Co-owner explains economics weren’t working, and synergies with sister restaurant Taqueria Pícaro in Ashland make sense
By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news
The change was about survival, said Jeven Showers, co-owner of the former Pump House burger and fries restaurant in Talent, now the Rogue Taqueria Mexican restaurant.
Sitting at a table under the familiar shadow of the red, white and blue car mounted on a pole at 102 Talent Ave., he was blunt about the reason for the radical change.
“It sucks. We loved the Pump House. It was our vision — what we wanted to bring home,” he said.
Many customers saw full tables and assumed the popularity of the beloved burger spot was enough. But revenue didn’t match costs.
“COVID killed us, the fires killed us, the labor shortage killed us. … If we didn’t do something, we were going to go out of business,” Showers said.
He and co-owner Garth Evey had poured their personal funds into the Pump House to try to keep it afloat — cash infusions as steep as $50,000 weren’t enough, he said. To keep serving made-to-order burgers and fries would have meant a price hike as high as potentially $20 a burger. The business partners decided to close their doors, remodel, rebrand and reopen with the hope of a rebirth.
“I want this to be a survival story. So many businesses have closed in the valley over the last four years,” he said.
Because Showers owns Taqueria Pícaro on Pioneer Street in Ashland, creating a sister restaurant named Rogue Taqueria — pícaro means rogue in Spanish — translated to greater stability overall. The two taquerias can pull from the same already trained pool of staff and order ingredients in greater bulk, all leading to a lower price point on the menu.
The previous made-to-order model was also time consuming. Working people looking for a lunch break couldn’t afford to wait 45 minutes for a burger. The new menu of slow cooked meats and other largely made ahead menu items allows for an assembly kitchen, he said — orders can move from register to kitchen to a customer’s table in half the time.
The transformation has left some residents of Talent and former customers confused, even angry. Showers said he has tried to ignore the most vitriolic responses and rumors on social media. A claim has circulated that large groups of high school kids were suddenly laid off. Yes, a few members of the kitchen staff were laid off, but not without two weeks’ notice, and most staff kept their jobs, he said.
Another common complaint, he said, is that the city of Talent has many Mexican food trucks owned by Mexicans. Why should two white men open a Mexican restaurant? Showers stands behind his menu and those who cook it.
“My staff are almost entirely Mexican and Guatemalan. … I consider myself a pretty good cook. I can’t cook Mexican food like a Mexican. It was the first time I ever let go of control of my kitchen,” he said of opening Taqueria Pícaro nearly a decade ago.
He was proud of the food the new taqueria has to offer.
“I love Mexican food. I eat it almost every day. My tell is the chips and salsa. If a place has good chips and salsa, then it has good food. And the hot sauce. I don’t want to toot our own horn — but we have some of the best chips and salsa. Our hot sauce will light you up, and it is so flavorful,” he said.
As a vegetarian and occasional fish-eater himself, Showers pointed to the healthier food on the new menu with more plant options and more flexibility. Almost anything on the menu can become vegetarian or vegan, but carnivores like Evey can find something too. Black bean tacos and potato tacos featuring seared sweet potatoes are listed alongside carne asada and al pastor on the menu.
The restaurant also features a daily lunch special, a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and all day Tuesday. New flavors of margaritas have been added to the menu and, while the old beer list is intact, some Mexican beers have been added.
The owners will continue to contribute to the community of Talent the way they have proudly done before, such as their recent support of an art project at Talent Elementary School, he said.
The renovations to the space were subtle, focused more on cleanliness and longevity than cosmetics — new built-in tables around the front patio, a soon-to-be completed awning to allow for a heated outdoor space in the cold months to come. There were also some changes to the kitchen, such as the ovens needed to slow cook large batches of meat, and new concrete and improved drainage in the recycling, garbage and storage area behind the restaurant.
From the outside, the colors are a little different. Inside, the space looks and feels almost the same. Mexican pop art may appear on the walls, but Showers said he and Evey, “didn’t want to change the vibe too much, it’s still us.”
Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at email@example.com.