Looks like we have to eat our words—and some tacos. Trompo is back.
A week ago, the beloved taqueria seemed to be permanently closed, owing its landlords $30,000 in unpaid back rent and late fees. Owner Luis Olvera took to Instagram to break the news and told D “I’m pretty sure it’s lights out for Trompo.”
And it was—for about 10 days. A lot happened in that time. More than a dozen of the restaurant’s fans and regulars offered to set up GoFundMe pages to pay its bills. Olvera took their advice and started one, but expected almost nothing of it. “I knew that we weren’t going to raise more than $500,” he reflected Tuesday, after Trompo was open again. “I was going to be a laughingstock. But that didn’t happen.”
Instead, donors took care of more than half the debt. On Thursday, Jan. 11, Olvera threw a pop-up dinner outside the Nomad Grills showroom in Oak Cliff, serving tacos for donations, and raised a few thousand dollars more. (Four Corners Brewing donated a cooler of beer to the cause.)
On Friday, Olvera announced the good news: Trompo would be open again. He’d paid his landlords as much as he could, gotten another week’s extension to find the remaining $5,000, and would be serving tacos and Mexican hot dogs in his restaurant again. This weekend—despite the below-freezing temperatures—many of Trompo’s fans returned to show their support.
“I’m still processing all of that,” Olvera said Tuesday. “I’m still in shock. This is a very embarrassing time for me, to have found myself in this position. But for an individual who thought that they were done and that the city had forgotten about them—to have this, to give me rebirth, is insane.”
Olvera reflected that if the lockout had happened just a few months earlier, he would not have accepted help, and would have let the restaurant close quietly. At that time, he says, he was in “denial” about Trompo’s financial situation. But this winter, he trimmed food costs down, identified the right staffing level, pared down some of the menu’s specials, and started selling alcoholic drinks. He calls the moment of profitability “breaking the ceiling”; Trompo had broken through on Singleton and at its Bishop Arts location on 10th Street, and, he thought, was on the verge of breaking the ceiling on Jefferson. Except for that back rent.
“Now I know what my worst month looks like,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure I can survive off that worst month. We’ve had to make a lot of changes without sacrificing the quality of the food, because that I can’t sacrifice on.”
Of course, many commenters online, and even some Trompo regulars, have wondered how this time will be different. They want to know if the restaurant will take this final chance and turn itself into a successful venture. Olvera thinks that the lessons and strategies he was implementing before the lockout—combined with a viral GoFundMe’s crash course in social media marketing—will help the restaurant grow.
This Friday’s deadline for his last payment is, he said, not a problem. His employees and customers have come too far to fail now. “If I have to sell a kidney from now until then, I’ll get rid of it.” Anecdotally, I visited Tuesday at lunchtime and the Trompo dining room had more guests than I’d seen anytime during 2023.
There are two morals to Trompo’s saga of resurrection. One is a general one, about how much harder it is to accept help than to give it. Trompo, I wrote last week, may have struggled because its heart was too big, not too small. In December, just weeks before it was locked out, the restaurant donated 150 tacos for a Child Protective Services event. “I will help anybody that I can, but asking for help became that much harder for me,” Olvera said. “I don’t give to receive.”
The second lesson is about the challenges that small, local restaurants face even after national exposure in magazines and TV shows. Customers don’t always realize how hard it is to consistently serve great food without investor backing—and a lot of small business owners don’t realize that, either, until it’s too late.
“The industry has chewed me up and spit me back out so many times,” Olvera reflected after Trompo reopened. Then he turned that thinking around: “Also, [the industry has] given me so many opportunities to advance or capitalize. For whatever reason, because I’m humble or proud or whatever, I haven’t been able to capitalize on it. I haven’t been able to turn it into the money machine you would want it to be. So, like, [I was prepared to] just bow out and give up. This whole resurrection of Trompo does not happen without the people lifting me up.”