Erick Arguello, the president of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District, has one overarching demand for Mike Fishman, the proprietor of Cinderella Bakery, slated to move into the old La Victoria digs: Bring La Victoria back.
A Russian bakery, per Arguello, has no place here in the former La Victoria site in the heart of the Latino Cultural District. He intends to lead a boycott of it.
It’s not clear if chutzpah has a place in the Latino Cultural District. But it’s here. Arguello’s got it.
This burgeoning conflict, reported by Mission Local’s Julian Mark last week, has been simmering for some time. More than a decade, one could argue.
Here’s a Mission Local story from 2008, in which Jaime Maldonado, son of the founder of the 1951-vintage 24th-and-Alabama institution, flatly says “I’m broke.” Here’s a 2010 story in which Maldonado has staved off the axe by renting out his kitchen to artisanal hipster hawkers of fare such as “Oaxacan mole, sushi, gumbo, vegan dishes, African American-style barbecue, Jewish and Jamaican food, and … innovative creations like duck confit chilaquiles with a quail egg.”
Here’s a 2011 story about how business was still dicey enough that La Victoria resorted to offering Danny Gabriner’s free bagels — good bagels, and as many of them as you could cart off — as a loss leader to draw customers within its doors. Once within, they could buy French pastries.
And here’s a 2014 story about how, in an ongoing effort to keep his head above water, Maldonado was hoping to transition his panaderia into a “Latin bistro.”
So when Arguello demands Fishman “bring La Victoria back,” it prompts the question “which La Victoria?”
If running a Truman-era panaderia was the route to wealth and prosperity — and, critically, community support — Maldonado wouldn’t have had to jump through so many hoops. He wouldn’t have had to co-opt the quail eggs and vegan fare (and goddamn cupcakes) desired by the Mission’s gentrifying newcomers. He wouldn’t have had to rent out his kitchen to a cavalcade of food cart–type operations and he wouldn’t have had to give away bagels (also not a traditional staple of this or any panaderia). He wouldn’t have had to bring in pâtissiers to make Tartine-style delicacies.
And he wouldn’t have had to lease La Victoria out to tenant bakers, provoking the question of whether La Victoria was even La Victoria anymore.
So it’s asking a lot of Fishman — who has a legacy business of his own with a tenuous lease situation, and who just sank some $3 million into this building — to abnegate his successful bakery and “bring back” a bakery that struggled mightily for years and then failed.
It’s an even more audacious ask because it wasn’t Fishman who took La Victoria away.
Separate and apart from the withering assault of the invisible hand, La Victoria was throttled from within. Earlier this year, Maldonado himself served an eviction on his own bakery — by then operated by tenants — and other retail establishments housed on site.
Maldonado did not return messages left for this column. But, at the time, he told Mission Local that evicting his own bakery was something he was mandated to do by the arbitrated terms of the family trust that controlled this deteriorating building — and which was, in turn, controlled by his stepmother. With whom Jaime has an overt and ongoing family feud.
So, this is not your typical Mission Latino displacement and gentrification story. Rather, a Latino family’s internecine struggle led to Latino owners evicting their Latino bakery — which had struggled, for years, and was forced to adopt more and more untraditional and faddish foods and practices.
This isn’t Mike Fishman’s problem. But Arguello and Calle 24 — and, now, the consortium of groups known as United to Save the Mission — are making it his problem.
Mike Fishman doesn’t consider himself a gentrifier. He’s an immigrant. A refugee even. His Jewish family was forced to relocate to Siberia during the last three of his father’s nine years of imprisonment in the Soviet Union. He arrived in San Francisco in 1987 as a teenager.
“I get up at 5 in the morning. I am a working person. How can I be a gentrifier?”
He and Arguello disagree here. And elsewhere.
Fishman recalls his phone conversation last week with Arguello as being distinctly unpleasant. “He said, basically, you don’t know what you got yourself into. We don’t let anybody in except Latinos around here; it doesn’t matter who’s going to come in because you are displacing a Latino business. You stay in your Russian district in the Richmond; we don’t come to you, you don’t come to us.”
