Lawsuit Claims Owner of Legendary HB Lonchera Tacos El Chavito Was Harassed Out of Business

Dos de defamation? Illustration by Federico Medina

Tacos El Chavito, a longtime lonchera in Huntington Beach, left little grounds for complaints with its decades-long reputation for speedy service, great taco deals and tortillas hechas a mano. Rodolfo Renteria, better known as “Chavito” by his loyal customers, worked hard for his business to become successful. Despite an early blip in the 1990s, when he had to go to court against the city to win the right to park his lonchera in the mostly Mexican Oak View neighborhood without moving during business hours, the tacos did all the talking. 

Chavito worked to find a better, more secure place to park until he found his lonchera’s long-standing location along Morgan Lane, not far from the Oak View community. The voluntary move proved wise, even for his brick-and-mortar business neighbors. “Everything was working great,” he says. “The storage manager [at Security Public Storage] told me that he wanted me there to bring people to their business, too.” 

And with a two-tacos-for-a-buck deal and all-you-can-drink jugo de piña, Tacos El Chavito’s popularity even allowed him to upgrade to a new-and-improved truck. 

So it came as a shock when Tacos El Chavito bid farewell on Facebook to its faithful customers in April 2018. “As some of you already know, Chavito hasn’t been at the food truck lately,” the post read. “After 20-plus dedicated years, Chavito has decided to sell his business; therefore Tacos El Chavito is under new ownership. He was forced to sell his hard-earn [sic] business of 20-plus years due to the discrimination, harassment, intimidation and extortion that he was subjected to by individuals and a business located near the food truck.”

Chavito had already taken allegations of such problems to court. In June 2016, he filed an unfair-business-practices lawsuit against Joshua and Jessica Caudill, who became on-site managers of Security Public Storage and allegedly began a campaign against Tacos El Chavito. According to the complaint, the taco troubles began in 2015, when the Caudills are alleged to have harassed the lonchera to put it out of business. “They began to call the police and the city,” says Chavito. “They had two dogs and took them to relieve themselves close to where I parked my truck. That’s how everything started.” 

The Caudills lived above their business and didn’t want Tacos El Chavito or its patrons in front of their home. The suit also accused them of having hostilely demanded to see licenses and permits from Chavito’s workers, filed false ordinance-violation reports to the city inspector, and even yelled, “Get out of here—nobody wants you here!” at the taco truck’s workers and customers. A former Security Public Storage worker signed a declaration stating that Joshua Caudill’s “distaste for Tacos El Chavito stems from the ethnic origins of its owner and its most frequented customers.” Chavito is Mexican.

An email from the Caudills to their supervisor, which was entered into the court record, spelled out the disdain in their own words. “For the third time this week, the taco truck has had customers smoking weed right outside our apartment,” states the email dated Nov. 7, 2015. “I’m tired of it, especially when I have kids with me. They attract nothing but the bottom rung of society and trash up our property. What can I do to get them out of here?” 

On Feb. 29, 2016, Chavito received an eviction notice from the office he had rented at Security Public Storage since 2006; the lease allowed him and his workers access to a bathroom within 200 feet of Tacos El Chavito, as required by law. By that April, Joshua Caudill had already hounded county health inspectors to follow up. “Just to clarify again, there is nowhere for this taco truck company to wash their hands or use the restroom within 200 feet,” he wrote. 

But Caudill didn’t get the answer he expected from an agent who investigated the complaint. 

“The owner of El Chavito stated that he has permission to use the restroom at Imperial Auto at the corner of Slater and Morgan,” wrote Kevin Dugan. “Currently, the truck parks roughly 300 feet from Imperial Auto. If El Chavito starts parking about another 100 feet closer to the corner, they will be within 200 feet of Imperial Auto, and thus in compliance with the restroom requirement. While I empathize with your situation concerning the parking and crime, please keep in mind that if El Chavito is in compliance with the restroom requirement, that there is nothing in my power that I can enforce to make them move.” 

Chavito hired attorney Jorge Ledezma soon after he learned that the owner of Imperial Auto began to feel pressured by the Caudills for working with him. 

Both parties began settlement discussions in 2018, when the alleged harassment took a new turn. According to a broader lawsuit filed in August of this year, Vivian Ulrich, who is described as “an actual or ostensible agent” of Security Public Storage tenant, allegedly extorted Chavito for $400-per-month payments in exchange for not calling the police on the grounds that he sold drugs out of his taco truck, a charge he denies. “I didn’t know what to do,” says Chavito. “I paid for two or three months, but after that, I began talking with my lawyer about what was happening. I told her I would no longer be paying.” 

Chavito held to his word. Problems with the city started anew in regards to many calls of complaints about trash from a nearby mobile-home community. “I looked at all of that and decided I couldn’t continue my business this way,” says Chavito. “Every day, I was being harassed.” 

He’s now suing for defamation. Even though the complaint details what was negatively alleged about him and his business, it doesn’t fully spell out the community pillar Tacos El Chavito became. 

When children participated in a monthly cleanup of the nearby Oak View neighborhood in 2017, Tacos El Chavito rewarded the youth with the best incentive known to Mexicans: free tacos. “I’ve always had a good relationship with the police, too,” Chavito says. 

