Comal Trumps the Taco Bowl

Taco bowls aren't authentic Mexican food, but Comal wants to stick it to Trump (by helping Dreamers).

Comal’s taco bowls (Zachary Becerra)

“Virtually all Americans have an immigrant story in our ancestors’ past,” Matt Gandin, chef-owner of Berkeley’s Comal, wrote in a blog post earlier this month.

As far as Gandin’s goes, his orphaned, Jewish great-grandfather jumped from a moving military vehicle and trekked 3,000 miles from Ukraine to Amsterdam, to avoid fighting the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. Refused admission to the U.S. because of a Congressional quota for Jewish immigrants, he found haven in Canada before later crossing the border into this “land of opportunity.”

We each have stories of where we trace our roots from, some farther back than others. For many of the staff at Comal, those stories are recent history, which has put them on edge in light of the latest executive orders to come from the Trump administration.

“Nearly half of our staff are immigrants,” Gandin says. Many “have been feeling anxiety and expressing concern, even those who have the right to work here.” Gandin sees Trump’s orders as antithetical to American values. But while the public largely responded with protests, phone calls, editorials, and Facebook posts, Gandin fought back with a taco bowl.

Inspired by a tone-deaf Trump tweet made last Cinco de Mayo, Gandin created what he refers to as the “Taco Bowl for Dreamers,” a limited-time dish with a cheesy name, but a worthy mission. The $15 entrée consists of a crisp, fried-flour tortilla laden with rice, black beans, and lettuce, and topped off with queso fresco, pico de gallo, a heap of fresh guac, and your choice of meat or grilled veggies. Much like a high-caliber Chipotle burrito, you could eat it in one go — but it easily makes for two servings.

“Of course, taco bowls are not Mexican,” Gandin says, “and they wouldn’t be on my menu in 100 years if we weren’t doing this to — as the British say — ‘take the piss out’ of Trump for his insensitive tweet.”

All proceeds go directly to the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant (EBSC), which supports, protects, and advocates for low-income refugees and immigrants, many of whom first made their needs known after the Obama administration created a policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“I felt it was an opportunity to show our support, raise a little money, and create some awareness for a local organization that is doing important work and directly assisting the people who are within our community,” Gandin says.

The bowls will be offered Mondays and Tuesdays for the month of February, and over 100 sold in the first week alone.

“It’s been cool to see the reaction from the people walking through the door who are taking part and coming in specifically to show their support,” Gandin says.

Comal has inspired other local businesses, too. Next week, Berkeley’s Fieldwork Brewery will be rolling out a beer (March On, Hoppy and Strong) that benefits Planned Parenthood, and they’re currently planning one for the EBSC as well. Along the same lines, Xocolate dished out a batch of “Pussy Power” chocolates for the Women’s March last month and donated the profits to the ACLU.

For Gandin, it all comes down to community connections and local support.

“Our staff has been super-supportive and have all expressed how pleased they are to work in a place that is willing to draw a line and take a stand.”

Given that Comal is located in liberal Berkeley, Gandin concedes it may be a pretty limited risk. But it’s an effort all the same.

“We want to stand in solidarity with our staff when we feel they may be under attack,” he says.

Comal, 2020 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-926-6300 or comalberkeley.com

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