Burros, bunnies, and superheroes in vibrant colors line the exterior of ABC Party Headquarters in Dallas’s Bishop Arts District. Founded thirty years ago by husband-and-wife duo Carlos and Elvie De La Fuente, the party store often displays whimsical papier-mâché creations out front. Inside, you can find classic star-shaped piñatas, childhood favorites such as unicorns and dragons, and decorated calaveras (skulls) for Día de Los Muertos in the fall. Lately, though, ABC has been making headlines for its nontraditional designs.

Back in 2016, Carlos tasked his piñatero, Alex Sagrero Chávez, with creating the shop’s first Donald Trump piñata. The design was wildly popular, so when the store’s sales took a hit at the start of the pandemic, Carlos decided to get crafty. In April 2020, he came up with a brand-new design: a COVID-19 piñata. These bright green and red piñatas mimic the virus’s spiked structure, with each spike crowned in frilly red tissue paper. For customers dealing with canceled birthdays, graduation parties, and weddings, the piñatas were a hit, so Carlos kept going.

ABC’s biggest success yet came in January, when the store released a piñata modeled after the popular meme of U.S. senator Bernie Sanders at the presidential inauguration, with every detail faithfully rendered in papier-mâché: his brown Fair Isle mittens, his unruly shock of white hair, and his grouchy pose with arms crossed. Most recently, the store released a caricature of Ted Cruz on his way to Cancun during last month’s winter storm. The Cruz piñata features the senator wearing a Texas mask and holding a passport and suitcase. 

“This past year has been really hard,” Carlos says. “Our shop had to shut down during the winter storm, and I started seeing all the comments about [Cruz’s] trip to Cancun. I always want to turn negative things into positives, so I thought a Ted Cruz piñata would give people a laugh.”

It did. Customers flocked to the store to take photos of the papier-mâché Cruz, and tweets featuring the piñata garnered thousands of likes. Still, Trump remains the all-time best-seller. Sagrero Chávez, who has worked at the shop for twelve years, says Carlos will often come in with a sketch or reference photo for a new piñata for him to bring to life. It can take a few tries before they finally perfect the design. With the Trump piñata, that process required making a larger head. “We’ve sold thousands of them to people who loved him and disliked him,” Carlos says. “Sometimes I think the adults get more fun out of hitting piñatas than the kids do.”

The idea for the store came to Carlos three decades ago. He had been running a fresh produce market out of a one-story brick building in the city’s Oak Cliff neighborhood. Between crates of fresh fruits and vegetables, he and his wife also sold piñatas from Mexico on consignment for a friend. The grocery business did well, but Carlos noticed that the piñatas were an especially hot commodity among his customers. His regulars would come in to ask if there were matching cups and plates to go with the piñatas in the store for a party, or they would request specific cartoon characters for a child’s birthday.

bernie sander meme pinata
The Bernie Sanders piñata was a hit. Courtesy of ABC Party Headquarters

He brought up the idea of starting a party store to Elvie, and without hesitation, she began calling up suppliers, seeing what it might take to begin stocking cups, plates, and decorations. “I don’t even know how I did it without the internet,” she laughs. 

By 1990, their produce shop had made a complete transformation to ABC Party Headquarters—a name that honors the De La Fuentes’ three children: Alexis, Brianna, and Carlos. “All their lives, all they’ve known is balloons and piñata cones,” Elvie says, referencing the shape needed for a traditional pointed-star piñata. “Before they could go and hang out with their friends from school, they’d have to stay and help us make the cones.” Now the De La Fuentes’ grandkids are following in their parents’ footsteps by helping out around the store. 

Though Elvie and Carlos had both grown up with piñatas at their own birthday parties and family gatherings, they knew virtually nothing about how to make them. When they created ABC Party, they hired a skilled piñatero to make molds for the bodies, and a second person to dress them up and fill out their shapes. Elvie herself takes on the final role as decorator, gluing on glitter, ribbons, flowers, and any other finishing touches needed to bring the creations to life. All told, the process takes a few hours. 

Carlos often teases Elvie for getting caught up in the minutiae of the characters and designs, but over the last three decades, she’s found that clients will catch on to the smallest error. “I want to be able to put a smile on the faces of the children that come in,” she says. Kids are picky customers, she points out. “They tell me if anything is wrong, even if it’s the tiniest detail.” 

And while Elvie listens to the littlest customers to spot the next trending movie or video game character, Carlos keeps an eye on the adult clientele, sometimes accommodating requests for NSFW piñatas for bachelor and bachelorette parties. “You can just use your imagination on what those might have been,” he chuckles. He keeps an eye on online trends and memes, always in search of the next viral piñata. 

But at the end of the day, the most rewarding aspect of the De La Fuentes’ work has been seeing their little customers grow up, eventually bringing their own kids in to pick out birthday piñatas. “It makes us feel old,” Carlos jokes. “But we’re young at heart, always trying to keep up with the new trends. No matter what changes, a piñata always brings a smile to everyone.”