Paz Cantina facing uncertain future after truck repossession

An emotional Michael Reyes describes some of the impactful moments he experienced while running the Paz Cantina truck. (Nicole Neri/DD)
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In the past year and two months Michael Reyes has served 30,000 tacos and burritos to the homeless. This came to an end on Friday after the Paz Cantina truck was repossessed by its lenders, leaving Paz with an uncertain future.

“Today’s tough,” Reyes said on Friday. “I feel like a failure … I just feel like I’m letting everyone down.”

In September 2016, Reyes had a potentially cancerous medical issue, which turned out to be benign, but a surgery in November left him unable to work at full capacity for a few months. This followed a time of particularly slow business, all contributing to three months of missed payments, and Reyes said the lender had to take back the truck.

Reyes declined to give the name of his lenders, saying they are private people who know him well.

“And they’re heartbroken over this, you know,” Reyes said.

On January 26, Reyes created a Kickstarter campaign in the hopes of raising enough money to keep the truck by the next payment date. In 12 hours, the campaign raised almost $3,000 from over 50 backers, but he needed $25,000 and far more time.

Reyes shut down the Kickstarter once he lost the truck. He said he didn’t want to just take money from the community without giving something in return, and without the truck he would have nothing to offer.

This was not Reyes’s first setback. Paz Cantina used to be a brick-and-mortar restaurant on Roosevelt and Third Street, which opened on Nov. 7, 2014 and closed Nov. 8, 2016. One week later, the Paz Cantina truck was born.

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Reyes said he is passionate about helping the homeless and the hurting.

“I’m a chef. I can feed people. That’s the best thing I can do,” said Reyes. “I just want to keep doing it.”

Michael Reyes rolls up his sleeves to explain why he feels so strongly about the Paz Cantina business, showing wrist tattoos reading "Passion" and "Purpose." (Nicole Neri/DD)
Michael Reyes rolls up his sleeves to explain why he feels so strongly about the Paz Cantina business, showing wrist tattoos reading “Passion” and “Purpose.” (Nicole Neri/DD)

During the time he drove Paz Cantina, Reyes said three separate families told him he wouldn’t be seeing them anymore as they’d made it off of the street. He said they thanked him for giving them something they could count on.

“That’s priceless to me,” said Reyes. “I’m sure there’s more. I hope there’s more, but I know there’s those three.”

Reyes adamantly insisted he will be back on his feet soon.

“I’ll be a wuss today. I’ll be a human today. Tomorrow? Let’s cowboy up,” Reyes said, about an hour after clearing all of his personal belongings out of Paz Cantina.

Kendra Wake, who helped Reyes with the charity side of his business since November, was with him to clear out the truck on Friday. Wake said it was heartbreaking.

“It was his baby, and I had to watch him lose it,” Wake said.

Wake and Reyes were met by artist Mike Little, who painted “Love, Peace, and Taco Grease” on the roof of the Paz Cantina truck. Immediately the group started planning for how to start Paz Cantina again.

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While Reyes and Wake sat on the patio of Jobot at dusk after relinquishing the truck, several passersby and Jobot employees offered Reyes hugs and words of support.

“This is my Phoenix,” Reyes said. “We all have more passion than we do money. But we’re dedicated to this, to this street. This is our home, our world. Between ‘the sevens.’ That’s what we fight for. That’s why we cry, and that’s why we fight, and that’s why we hurt.”

Little nodded to this declaration, pledging his own dedication to downtown Phoenix between Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue.

“And they can have the rest of it,” Little said.

Little said whoever paints over the former Paz Cantina will probably forget to paint over the “Love, Peace, and Taco Grease,” smiling at the idea of a secret legacy.

Wake and Little suggested a trailer, a light rail car, a tricycle with a cart, a Radio Flyer wagon, and among the chatter of half-joking brainstorming, Reyes stood and said, “I will be back, delivering burritos to my people.”

Wake said she believed he would come back soon, and she’d be with him when he did.

“He’s advocating for the people who can’t necessarily do it for themselves,” said Wake. “I’ll help him any way I can.”

Correction: March 20, 2017:

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated 2015 as the year Paz Cantina closed. It has been corrected and updated to reflect November 2016, the correct date.

Contact the reporter at Nicole.Neri@asu.edu.

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