When you wander into Manny’s at 16th and Valencia, everything is chill. It’s a big space. And it’s crowded. People are working on projects, sipping $1.75 cups of coffee, or reading the literature they can purchase in-house from an adjunct of Dog-Eared Books located in the store (curated titles from Franz Fanon, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Howard Zinn and many others for sale).

This space feels casual and accessible. That’s the idea. Owner Manny Yekutiel, in fact, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with United to Save the Mission, a coalition of more than a dozen neighborhood nonprofits and activist groups, to ensure the “community” is copacetic with his “community space.”

The Mission anti-gentrification activists wanted a “bicultural, bilingual environment for Mission families” with bilingual signage here. And that happened. They wanted Yekutiel to hire bilingual staff that “reflects the availability of qualified applicants in the local community,” and the staff here is now heavily composed of local people of color (many are also LGBTQ, like Yekutiel). United to Save the Mission called for “moderate price points” — and not only is the coffee a buck seventy-five, but Tecate runs you two bucks and a meal starts at six. The food here, in fact, is prepared on-site by Farming Hope, a nonprofit employing homeless, formerly incarcerated, and low-income community members — and they earn all the food revenue.  

And, on top of that, the MOU calls for “community-serving groups” to use the event space here — for free. That’s happening, too (groups with a bit more cash pay $54 per hour, which is still low).

United to Save the Mission also originally wanted Yekutiel to have awnings, because, he was told, “certain physical traits supposedly make spaces more welcoming for Latino families.”

This wasn’t a hard-and-fast point. He doesn’t have an awning. 

And yet, there’s “controversy” here now. It has nothing to do with United to Save the Mission. Or awnings.

“Boycott Manny’s and its ‘woke-washing’ of the Mission,” blared an email sent Dec. 5 to media outlets by “The Lucy Parsons Project,” a self-described “radical black queer direct action group fighting anti-blackness in the Bay Area.”

“Manny’s as a gentrifying wine-bar, cafe and fake ‘social justice’ space in the Mission District, will only accelerate the raising of rents and the displacement of Black, Latinx, disabled and trans/queer people in the Mission,” the letter continued. “Additionally, the proprietor of Manny’s, Emmanuel Yekutiel, has unequivocally espoused racist, Zionist, pro-Israel ideals that we will not tolerate or accept in our community. … We will not tolerate gentrifiers and Zionists attempts at invading and destroying our community through ‘woke-washing’!!”

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And, surely enough, a handful of protesters began showing up, weekly, shouting through bullhorns and waving placards. Someone painted a Star of David on Manny’s exterior along with the words “Fuck Zionism.” A window was broken.

But all of this was initially ignored here in the city. By the media. And by Yekutiel, too. At first.

Media outlets, including this one, were loath to provide a greater platform to a small cadre of demonstrators making a Jewish man’s position on Israel’s right to exist a litmus test for operating a business in the Mission. Yekutiel did the same. Until the Forward, the longstanding New York-based Jewish newspaper, went with the story on Dec. 27. Yekutiel followed shortly thereafter with an op-ed in the Chronicle, and now we’re off to the races.

This is not an ideal story for straightforward, both-sides, he-said-she-said coverage — all the more so because one of the sides is a diminutive group of attention-seekers going on about Zionist gentrifiers in the Mission and using Jew-as-interloper-and-parasite language (“invading and destroying our community…”).

There are earnest discussions to be had about Mideast politics and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and the shifting role of Israel in Jewish American life. But the “gotcha” here is that Yekutiel has espoused baseline support on Facebook for the mere existence of Israel (the nation where his paternal grandparents and their eight children fled from near-certain death in Afghanistan). 

Protesters are not canvassing the Valencia Street corridor, gauging the non-Jewish business owners’ stances on Israel’s right to exist. That’s something to think about. 

As it is, nearly every claim the protesters have made isn’t borne out by the facts. As far as gentrifying Valencia, Manny’s has replaced a high-end sushi shop known for its rolled ice cream with an establishment featuring (MOU-mandated) “moderate price points” and free community space. (Also, while the demonstrators often refer to Manny’s as a “wine bar,” which certainly sounds chi-chi and protestable, the MOU mandates it remain a full-service restaurant and not a bar).

Far from getting a sweet deal from landlord Sam Moss of Mission Housing, Yekutiel is, in fact, paying higher rent than the sushi joint did — rent that subsidizes the below-market-rate housing in this building.

While the email calling for a boycott of Manny’s described the programming as “Washington DC politicos TED-talks catering to the ruling-class Tech-elite,” that would come as news to Lateefah Simon and Lenore Anderson, hosting a forum Tuesday on criminal justice reform. Other January events include a panel of public school teachers brainstorming how to afford Bay Area life; a San Francisco public defender discussing a history of incarceration; “The Queer Latinx History of San Francisco’s 16th-Street Corridor,” and “The State of the LGBT Rights Movement in the U.S.” with Kate Kendall and Cecilia Chung.

Yekutiel was described by his critics as being “in cahoots” with his “homie” Mayor London Breed — which would be a hell of a thing, considering he served as the finance director for Mark Leno’s mayoral campaign.

And, perhaps most significantly of all, Yekutiel did not drop, unbidden, into the Mission. He spent well over a year methodically making inroads with multiple elected officials, nearly every nearby business owner, and several dozen community leaders — culminating in the aforementioned negotiated MOU.

“I have rarely seen a business owner go about things in such a thoughtful way and take feedback to heart,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen. “The attacks are unfounded and unfair. He offers low-cost food made by people recently released from jail — what more can you ask of Manny?”

Renouncing Zionism, it would seem. Yekutiel’s belief in the Jewish State’s right to exist is, it seems, the only accurate allegation made against him. 

Will infighting hamstring progressive supervisors?

Hilary Ronen in conversation with Manny Yekutiel at Manny’s. “I never faced this type of misogyny that I faced in becoming an elected official,” Ronen told the standing-room-only crowd. Illustration by Lola Noguer.

The MOU Yekutiel signed with United to Save the Mission does not mention Israel, Zionism, or any other forms of ethno-nationalism among its 12 clauses. Imagine that.

Yekutiel has ostensibly lived up to his end of the bargain, however — the price points are low, the programming is booked solid, and the food revenue is going to a benevolent nonprofit. It’s crowded in here, but Yekutiel is cagey when asked if he’s making money. There have been a lot of free events, and he won’t profit unless he sells a goodly amount of coffee, tea, or beer — and, again, the price points are low.

It’s easy to portray an unelected group of self-proclaimed community guardians like United to Save the Mission  as heavy handed for dictating a business’ price points (and even decor). The awning part, admittedly, doesn’t make much sense — but the more substantive issues seem quite germane in a community so decimated by gentrification. Nearly all of the asks made of Yekutiel are warranted and reasonable, especially given his professed desire to run a community space.

That’s why he signed the MOU, all the way back on Nov. 28. United to Save the Mission, however, has not signed its own document.

We called multiple members of United to Save the Mission to query about the status of Yekutiel’s MOU. We did not receive a call back. We do not know the reason behind the holdup; we do not know if these protests are a factor. Of note, clause No. 12 of this MOU would bind United to Save the Mission to “discourage peer organizations from taking any oppositional actions” to Manny’s.

That would be a good thing to do. “What more can you ask of Manny?” is a relevant question.

It’s time to start asking more of everyone else.