More than a dozen angry protesters claiming to stand against white gentrification resorted to intimidating and physically attacking customers and workers at a Los Angeles coffee shop owned by a Hispanic man, according to Heat Street.
Weird Wave Coffee was started by El Salvador-born Mario Chavarria and his friends John Schwartz and Jackson Defa in L.A.'s Boyle Heights. Chavarria, 47, is described as a serial entrepreneur who owns a logistics company. He came to America as a refugee when he was 10, escaping the civil war that raged in El Salvador in the 1980s.
Weird Wave Coffee is another venture for Chavarria, who carefully selected the Boyle Heights location because of its proximity to downtown L.A., its reasonable price, and the fact that it was away from many coffee shops that had already sprung in L.A.
However, Boyle Heights is currently a hotbed of anti-gentrification activism. When Weird Wave Coffee held a soft opening last month, the new owners were greeted by protesters shouting, “F*** white coffee!” and referring to Weird Wave as “white wave” or “foreign wave.”
“They tripped our customers that came in,” Schwartz said. “They banged on our glass. They screamed into the room. They threw stuff at me when I tried to remove some stickers they put up on the window. It was a picture of a guy in a ski mask beating up another guy. … They tried to incite fights by getting in people’s face and saying ‘f*** you, I’m going to beat you up, I’m going to kill you,’ trying to get someone to punch them first.”
Boycott Weird Wave Coffee Brewers. 2415 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90033. pic.twitter.com/qnQvK5in3U
— Serve The People-LA☭ (@stp__la) June 24, 2017
— Steve Saldivar (@stevesaldivar) June 17, 2017
According to Heat Street, protesters were reportedly handing out flyers in Spanish to customers and passersby that said, “To break the boycott against this space by crossing the picket lines is an act of aggression and alignment with the racial destruction of Boyle Heights as a Latinx, working-class community. If you have the choice: choose the side of the people of Boyle Heights.”
“It’s straight up racism, reverse-racism, against me and my friends,” Chavarria told Heat Street. “They’re calling me vendido, which is like sell-out. … [My partners] feel these people are totally against them because they’re white. That’s very disheartening to hear someone say that.”
The group Union de Vecinos (Union of Neighbors) claimed responsibility for the protest, with its co-founder Leonardo Vilchis saying that despite the anti-white signage and chanting, this isn't about race, but helping the poor. Vilchis told Heat Street that coffee shops like Weird Wave attract affluent outsiders and hipsters to live in the area, driving up rent and pushing out longtime residents.
“We’re very concerned about how this wave is coming,” Vilchis said. “People have been displaced out of the city, and they’re losing all their neighborhoods and relationships and support they’ve built by decades living in this neighborhood.”
According to Union de Vecinos, the group fights for “environmental justice, the right to housing, and the right to safe and healthy neighborhoods." However, the tone of the anti-gentrification movement has very un-safe themes. A poster was recently put up that read, "Boyle Heights is not safe for hipster trash," and featured a skull in thick rimmed glasses in the center of a gun's crosshairs. Vilchis says neither he, nor his organization put it up.
— Saul Gonzalez (@SaulKCRW) April 30, 2017
Vilchis also claims that Weird Wave Coffee has engaged in“discriminatory and bad messaging about the local people.”
Chavarria told Heat Street, however, that the creation and day-to-day running of the shop involves the community. Chavarria gets his pastries from Homeboy Industries, an L.A.-based organization that works to rehabilitate former prisoners and gang members. Chavarria also hired a local Boyle Heights artist to create a mural on the side of the building.
Despite all the trouble the protesters have caused for the Weird Wave Coffee owners, the controversy has generated buzz about the coffee shop, attracting supporters and boosting business overall, according to Heat Street.
Weird Wave coffee isn't the first shop to come under attack by social justice activists. A Portland burrito restaurant were harassed and shamed until forced to shut down after the two women who owned it were accused of "culturally appropriating" Mexican food recipes and styles from women in Mexico.