Here’s What We Know About the Point Ruston/Tacoma Farmers Market Fiasco

*UPDATE- 7/25 @5:30* We could have done better the first time around. We want to be clear on our position here:

Regardless of the intent, banning “any style of Mexican food” is clearly, by definition, racist. It’s targeting an entire group of people with zero regard to the depth and diversity of culture and cuisine. Even a brief look at how the exclusivity contract is applied shows how imbalanced its application is, e.g., “street tacos” are sold at Wild Fin with no apparent conflict (credit to @VanGolightly1 on Twitter for pointing that out). We should have stated all this more clearly but we were going on the assumption that it was a given.

If it came off like we were defending racism or condoning the actions of the Point Ruston Owners Association, that’s on us. We get it wrong sometimes too. I (Editor of GCM, person who wrote this) am sorry for that confusion.

Looking through many posts and comments about this yesterday, both on IG and FB, we saw dozens of people pointing at either TFM or Taco Street as the bad guys in this situation and calling for boycotts. The point of this article was to direct that frustration to where we felt it belonged—the PROA.

We didn’t get permission to quote sources or any communications between them and PROA and we respect their choices. Because of this, we were limited in the statements we could actually make. 

The relationships between PR, the Waterfront Market, tenants, and vendors was far more complicated than we were aware of and even explaining the details of those relationships as we heard them could severely impact people and businesses that don’t deserve to be punished.

To be blunt, we don’t fuck with millionaire lawyers. Without hard evidence to show where this all came from, we felt the best option for us was to help divert the anger and frustration away from small businesses. In an earlier comment, @sophiakristina on Instagram wisely pointed out that “pitting POC folks against one another is a tool of white supremacy.” This is 100% on point.

*Update- 7/27 @4:46* A lot of the conversation playing out on social media is hung up on whether or not this counts as racism. A comment by River Meschi on our Facebook post explained perfectly why this issue is bigger than a simple contract dispute:

Even if the non-compete clause is there to support a “Mexican-style food” business, the way it is worded and the fact that it exists is institutionally discriminatory.

We will never make progress around racism and discrimination if we keep only focusing on people’s intentions instead of how it is institutionalized into systems above and beyond our best intentions. How, in this case, is the system itself being discriminatory? That’s what we need to band together to change.

In this case, it doesn’t matter if the intention of the contract’s non-compete clause was set up to protect a Mexican business. The impact of the clause is harm for Mexican businesses specifically, and that is discrimination on a systemic level. It’s discrimination for two main reasons:

1. Mexican is a national origin, which is a protected class. Any clauses that limit or otherwise single out businesses for being Mexican (or in this case “Mexican-style”) is discriminatory, no matter the intention.

2. Lumping all three of the vendors in this situation together based on their national origin alone unfairly defines their food as the same. Here we have a Guadalajara-style vendor, a Chihuahua-style vendor, and a place very specifically selling birria, which is a unique type of food in and of itself. It would be as if we said Chicago-style hot dogs, New England-style clam chowder and Nashville hot fried chicken were all the same because they’re “United States-style” foods that must naturally be in competition. It is discriminatory to erase all nuance within the definitions of things themselves and make sweeping assumptions as to how they are going to interact with each other.

Again, these elements exist apart from anyone’s intentions. Knowing peoples’ intentions in setting all this up is part of the story, but not the part that matters in the end: it’s the impact, and whether or not we are learning from this so we dismantle discrimination in our systems when we become aware that they are operating that way.

Breaking news isn’t really our specialty but a lot of people were pinging us about this ordeal with Point Ruston and the Tacoma Farmers Market on Sunday.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, you can check the Instagram posts from El Güero Birria Tacos (first, second) and Tacoma Farmers Market. Burrito Boy was also affected by this but at the time of publishing this, we have not seen any statements from them.

According to the Tacoma Farmers Market, they were directed by the Point Ruston Owners Association to discontinue sales of “any style of Mexican food.”

Based on the conversations we had on Sunday with a few people involved, the whole thing appears to be a tragic clusterfuck of miscommunication.

If you’ve been following us for a while you know that we go out of our way to embrace nuance. When it comes to serious topics, we try our hardest to get the details right and present information as openly as possible.

This situation is unique, though, and much more complex than it appears on the surface. Some of the things we learned today, we can’t share right now. It’s nothing tabloid-level shocking, it’s just out of respect for peoples’ trust and privacy as well as concerns about legal entanglement that we’re frankly not equipped to handle.

We spoke to people at the Tacoma Farmers Market and we spoke to the owners of Taco Street Taqueria. We reached out to Point Ruston via Instagram but had not heard back at the time of this publishing. This is a portion of a Tweet they put out at 8:33 Sunday evening:

“Point Ruston has certain exclusivity contracts in place to help support our brick and mortar vendors—including a contractual exclusivity for Mexican cuisine.”

We’ve had a good relationship with the Tacoma Farmers Market for a long time now. They do a lot of great things for our community beyond providing space for vendors. They found themselves in a tough situation and made the choice they felt was best with the limited information they were given. Hindsight is 20/20.

After speaking with the owners of Taco Street it became clear to us that this was also not their intention at all. They’re good people with employees who just want to make tasty food and get on with their lives. In our humble opinion, they do not deserve blame for anything that happened today.

