By Alex Distefano
The business at 4088 Mission Inn Ave. in downtown Riverside isn’t just a place to get a tasty, filling Mexican meal.
Roughly a century ago, it was an old-school gas station serving some of the area’s first motorists. Today, it is the location for a gas station-themed concept restaurant named (surprise, surprise) Taco Station.
During the late 1800s and into the 1900s, Riverside was one of several centers for California’s citrus industry, and saw an increase in car traffic and motorists, many of whom stopped at the various service stations en route to and from destinations such as Palm Springs, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Thus, the current location of Taco Station is not only rich in flavor and Mexican favorites such as carne asada tacos and burritos, but it is also rich in local history. In 1923, the property served as one of the first local Shell stations in Riverside. It was called Little’s Shell Service Station, but was renamed “LaRue Lovelady Shell” in 1941.
Taco Station owner and Riverside resident Mario Cortez says that his 1,110-square-foot eatery has been at this historic address for the past five years. “We’re proud to be in this location,” says Cortez. “. . . And because it was a former gas station we decided to go with that whole theme for the restaurant. Here on Mission Inn was where lots of people would stop in those times; because of the fact that it was it was a route to get to Palm Springs.”
Cortez says that in the half-decade serving up dishes such as sopes, taquitos, quesadillas and tortas, his restaurant has earned a loyal fan base.
But, what are the odds that another Mexican restaurant with the same name would open up elsewhere, in this case, Pasadena?
Cortez, who owns a trademark on the design and concept of his Taco Station, says that he was surprised when he recently learned that there was another Taco Station with the same concept and gas-station theme.
“I am a verifiable trademark owner of Taco Station,” Cortez says. “I got some emails and had customers walk in within the past month or so and tell me about this other Taco Station in Pasadena. Some asked if I was involved, thinking I had opened up another location—which I have not.”
The Weekly independently confirmed through the federal U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that Mario Cortez of Riverside is the owner of a trademark for Taco Station which covers the “design, plus letters/words and numbers of the logo and the Gasoline pumps, shields or crests with figurative elements contained therein or superimposed thereon.”
Cortez is still weighing his options for legal recourse this point, in what he calls a case of infringement. He said that legal action is being considered against the Pasadena establishment, which according to July article in www.hometown-pasadena.com, opened up this past April and is located on a converted gas station at the intersection of Green Avenue and Chester Street, just west of Pasadena Community College. Cortez said that he is currently in discussion with his attorneys, but, to date, no final decisions have been made, though the business owner’s lawyers have sent a letter to the Pasadena location.
The Weekly made several attempts to contact the Pasadena Taco Station, but was unsuccessful in obtaining an interview.
“I want people to realize that I am not out to be a bad guy in this,” Cortez says. “It’s a small restaurant and I don’t want to come off across as aggressive and someone out to get them, but I have to protect my business. I want readers to know that it is nothing personal, I have nothing against them.”