One of London’s best taquerias will permanently close on Friday 23 December, as Sandra Bello and Erik “Smokey” Bautista’s Homies on Donkeys in Wood Street Market, Walthamstow runs its final service — five-and-a-half years after it opened the indoor market kitchen with just eight seats and a tonne of personality.
The duo announced on Instagram in November that the taqueria would close before Christmas. They are looking for a new and bigger site in the new year, having outgrown the Wood Street Market location and its sometimes limiting opening hours, which meant Homies on Donkeys was only ever open for lunch, from Tuesday to Saturday. Eater caught up with Bello and Bautista on the eve of the closure to hear how they both felt to be leaving Wood Street, and to learn a little more about what was on the horizon.
“Over the past few years the most asked question we got was ‘when are you going to move to a bigger place and be open for dinner?’,” Bello said. “Although it was great being in a spot in the market, the hours go to feel restrictive, so our plan is definitely to find a spot that is bigger and where we can operate for dinner. We’ll be setting up a crowdfunding campaign in the next few months, to help us step up our operation to that new dream we have.”
Bello says that they want the new location to have the soul of their “tiny but mighty taquería, and grow it into a restaurant — kinda like a fonda where you find all the tastiest Mexican staples but it still has chill vibes, and a bar.” Wherever it is, it will maintain the things the duo love at its core: science, history, hip hop, street art, and “food that takes your taste buds on a mad journey.”
The co-founder said Homies on Donkeys had never aimed to be a traditional taquería, and the new place and menu will follow that ethos, providing an environment that makes guests feel like they’re coming “home to hang with friends.” “I guess it’s pretty representative of home Tijuana in many ways, a meeting point of cultures from throughout the country, fun, tasty.”
Homies on Donkeys 2.0 will emerge in the new year and will be in Waltham Forest, as Bello and Bautista want to remain in the same community. One in which they have become embedded, which they have served, and which would be poorer without them. They created one of east London’s brilliant and unique dining locations — this is what it means to them, in their own words.
Bautista: “It’s very emotional, sad… because it’s our first business and we literally built everything ourselves… to see it has grown this much when back when we opened I used to worry if anybody was going to come, it’s emotional to think of the ingenuousness we had of taking that risk.”
Bello: “To say it’s emotional is an understatement. It’s our home, we’ve made it our home over the past five and a half years and it feels like we’re flying the nest you know… it’s truly a blessing to be leaving by choice, to be looking for a new adventure. And it’s scary too, probably as scary as when we made the decision of opening in the market — it was all so new.”
Bautista: “There was nothing but love for what we were doing, that’s what we used to keep it alive. And it’s also been a real physical struggle to take it to the level that it is at now. A lot of effort, a lot of work, a lot of physical and mental toughness that was required. We’ve made a lot of friends, not only customers but people that have worked with us, the traders in the market, our suppliers — that’s made us a real part of the community and there’s not a day that we’re out and about in Walthamstow that someone stops us for a chat, folks that we’ve gotten to know because of Homies. We obviously don’t want to lose that.
Bello: “Thinking about the unknowns of the future can feel scary, and it makes it difficult to let go but at the same time, looking back all we can see is love, community, support and an amazing level of growth and experience, so that’s what propels us forward.
“It’s crazy to think back of the time when we were coming up with the name, the vibe we wanted to create, the food and flavours we wanted to share with people, and the fact that it actually happened, that it is a thing that exists in the world and which has been so warmly received by locals, by people travelling from all over, that’s just wild. And it fills us with gratitude. So as much as it is sad to be leaving, it’s also damn exciting to think we have a chance to do it again.”
Bautista: “Although it’s emotional to be leaving the market, it’s also a proud moment to be doing it because we’ve grown and we’re looking for a space to keep fostering that growth. That’s very exciting.
Bello: “Yeah, we can’t wait!”