The first lawsuit ended without a settlement, and the Caudills moved to another state. “For me, it didn’t resolve anything,” Chavito says. Both he and his attorney are hopeful the second suit may restore not only his reputation, but his business as well. “The goal is for him to [recoup] the last year and a half or two years of business that he lost,” says Ledezma. “If possible, he may even consider buying the truck back, if he’s allowed to do business again.”

In a statement to the Weekly, Security Public Storage says Chavito’s lease “was terminated with cause,” accuses him of relitigating a case that was dismissed and states Ulrich is a commercial tenant who isn’t affiliated with them in any way. “We take great and sincere pride in our nearly 40-year track record of community involvement,” the statement further reads, “and any allegations of racism by us are not only categorically false, but contrary to our core beliefs and our proven track record.”

On Nov. 1, the case was continued to April 6, 2020. 

20 Replies to “Lawsuit Claims Owner of Legendary HB Lonchera Tacos El Chavito Was Harassed Out of Business”

  1. So let me understand this correctly – this article involved a taco truck and a business that no longer wanted to provide bathrooms ? Why didn’t the truck simply move — I mean they had already secured bathrooms at a different business …. and if their tacos were as good as claimed people would follow them.

    1. Have you ever been to that part of HB? It’s a predominately Mexican neighborhood and the truck thrived because it was in that exact spot. It fed that community and many of the employees in the area.

      If it moved, the business was lost.

    2. Because he has to establish new relationships and if they knew his situation they would take advantage and charge more money for the use of restrooms. What you are seeing is the jealously of people, when someone works harder then you, is not out to take shortcuts and makes more money they your business. This guy use to give out free fuckin tacos if you asked for free tacos. And he got his business harassed for being a real boss, people are sad. Anyone have anything negative to say, y’all need to start your own taco truck and make that paper!!

  2. It is disgusting to have these PS people extort money from him. How was nothing done about this? Well I am appalled that this suit was lost. Why not pursue criminal complaint h go or extortion? There are food trucks everywhere these days and it is a very huge business even on shark tank. Let’s get this man his business back so he can then open a bricks and mortar Mexican Restaurant and ban his extortionists from patronizing!

    1. If you believe this story, you’re crazy. You think someone “extorted” this man? No, his customers and his truck was making life a living hell for the people who lived in the neighborhood. He’s not a victim. He’s a con artist.

  3. This article completely ignores the real issue. I live at Villa Huntington Beach MHP on Morgan Lane and the Chavito truck made our lives miserable. Yes, everyone got cheap tacos but the cheap food attracted so many people that CONSTANTLY double parked blocking the street, left food and trash everywhere and caused a major raucous in the neighborhood. It’s easy for all of you that just came by and didn’t have to deal with the repercussions to criticize. It wasn’t just the storage company that had issues, most of us here in the neighborhood wanted them to move a more commercial area.

  4. I have a business around the corner I liked the food and have no problem with this vendor BUT I go past many times a day and more often than not people were double parked and blocking thru traffic and would be a disaster if any emergency vehicle had to pass. If there was a location with better access and parking that problem would be solved.

  5. I don’t get it. This truck seems to continuously break laws and sounds like creating issues in two neighborhoods. I had one of these setup near my place and it was a disaster-trash, traffic, loitering, ugh.

  6. We lived a few feet away from that taco is good..the bad thing about the taco truck bussiness is.they should clean before they leave by the end of the not leave trash day I was driving by at Morgan street.somebody or someone.leave at freezer and there.right behind my house.were people can use that in jump in my property..and also..they throw paper plates .cups.soda cans..its horrible situation..they should moved somewhere else..or clean the whole street of Morgan street ..thank you…love the taco.

  7. I walk around the neighborhood and i honestly see more del taco, mcdonalds and all kinds of fast good trash and yes you do have some trash like limones, cilantro, and napkins but as long as i have eaten at the truck he always made sure to keep the area clean but just like the other restaurants he could only do so much while running his business and all i have to say about traffic issues is just like any restaurant with good food is gonna have that issue just like in n out has his lines of cars out to the main road congesting the slow lane but. This no chaviito around really sucks especially because theres a truck still selling tacos so if it was such a big issue why allow anothet truck. Not having chavitos has taken a part of what makes oak view comunity “el barrio ” to put this in prespective to uh understand what chavitos meant to the barrio and how chavitos is the neighborhood as much as the st that make the barrio. Chavitos is the what the pier is to the city of h.b with out it simply wouldn’t be h.b

  8. So much of this article is bull crap. Trained dogs to pee? Gimme a break. The writer of this article wrote from such a slanted angle. Every day, for nearly 12 hours, parking spots are being taken, cars are double parking, blocking people in, trash is thrown everywhere, all day long. Customers relieve themselves in broad daylight. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to live around that either.

  9. Well for some that don’t know I grew up in the area and I go there from time to time, he gives out free agua fresca and tacos are cheap so for those who have never been there don’t know how delicious and welcoming is el chavito is
    So it needs to go back! It is so sad that some try’s to take advantage of some one that works hard every day to make a living, if some one does a go fund me for chavito let me know I will contrivite.

  10. Please. I live around the corner and i see every days how the neighbors from the móvil commutiry walk they dogs they pee and poo and they walk and left all the shit and nothing happen. Since that community open the security fence all the street are use to park they cars and stay there for weeks and the city dont do anything i call many times to report that and what happen?

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