Cinderella Bakery’s owner says tactics remind him of the Russia he left

A new era has begun for the former building of La Victoria — the famed Mexican panaderia that was evicted by its own founders after 67 years in business. Earlier this month, the building was purchased by the owners of another venerable purveyor of baked treats: Cinderella Bakery.

“We were looking at different multi-ethnic neighborhoods in the city and we think [the Mission] will be a good fit,” said Mike Fishman, who owns Cinderella Bakery with his wife Marika.

Lovers of Russian baked goods will likely delight in Cinderella’s offerings of breads, pirogi, and fried piroshki — but 24th Street stalwarts, like Erick Arguello of the Calle 24 merchants association, will not.

During a phone call Monday, Arguello told Fishman that Calle 24 will organize an indefinite boycott of Cinderella Bakery if Fishman does not let La Victoria’s operators — who have no association with its original founders — re-occupy the space. That includes picketing outside the business, he said.

Fishman said the phone call was unpleasant. “He threatened me and said, ‘I’m gonna boycott your business,’” Fishman said. “I said, ‘That’s not how you open a conversation.’”

Already, Fishman has seen a “flood” of angry emails from those who oppose Cinderella’s opening.

Arguello confirmed the conversation with Mission Local, explaining that Calle 24 will organize boycotts for any business that takes over a space following an eviction in that space.

The fact that La Victoria’s eviction was instigated by the Maldonado family, whose son owned the bakery, did not matter, Arguello said.

“We’re a Latino cultural district, and we’re seeing a lot of Latino businesses being evicted,” Arguello said. “Even though (Cinderella Bakery) is legacy business, its history is in the Richmond. It’s not here in the Latino cultural district.”

Since at least October, Cinderella’s owners had been eyeing the building, which went on sale in March for $3.4 million amid a dispute among the family that founded La Victoria on 24th Street in 1951.

The turmoil surrounding Maldonado Family Trust led the family to evict the bakery, its operators, and subtenants in July. The bakery ultimately vacated in October.

Having closed in mid-November, Fishman said he made the purchase for “around $3 million,” a bit less than its original listing price but what he still described as “steep.” He described his tenancy in his Richmond space as a little “shaky,” as he says the business is two years into his five-year lease, and has not been able to secure a longer-term lease.

“We’re trying to have some sort of control and stay in business,” Fishman said.  

Moreover, he mentioned in October that Cinderella had also outgrown the space where it produces and distributes wholesale products, in addition to running a retail storefront.

Fishman emigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1988 and eventually took over Cinderella at Sixth and Balboa from two Russian women who had previously operated it. Cinderella has been in business since 1953 and is a registered legacy business with the city, which awards it special protections.  

Arguello, one of the de facto gatekeepers of the 24th Street corridor, went through pains to emphasize the “larger context” of his organization’s actions against Cinderella. He said anchor Latino organizations like Galeria de la Raza, Discolandia, and La Victoria are increasingly becoming endangered, as are working-class Latino residents in the neighborhood.

Galeria’s landlord recently asked for a hike in rent and building improvements for a two-year lease. Discolandia closed in January 2011, a victim of online music sales and an owner who was nearing retirement age. It was replaced by several food ventures, most recently a chain selling roast beef.

“It doesn’t matter who comes,” Arguello said. “It’s replacing a business that has a lot of history in the Latino community.”

It’s unclear how much support Arguello has or what impact a boycott would have. Many of the new businesses on 24th Street — a roast-beef shop, a brewery, yoga studios and others, have managed to integrate with the neighborhood.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen declined to comment for this article, saying she is only just hearing of the threatened boycott and needs to look into the situation.

Fishman said that he plans to keep the building’s two other commercial tenants — a jewelry store and a hair salon — in the building at the same rent, for the meantime. He added that he plans to hire back some La Victoria bakers to make Mexican pastries.  

And the concept of displacement is not lost on Fishman. He told Mission Local that his family largely left Russia because it was persecuted for its Jewish heritage. And his phone call with Arguello reminded him a bit of those days.

“I dealt with this in the Soviet Union. It was very hard,” he said. “You were singled out, and that’s the reason we came here — to have a better life.”