El Güero Birria Tacos and Burrito Boy took the hit for this today and that shouldn’t have happened. We can speak from experience that missing even one day’s revenue from a market can have a large impact on the business.

You may be thinking that this sounds like a bunch of PR bullshit—fair enough. You want someone to blame and your feelings are valid. You have questions that are not being answered and we get that it’s extremely frustrating.

This whole thing is messy AF and it would’ve been easier for us to just stay out of it but there is one point we’d like to make that hopefully we can all agree on:

If you’re going to point a finger, picture the actual people you’re pointing at and think about what they stand to lose.

If you’re going to boycott someone, think about the ramifications of that action and who will actually pay the price for it.

The people who stand to lose the most here are the small business owners, whether they’re behind a foldout table, in a truck, or under a roof.

We stand behind freedom of speech 100% but social media is a crowded mall parking lot on Black Friday. Make your voices heard but please consider who’s bearing the brunt of your actions.

  1. Nice job going straight to “racist” . Great “journalism”. Anyone with half a noodle would not jump to such a conclusion. Shame on you for perpetuating decisiveness . You’re the real problem .

    This was obviously a non compete issue . It’s pretty simple , really. The existing tenants pay through the nose to lease space and had contractual exclusivity.

    1. Why you put quotation marks on the word racist is beyond me but it is what it clearly is: racist. It would be different if it were directed toward one business but it affects all Mexican food businesses hoping to participate in the farmers market. So how is this specific discrimination not seen as racist to you?

      1. It is racist. Check to see how many other businesses have duplicate services. Check mail salons, clothing, shoes, athletic wear, ice cream shops, Italian food, seafood. Whatever…. So you only want one Mexican joint, but 6 hot dog stands??? Smh don’t play innocent with me. Someone clearly chose to limit Latinos.

  2. Sounds like a pissing match to me. Frankly, I don’t have time for it. I will not be frequenting any Point Ruston brick and mortar until I have heard, preferably from you, that Point Ruston has made an apology, at the very least.

  3. If I want to go to a good Farmer’s Market I’ll just keep going to Olympia or even Pike Place. Point Ruston is a giant mistake. Should have kept it as part of Tacoma proper, instead of the giant strip mall it is. It’s just a bunch of wannabe stores for boomers who think they can be hip (they can’t).

  4. The Farmer’s Market must LEAVE Pt. Ruston. It is a community-wide market that should not discriminate to protect million dollars restaurants in the development!

    It is against the law to limit use of a common good to enhance a privateer’s bottom line. That is a takeover of the common good, while creating exclusionary policies.

    The owners association ought to be brought up on human rights charges, and the Narket also if it perpetuates this.

    If the restaurant is having problems, then PLEASE get help, hire a consultant, give better service, better food, maybe start using locally abd artisan ally sourced foods!

    Stop looking externally and “punching down” when your business has challenges.

  5. I feel like it’s notable to add that Taco Street is a part of the Waterfront Market, which isn’t owned by Point Ruston/the Cohen’s (neither the market nor taco street are listed on the official Point Ruston website), so it’s not one of Point Ruston’s brick & mortar stores, which makes it all the more confusing as to who they’re defending and who’s benefitting.

  6. Quote – “ The point of this article was to direct that frustration to where we felt it belonged..”

    That’s not journalism… that’s what’s wrong with so much of America atm. You deciding who we should be mad at instead of just reporting and letting us decide.

    1. I see your point. A lot of the “news” that people look to for information these days is just strong opinion primarily meant to stir up emotions. We’ve never claimed to be non-biased media and a lot of what we do goes against conventional concepts of journalism. I can see where that would cause problems in communication, though.

      In this case the hard facts were few and already readily available online. This was more an attempt at community advocacy than strict journalism.

  7. Exclusivity contracts would make sense. Racist? Really? It’s a form of non-compete clause. Someone pays to rent space. We assume it’s a brick and mortar restaurant that objects to someone selling Mexican food out of a mobile location, and it probably is. A restaurant takes a lot of time and many restaurants fail. Someone has to make the decision whether to rent the space. Their butt is on the line to decide if the lease makes sense. They do some kind of math, regarding whether they think they can earn enough money in that space to make it worth the work, given stuff like lease costs. Part of the calculation involves location, and how much competition they perceive to be in the area. This is negotiated either before the business signs the lease and moves in, or could be renegotiated before renewing a long-term lease. There are standard lease agreements for most types of businesses, but in many cases adjustments can be negotiated. A restaurant owner would probably prefer no mobile food vendors at all. The property owner might not be willing to agree to that, for whatever reason. So they work out some kind of agreeable compromise. If I’m selling hamburgers, I might not care if you sell ice cream outside my door, but I probably don’t want you selling tacos or pizza. If the agreement was “no trucks selling pizza or Italian food”, no one would be thinking racism; we’d just be thinking, “Too bad they can’t put a good pizza truck in there!”

  8. And the woke mob strikes again. This is not racist at all. It is a non compete issue. Simple and done. How the hell is everyone playing the race card on everything nowadays?

    1. There’s a pretty clear explanation of why this is more complex than a non-compete issue in the update from yesterday.

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