As the group behind Lucha Libre Taco Shops grew, so did their families. With children, came a desire to bring something else to their stores. Something they felt was missing, and more importantly, something their little ones now demanded. “What’s for dessert?!” So now, the group has ventured beyond their taco shop food roots and have opened their first dessert and beverage focused concept, Zonkey: Hip Pops and Fresh Aguas.
Zonkey was born from a desire for the Lucha Libre Taco Shop group to take their dessert and drink options to the next level. “We recognize that we are not the first paleta concept in San Diego, just like there were plenty of tacos shops when we first opened Lucha in 2008. But this hasn’t deterred us. Quite the opposite, it’s driven us to stand-out the way we did with our taco shop offerings close to 15 years ago…to leave our mark on the San Diego food scene in this fun space. We have something to say, and we hope people like the story we want to tell”, said Diego Rojano-Garcia, one of the co-founders of the group.
Zonkey is starting their paletas, or Pops, menu with over 20 unique paleta flavor options, multiple toppings, and dipping choices, allowing customers to create endless combinations. The group carries over their innovation and creativity from the Lucha Libre Taco Shops to this new project. They aren’t afraid to experiment and push the limits, all while having fun and retaining the approachability that has become synonymous with their brand. Customers can even rent their own mini paleta carts filled with their favorite pops for parties and events.
Aguas frescas (Spanish for “cool waters”, or literally “fresh waters”) are usually light non-alcoholic beverages made from one or more fruits, cereals, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water. But as you can expect from this group, they are redefining the definition of agua frescas, or Fresh Aguas as they call them. All of Zonkey’s Fresh Aguas uses reverse osmosis (RO) filters for its water foundation and from there – they combine fresh and unique fruits, roots, and flavors to create never-before seen agua fresca combinations with fun add-ons like boba tapioca pearls. “The RO foundation was a no-brainer for us. Like our food, we wanted to give our lucha fan families the best and cleanest products possible. We had to start there…” said Jose, Diego’s brother and group co-founder.
The founders of the group have their roots in Mexico and grew up on both sides of the border. It has always been important for them to promote the best of their Mexican heritage and bring that vibrancy to their San Diego neighborhoods. For them, food is tied to family and family for them is founded on their Mexican heritage. To bring that heritage front and center to the dessert and beverage space felt like a natural evolution. That heritage and vision inspired them to partner with award winning barman Andrew “Coco” Cordero, formerly of Consortium Holdings, as they had witnessed him doing the same in the San Diego bar scene for years.
“I had never tried developing Mexican paletas before. The challenge of creating something new in a space I hadn’t worked in before attracted me. I was able to draw on my bar experience, experimenting with flavors to create something new and exciting, all while drawing on my roots. It was a nostalgic project that brought out the inner kid in me”, said Coco.
Coco’s bar lineage is also directly reflected in Zonkey’s offerings. Alcohol options, from “boozy” paletas, to drink “coolers” will also be offered with customer’s choice of sparkling water or beer.
But what is a “zonkey”? Literally, a zonkey is a donkey, painted with fake zebra stripes. The zonkey (burro-cebra in Spanish) is a Tijuana icon dating back to the 1930’s in the Mexican border town. The brown or white donkeys would simply not pop in black and white photography back then. Clever entrepreneurs began painting their donkeys with zebra stripes using women’s hair dye, giving birth to the zonkey. The rest is history.
So what do zonkeys have to do with paletas and agua frescas you ask? For the founders of Zonkey, Hip Pops and Fresh Aguas, the zonkey represents creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit. It represents uniqueness, standing-out from the crowd. It reminds them of a Tijuana icon that, albeit cheesy at times, represents the moxy, grit but lightness, not-take-yourself-too-serious approach on life that has allowed Mexicans to thrive on both sides of the border. Not to mention, fun and come on, look how cute they are!
Zonkey was integrated into the Lucha Libre Taco Shop North Park location at 3016 University Avenue, San Diego, CA 92104 and is open 7 days a week from 11 am to 9 pm.