Earlier this year, a battle was launched against the street food stall owners of Cuauhtémoc, a popular borough in Mexico City. Under the guise of modernisation, the borough’s mayor, Sandra Cuevas, ordered the removal of the hand-painted signage seen on the 1,500 stalls in the area. Gone were the vibrant graphics and unique signs, known as rótulos, and in their place was a solid, dreary paint job with the Cuauhtémoc municipal logo slapped over the top. Overnight, officials had literally wiped away decades’ worth of tradition and design heritage.
It was not only an attack on the stall owners, many of whom have operated their street food businesses for generations, but also the rótulos artists who are responsible for these designs.
The damage had been done, but Time Out and ad agency Grey México worked out how the stalls could re-establish some of their graphic identity while still colouring within the lines. Cuevas’ order outlined that the signs cannot be painted onto stalls, so Time Out and Grey turned to magnets instead, working with classic rótulos artists to recreate the graphics as easily removable magnetic signs, which were then given to the vendors.
Mauricio Guerrero, executive creative director of Grey México, says that food stalls are the “heart” of Mexico City’s culture and economy. He explains that these small food businesses – one of many kinds of street stalls in the city – are the main income for many people, where “more than half the population lives from informal jobs”. However, he adds, “food stalls are facing extinction these days”.