The people of the eastside have spoken — and they want tacos.
La Jalisciense Supermercado y Taqueria is known as one of the most popular destinations in Southwest Detroit for its assortment of Mexican treats, grocery staples, crispy chicharrones, and tacos. Now the family-owned establishment wants to give eastsiders a taste of its beloved recipes.
Developers Brandon Hodges and Damon Dickerson are the owners of a two-story Art Deco-style building at 16703 E. Warren Avenue. In July, they wrapped up a months-long community engagement campaign that asked residents in and surrounding East English Village near their property what sort of food or drink options they’d like to see fill the space. An overwhelming majority of the 150 or so people who responded to an online survey revealed that eastsiders want greater access to Mexican cuisine. Respondents also told the developers they wanted to see Mediterranean cuisine, coffee, or Asian food.
During an event held on Saturday, July 8, at the Eastside Community Network, residents were invited to sample La Jalisciense’s huaraches, tacos, and sopes slathered with refried beans and carne asada or al pastor, as the ownership — members of the Vargas family — got to introduce themselves to the neighborhood.
“When we started the project, we kind of knew that we wanted a restaurant, or at least a food and beverage business, because we are really believers that food has a catalytic effect in neighborhoods if done the right way,” Hodges told Eater a day before the community tasting.
Hodges, founder of Tribe Development, and Dickerson, an architect with Dokes Design Architecture, purchased the circa-1935 brick building in April 2022. The upper level houses six studio and one-bedroom apartments and the pair hope La Jalisciense will occupy a roughly 2,000-square-foot space on the ground floor. The property has two other smaller storefronts on the first floor. Hodges says that they are currently working to secure one final source of financing to fund the total development cost of approximately $4 million.
The results of the community outreach aren’t surprising. Mexican is among the most popular styles of food on the globe, yet in historically segregated Detroit, the vast majority of Mexican and Chicano-owned eateries are concentrated in the city’s so-called Mexicantown district, Downriver, or scattered throughout the suburbs. That detail was not lost on the Vargas family.
“Through this process, we gained a lot of insight around why certain businesses don’t move out of certain neighborhoods, like their level of comfort, with maybe being received differently by different communities,” Hodges told Eater.
One conversation that came up numerous times between Hodges, Dickerson, and the Vargases, was the property’s proximity to Grosse Pointe, an area with a reputation as a flashpoint for racial tensions between Detroiters of color and its wealthier white residents. Likewise, Latinx community members have long been wary of moving outside of Southwest Detroit — where residents are more likely to speak Spanish and share concerns over immigration enforcement — due to the constant fear of harassment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who have policing authority within 100 miles of a border. While the idea of expanding its footprint outside of the Latino community was appealing to La Jalisciense’s ownership, they wanted to be sure they would feel welcome on the other side of town.
Hence, the food demo.
“There are these kinds of shadow issues and conversations and concerns that are being had by different communities, and they kind of keep it close to the chest because I think we don’t want to offend people, but at the same time, we need to really start talking about why these things occur and create the space to have the safe conversation,” says Hodges.
The Vargas family opened La Jalisciense about 10 years ago inside what was already a retail store. Over the years, they redid the interior to include a casual restaurant and bar with a tiki-style thatched roof, a butcher’s counter, and more grocery options. During the pandemic, they expanded the outdoor seating area to include all-season, enclosed outdoor luminarias, and installed an updated facade. The restaurant is known for its cecina de res, birria de chivo, freshly made aguas frescas, chicharrones, and seasonal menu options. On the grocery side, customers can source hard-to-find spices and chiles, a limited variety of produce, tamarindo and Tajin-spiked candies, packaged tortillas, Goya products, and bottled pops and beers. On any given day, any one of the four Vargas children ranging in age from 10 to 22 can be seen standing behind the counter, in addition to a shrine of family photos and tchotchkes.
Co-owner Jose Vargas Jr., 22, tells Eater that La Jalisciense version 2.0 would be smaller in scale and the menu would likely be limited to a few key items like tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and maybe tortas, as well as packaged snacks and beverages. Hodges, Dickerson, and La Jalisciense’s ownership are currently working to draft a letter of intent, which would outline the terms of the lease and business arrangement. Once funding is secured, construction could start by the end of the year.