The Saint John music community is mourning the loss of Taco Pica, a restaurant of 30 years and a popular all-ages venue.
After 30 years in business in Uptown Saint John, Taco Pica has closed its doors for good.
Owner Santos Ruyan made the announcement last Thursday in a short message posted to the restaurant’s website.
“In light of these difficult times, I have decided to close our doors permanently. Thank you Saint John for allowing me to share my dream of providing Spanish culture and cuisine with you,” he said. “A very heartfelt thank you to my colleagues, employees and patrons that have made the last 30 years worth while. We played with all our hearts and have many wonderful memories.”
The news sparked an enormous outpouring of thanks and shared memories from members of the local music and art communities. In addition to being the city’s only authentic Guatemalan restaurant, Taco Pica had also evolved to become an important all-ages venue hosting regular shows with local and touring acts.
Peter Rowan, an artist manager and cofounder of the Saint John music and arts festival Quality Block Party, says the venue was an important part of the city scene and described its loss as crushing.
“The Saint John scene punches above its weight, so huge and so hard, and part of it has to do with that crazy little venue, that because of the peculiarities of its license, could hold all-ages shows. It allowed people under age and people who were of age to share a space together. That’s such a rare thing,” said Rowan.
“It was also a safe space. It was a place that you knew you could go to and the people who were there cared about you. You were part of a community that Santos and Taco Pica represented,” he said.
When the news broke, artists and musicians from all over New Brunswick began sharing their Taco Pica washroom selfies. The Germain Street restaurant’s neon green washroom interior made it a popular photo location. It even has its own Facebook page.
As a restaurant owner, Ruyan was known for his generosity and his willingness to go above and beyond to support those who supported his business. As one of the main Quality Block Party venues, Ruyan would happily open on Sundays when he was usually closed and work a 15 hour shift while as many or more bands took part in the festival’s final weekend event.
“Taco Pica gave our community a focal point,” said Rowan. “We were able to come together and speak as a community on behalf of that space when Santos was fielding noise complaints as a result of all the shows happening.”
In 2018, city musicians organized a fundraiser to purchase and install sound dampening curtains in an attempt to limit the street noise created by the young musicians cutting their chops inside.
“In the end, the curtains didn’t do a whole lot,” said Rowan, “but they demonstrated our commitment to the space and also our ability to work together as a community.
“The lesson from this whole coronavirus experience and the loss of Taco Pica is that we need to support our friends who operate businesses. At the end of the day, we’re all we have. We all exist in smaller, traditionally marginalized communities as artists and musicians. We all need to make the effort to support the things that support us and need to ask ourselves, what do we buy in the run of a week and who in our community can we support through this action,” he said.
“At the end of this, some things will be better and some things will be worse. There’s going to be both good and bad lost here, but hopefully we can build off of this. As a community, we have a lot of talent, we have a lot of imagination and we have a lot of passion and desire.”