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Family of Taqueria El Rey Rallies to Raise Funds Following Devastating Fire

Plus, Michigan Starbucks employees move to unionize, and Smith & Co. reopens in Midtown

People standing outside of Taqueria El Rey, a restaurant at 4730 Vernor Highway in Detroit, on Saturday, January 29, 2022.
Supporters of the beloved Taqueria El Rey in southwest Detroit have launched a fundraiser following a fire that gutted the popular restaurant.
Photo by Serena Maria Daniels
Serena Maria Daniels is the editor for Eater Detroit.

As news spread that a fire gutted much of southwest Detroit’s beloved Taqueria El Rey over the weekend, a relative of the ownership has stepped in to organize a fundraiser to help the popular eatery rebuild.

Roxana Aguinaga, a niece of owner Eliseo Fuentes, set up a GoFundMe campaign on Sunday with the goal of raising $20,000 to help the family with necessary repairs.

“We ask our community and anyone that enjoyed this restaurant to please contribute in any way possible to help the Fuentes family rebuild and reopen as soon as possible so they can reopen their doors and continue serving some of our favorite food,” says Aguinaga in the fundraising profile. “This family-owned business has been in operation for over 25 years and we would like to conserve this unique Detroit jewel.”

Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell says fire crews knocked down the fire within 10 minutes upon arrival at 10:36 a.m. Saturday. Manager Daniel Fuentes says that the blaze appeared to have started in the grill shack, which adjoins the restaurant’s main building, but that it quickly spread to the dining area, severely damaging the interior. Aguinaga says that her cousins, who run the restaurant alongside her uncle, are working to determine what will be covered by insurance and that she set up the crowd fund campaign in the event that there are costs that are not covered.

As of Monday afternoon, the GoFundMe has raised more than $9,500. Those interested in donating, click here for more information.

Michigan Starbucks stores move to unionize

Hourly workers at four Michigan Starbucks locations have announced plans to unionize, part of growing nationwide movement. Petitioning for union elections are workers at the following stores: 120 S. Zeeb Road, Suite 101 in Ann Arbor; 17410 Hall Road, Clinton Township; 4585 Washtenaw Ave, Ann Arbor; 11353 S. Saginaw St. in Grand Blanc.

The employees are organizing with Workers United (SEIU), the same international union that helped Starbucks workers in upstate New York successfully unionize the chain’s first company-owned store, following months of negotiation.

A majority of eligible employees have already signed union cards at the four locations and have filed petitions for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board, according to union organizer Mari Orrego.

“We believe that a union will make us true partners of this company... Partner safety has taken a back seat at our store, exemplified by the removal of hazard pay two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of a fire escape in our building, and rescinding the requirement of customers to wear masks in our building... We feel that this union is the best chance we have at improving conditions and being able to make a sustainable, meaningful career,” says a letter from workers in the Grand Blanc store that was e-mailed to Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson on Thursday.

The Michigan announcement follows unionizing efforts taking shape across the country. Earlier this month, a near unanimous majority of the 15 hourly workers at a downtown Chicago Starbucks became the first of the chain’s Midwestern locations to sign union cards, calling for improvements in wages, the distribution of labor, and security.

Smith & Co. reopening

Midtown Detroit Restaurant Smith & Co. is gearing up to reopen after closing for almost two years in response to widespread restrictions on restaurants brought on by the pandemic.

An Instagram post says the eatery at 644 Selden St. will open on February 10.

According to the Metro Times, Smith & Co. had previously announced plans to reopen in late spring 2021. Now, it appears, the restaurant has spent most of January hiring and training new staff. Smith and Co. originally opened its doors in fall 2019, launched by veteran restaurateurs partners Jon Carlson, Chet Czaplicka, and Greg Lobdell.