Arguello denies making the more racially charged statements attributed above. Clearly we have a Rashomon situation (evidently Japanese analogies have a place in the Latino Cultural District, too).
“I did not tell him that,” Arguello says. “I told him a lot of businesses are being displaced in the area. I guess what’s being missed in the history of La Victoria is their signage, the legacy of the business and what it means to the Latino community. To immigrant families.”
Arguello, on this and other occasions, has argued that ostensibly small or incremental Mission stories need to be viewed through a larger lens: The lens of 8,000-odd displaced Latinos, evicted or economically banished from this district since 2000; the lens of starved or cannibalized family businesses; the lens of gentrification and homogenization.
He’s not wrong, and his work checking the amoral entity we call “market forces” is not without value. And yet, a one-size-fits-all approach in which all of the many aforementioned distinguishing and unique factors leading to the demise of La Victoria are cast aside as inconvenient to the preferred narrative is simplistic — if not disingenuous.
And, worse yet, it’s potentially counterproductive. It gives that much more ammunition to callous people who don’t seem to understand why Latinos in the Mission would object to merely letting the market dictate their fates. (“Hey, neighborhoods change. Deal with it.“)
Peter Papadopoulos, the land-use policy analyst for the Mission Economic Development Agency, said support for the boycott is widespread: “United to Save the Mission, a coalition of 14 community groups that includes MEDA, voted to join the Calle 24 boycott of any business that opens at this eviction site until La Victoria is given the opportunity to return.”
He emphasized that his is not a boycott of Cinderella, but any non–La Victoria business: “Mr. Fishman was working to arrange the purchase of the building with the prior owners before they displaced La Victoria, and bought the building with full knowledge of the controversial eviction that would need to take place in order to pave the way for his purchase.”
MEDA put in a bid on the building — and Jaime Maldonado purportedly would have preferred they purchase it — but the family trust opted for Fishman.
A boycott of the winning bidder is an interesting Plan B.
And no eviction would have been necessary if the Maldonado family had still been operating its own business. One feels for the evicted bakers. But, by the time the “family” bakery is being operated by tenants and the business model and fare is changing every few years, the question arises of what, exactly, you’re fighting to preserve — over the wishes, no less, of the actual business owners.
A decade ago, Jaime Maldonado told Mission Local that to close his family business would be a little bit like shuttering Disneyland. “People say, ‘No, don’t close Disneyland!’ Well you open Disneyland, and you’ll see how it really is.”
La Victoria is gone. One could argue it’s been gone for quite some time. The thriving family bakery of the 1950s and ’60s has given way to a place called La Victoria, with La Victoria’s signage, serving as a for-rent catering kitchen and offering trendy menu items to an increasingly trendy community.
The mission of Calle 24, MEDA et al. — of advocating for the neighborhood’s put-upon population and preserving its dwindling culture — is a good and worthy one. But there’s a difference between preservation and municipally enforced nostalgia.
You open Disneyland and see how it really is.
All of which is to say, Supervisor Hillary Ronen has been placed into a difficult position. Two of her signature legislative accomplishments as an aide and, now, a supervisor, have been the creation of the Latino Cultural District and the legacy business ordinance. They are now colliding with one another. What’s more, like Fishman, she is an Ashkenazi Jew whose lineage traces back to the former Soviet Union.
Ronen refused to condemn the proposed boycott, which she said was not something an elected official should weigh in on. She was noncommittal on whether she would shop at Cinderella if it comes to pass, but noted she’s not one to cross a picket line. At the same time, she emphasized that this was a business that failed because of intractable internal disputes and that she’d have battled the evictions if they weren’t born out of this toxic familial situation. Ronen says that she and other members of the government did everything they could possibly do to keep this singular business afloat. And its ownership opted to scuttle it.
Clearly, she hopes it won’t come to a boycott. “As an elected official, I welcome an opportunity to facilitate dialog and mutual understanding. It’s a role I’m not only willing to play but would be enthusiastic to play.”
But, then, so would others. And they may be less concerned with dialog.
“After the news broke,” Fishman says, “I was flooded with support from all over the community. Even the Latino community. Even from City Hall.
“And,” he continues, “even from attorneys, offering their services.”