans a venue to call home. But after property owners Uptown Knight LLC issued a cease and desist order to taquería owner Sven Wilde, those days appear to be over.

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"The idea was a safe place for queer bands and/or bands with people of color in them to play, something we thought Denton was lacking," Wilde says.

The idea first came about when Wilde met Allie Lowe of The Atomic Tanlines, who needed a consistent place for her and other bands she knew to play.

"I never saw many queers at the venues I'd been too," Wilde says. "I know there are queer people in Denton and if they're not at these other venues maybe they don't like the music. Or maybe they're just not comfortable at these places. It's not necessarily the venue's fault. It could be the people going to the shows."

Wilde wanted to create a place where minorities and gays could feel comfortable in the venue's environment. He also wanted everyone to have a place to go fucking nuts when moshing.

"The taquería has a zero tolerance on racism, sexism, homophobia and anything else that might promote ideas that we as people are not all equal," he says.

The shows grew in popularity, and while police and the property owners were initially supportive, Wilde recently got a cease and desist letter from Monica Moody, Office Manager of Uptown Knight LLC, which owns the building:

Holding events, shows or parties without the Landlord's approval is a violation of property rules. Due to the noise, trash, the number of people loitering as well as the parking issue; the landlord has requested that you stop these events, shows, or parties immediately. Please do not ignore this request as doing so will result in eviction.

Before the taco punk shows, there were just tacos. And now, for the immediate future, it will be just tacos again.

It began in 2005, when Wilde and his mother were selling tacos and menudo out of the trunk of their car. When his parents found the location where they are now, they were told by the building's owner that the space was ready to set up. However, two months into the business the city came and put a notice on their door, barring entry until they had building permits.

"My parents had no idea they needed anything but a dream. Reality hit hard then, and the opening was postponed over six months later. For over half a year they were paying rent on a business that wasn't open, while making house payments, and did their best to make sure things were still comfortable at home for my two sisters and I. I don't know how we did it. It was most definitely a family effort."

When the restaurant first opened, it was only during the morning, with Wilde's parents and one other assistant cook. Wilde and his younger sister would help out after school and on weekends. The tacos, despite the rough start, were a hit.

"Sometimes my mom would take naps in the storage closet. We couldn't leave the restaurant -- it was incredibly busy."

In the beginning, Wilde worked at the restaurant for tips, while working other jobs and attending school. But last September, Wilde's father went to Mexico and found that his current Green Card status won't allow him back in the country.

Wilde's father is stuck in Valle Hermoso in Tamaulipas, Mexico, making metal planters and selling them at markets to raise money for an appeal. Wilde became his mother's partner in the restaurant. They've agreed that he would take over full responsibilities this summer.

"I dealt with the landlords because I spoke English, but for the most part I was trying to market the business and promote it," he says. "I was working hard to garner buzz."

Part of the remodeling Wilde wanted to incorporate involved a small stage for live music. Wilde met Lowe through shared support for the organization Keep Denton Queer, which is dedicated to "promoting businesses and events committed to providing a safe, respectful, and welcoming environment for the LGBTQIA community, along with a strict zero tolerance policy for bigotry and prejudice."

"The shows were run by Total Twit, who is essentially Alli Lowe," Wilde says. "Most show event pages on Facebook stressed our zero tolerance policy. There wasn't a huge overlap from punk to tacos, but we are a day restaurant. We close at 4 p.m., so a lot of these kids are in school at that time, and they have day jobs and such. I have seen definitely more American clientele though, so I know these punks have been talking good stuff."

Once the shows got off the ground, punks from all over migrated to the taquería for shows. The shows culminated in May with Taco Fest, which featured bands, Megaduck, Primitive Orgasm, Sin Motivo and The Sentenced. Wilde said the city stayed quiet on the transition, with the police stopping by from time to time to check in.

"They would say they were thrown off by the crowd in the parking lot," he says. "The real problem was with the owners of the building, Uptown Knight LLC. They weren't aware we were doing shows and we weren't aware we needed permission."

That's when the trouble started. Apparently Uptown Enterprises received sound complaints from the tenants that lived in the apartment complex behind the taquería. Wilde calls those sound complaints from the apartment complex, whose property is also owned by Uptown Knight LLC, "bogus."

After the complaints came in Wilde said representatives from Uptown Enterprises told him everything was OK. "[They just asked] we keep an eye on things like trash and parking, but I guess there were still complaints. They called back after one of the shows to let us know they had changed their mind. They would be sending an official notice of cease and desist."

Wilde said he was initially angry that his venue couldn't serve his community through shows, but sees it as, "just a bump in the road to bigger and better things. We will deal and work through this like any other obstacle."

Wilde says he was always concerned about noise, checking to make sure the shows weren't becoming disruptive. He says the highway in front of the restaurant makes more noise than any of the taquería's shows ever have.

"I would go outside to the back just to make sure it wasn't audible. Ultimately whoever was complaining had a better word than mine. It is their property, they can do what they want with it, but it's our business and we feel the same way. We don't have to be there anymore than they have to put up with us. Their only basis for their decision was hearsay from some random tenant. We've been doing these shows since February, nearly six months. Suddenly, now there is a problem? I've been at every single one of these shows, with each one just like the last, music just as loud as the last, and I didn't hear about any complaints before."

Wilde isn't sure what comes next, but the shows have become vitally important to his goals as a business owner. They'll consider all options, including moving the restaurant entirely.

"I think it's time my mom retires too. There are other things going on in our lives right now that we need to focus on. We'll be taking things slow for a bit, you know to gather our thoughts."

In the meantime, Rubber Gloves picked up some of the upcoming shows that were canceled at the taquería, and a few others moved to locations in Dallas.

"I've been a little stressed having to cancel all upcoming shows, but to be honest I'm dealing with so many other things right now that I don't often think about it," says Wilde. "I think someone had a problem with what we were doing and they took care of it. There is nothing I can do but make the most with what I'm left with."

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Lee Escobedo