A Mexican entrepreneur who found success in the restaurant business faced a surprising hurdle when opening his second taco joint in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The crux of the issue? Zoning restrictions and the legal definition of a “sandwich” — specifically whether tacos and burritos qualify. The restauranteur battled the city’s commission and a local homeowners association, ultimately taking the case to court. Just last week, the judge’s verdict hinged on a seemingly simple question, paving the way for a new twist on the classic sandwich debate.

Meet Martin Quintana

Martin Quintana immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 1988, working in farms picking fruit before entering the restaurant business. Several years ago, he bought some real estate in southwest Fort Wayne, Indiana. The property was zoned for residential use rather than commercial. He latter added on a 9,000 square foot parking garage, and soon enough, 6626 W. Jefferson Boulevard no longer resembled the place he’d bought. A few years later, it had expanded to 11,000 square feet and transformed into an upscale-looking strip mall with multiple brick storefronts for rent.  

How did Quintana manage to make all of these changes on property that was zoned for dwelling? Well, much of the initial major changes were done without authorization. But Quintana himself eventually admitted it was time for a rezoning, pointing out that with so many commercial developments popping up around the space, keeping it zoned for residential use didn’t make sense.

At some point during all of these changes, Quintana had a vision for a new Mexican restaurant. He’d conceived of a place called “Famous Taco” and opened the first successful location in Indianapolis. Riding off the success of the first, Quintana planned for a second Famous Taco location to occupy one of the tenant spaces within the Fort Wayne development. He theoretically should be changing its zoning from “single family” (R1) to “limited commercial” (C2) so Quintana sought approvals from the city’s commission and council to rezone.

A Sticky Commission Decision

The commission that was to approve or deny his request had trouble reaching an agreement at first. The restauranteur had gone into a meeting last November to discuss the proposed restaurant and the plan to rezone. He even agreed to a deal with the Coving Creek Condominium Association, a nearby HOA, to limit business hours from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. He also agreed to other constraints on his restaurant, such as making all dining indoor-only, having no loud music or outdoor speakers, and not serving alcohol. By ceding to the HOA’s demands, he felt confident that his plan would get approved. While the decision was pending, he was excitedly putting up the restaurant’s sign and promoting its opening.

Importantly, though, there were specifications as to what a C2 “limited commercial” establishment could offer beyond whatever demands the HOA had for Quintana. Generally, C2 businesses could offer not only “made-to-order” meals, but also fast food. For example, there could be a Subway on the premises (sandwiches that are made to a customer’s specifications rather than pre-set on the menu), but there could also be a McDonald’s, which is not considered “made-to-order” sandwiches, but categorized as fast food).

However, the city wrote up a document limiting the type of food Quintana could serve. Their rules limited the food he could serve to only “made-to-order” food, including “subway-style” sandwiches where customers pick their own toppings, but did not allow for fast food or drive-through service. Like the first Famous Taco location that opened almost seven years ago, the second location envisioned for customers to be able choose their favored toppings for tacos, burritos, and tortas that are assembled by eatery staff.

Quintana’s Proposal Denied

But after Quintana had been waiting for the new rezoning to go through, the Covington Creek Association contacted him to say that his new proposal “somehow ran afoul” to the commitments he’d made to them. Five out of the nine commissioners of Fort Wayne voted against his proposal. In December of 2022, Quintana sued them.

A year and a half later, Allen Superior Court Judge Craig Bobay ruled that the commission had acted correctly when it denied Quintan’s proposed amendment. So, a victory for the city? Note quite. The judge also found that the entire request was not needed in the first place because the original terms allowed for restaurants like the second Famous Taco.

Court Steps In

In fact, it all turned on the legal definition of a “sandwich.” The judge wrote: “The Court agrees with Quintana that tacos and burritos are Mexican-style sandwiches, and the original Written Commitment does not restrict potential restaurants to only American cuisine-style sandwiches.” (And this isn’t the first court decision where judges have had to weigh in on what is and isn’t considered a sandwich!)

Quintana is now relieved for the whole thing to be over and finally looking forward to opening the second location of his Mexican joint. He said that the new restaurant should be up in running in a couple of months. And whether or not you think tacos and burritos should be considered “sandwiches,” Quintana also serves one more traditional form of sandwich at his restaurants: the delicious torta.

Related Resources:

The post Is a Taco a Sandwich? appeared first on .