The morning of February 12, 2015, Jumpolin, a piñata store owned by a Latino family of the East Side was demolished by Jordan French and Darius Fisher, owners of F&F Real Estate Ventures — just in time for SXSW in March. They were accused of not paying rent on time.
Sergio & Monica Lejarazu lost their family business and their livelihood, while the community of the East Side lost a beloved establishment.
French defended the demolition in an interview with Austin Culture Map by referring to the Lejarazus as “roaches,” a word that has been levied against people of Mexican descent throughout this country’s history.
“Say you have a house that was infested by roaches,” French said. “You have to clean that up.”
French went on to speculate that the Lejarazus, who are of Mexican descent, couldn’t be making a living selling piñatas, telling the reporter the couple must be dealing in “uncontrolled substances.”
SPLASH CANCELS SXSW PARTY
On February 25, Splash, an event marketing brand based in New York City, announced it would not be hosting its SXSW party on the property. The decision came just days after Justice for Jumpolin Community Action started a Facebook campaign to pressure Splash to move the event.
In a statement to Justice for Jumpolin Community Action, Splash CEO Ben Hindman said:
“Indeed, we had no idea that this was the plan and would certainly never have gotten involved in this venue at all if we had. This is a terrible situation for the Jumpolin family and my heart goes out to them. If there is any way we can help, please let me know.”
JOINT COMMUNITY BOYCOTT
In response, the Lejarazu family, the community, including the NAACP, La Raza Roundtable, PODER, Resistencia, Equilibrio and others, called for a boycott and for Austinites to refrain from conducting business with F&F. Read the entire statement here.
JIMMY KIMMEL SHOUT OUT
Support and solidarity extended beyond Texas. Jimmy Kimmel made a Tequila and Piñatas themed segment for his #kimmelinAustin show during#SXSW the week before it was demolished. Community members drew the connection and pressured Kimmel to feature Jumpolin’s story.
FOOD TRAILERS AUSTIN HONORED THE BOYCOTT
F&F also offered to let a 350-member food truck association use the lot rent-free for several months, including during SXSW, according to The Austin Chronicle. But Tony Yamanaka, who heads Food Trailers Austin, passed on F&F’s deal.
INJUNCTION TO HALT CONSTRUCTION ON JUMPOLIN
Because F&F obtained a permit from the city to demolish the building, the Austin Police Department won’t file criminal charges against them. That means the only option the Lejarazus have is to sue F&F in civil court.
At a hearing on March 3, a Travis County judge issued an injunction halting any construction on the property at 1401 E. Cesar Chavez until the case is heard. The video of Sergio Lejarazu paying his February rent was used as evidence during the hearing.
THE FAMILY SPEAKS OUT
On March 13, the Lejarazu family held a press conference and announced their call to boycott F&F and ANY businesses related to Darius Fisher and Jordan French. In their statement they wrote,
“We recognize racism as a driving force of Austin. People of Color have been forcibly removed throughout Austin’s history and have recently been displaced from their longstanding cultural territory in East Austin. We recognize that the Black community in East Austin has suffered even a greater rate of displacement that the Latino community, and ask that this recent history be remembered in the planning and development of our city. We ask all people to come together to better resist gentrification.”
The following day, people picketed on Jumpolin’s demolished lot.
STATUS LAB FIRED THEIR CEO
On March 26, Jordan French, CEO of Status Labs, a Search Engine Optimization and reputation management company he co-founded, was terminated — according to a press release from Status Labs media director Sarah Pendley.
“CRAZY CAT PEOPLE” BECOME BUSINESS PARTNERS
According to the Austin American-Statesmen, Rebecca Gray, receiver of Kickstarter campaign that earned her more than $60,000, met Jacques Casimir online. Jacques Casimir was visiting one of Tokyo’s cat cafés, when he searched the Web for a place like it in the United States and found Gray’s kickstarter and facebook contact. The Statesmen writes:
“The two self-identified “crazy cat people” built a rapport, and, quickly, a business partnership. The first day they met in person a lot in East Austin came open at 95 Navasota St., adjacent to the lot that formerly housed the piñata store Jumpolin. Jumpolin was demolished in February and became a source of controversy in the East Austin neighborhood — what many called a symbol of the city’s gentrification problem… But Gray couldn’t imagine any other home for her café than on the eastside.”
A NEW TENANT MOVES IN
On August 7, the Austin Chronicle reported that Rebecca Gray and principal investor Jacques Casimir took over the lease with F&F Real Estate Ventures. The lease was for the property adjacent to Jumpolin with plans to use Jumpolin’s lot for parking, picnic tables and a food trailer, while running a cat cafe in the large automotive garage adjacent to Jumpolin.
THE COMMUNITY REACHES OUT
Blue Cat Cafe was contacted by various people to hold off from opening the Cafe while legal proceedings are underway. Here’s how Rebecca Gray responds to a Blue Cat Cafe fan who posts Jumpolin demolition information on their facebook page:
LEGAL PROCESSES ARE DELAYED — INJUNCTION IS LIFTED
On October 8, the court heard the complaint filed by Jumpolin lawyers alleging F&F Ventures for allowing new tenants to manipulate the land before a lawsuit seeking damages for the destruction is heard in December. The judge ruled against Sergio & Monica Lejarazu, saying the proper filings weren’t submitted in time to bring the case forward.
The Austin Chronicle reported that,
“Before the hearing took place, F&F seemed poised to work to resolve the issue. A Sept. 22 letter from F&F Ventures attorney Wallace M. Smith sought to avoid going to last week’s hearing in the first place. “In an effort to avoid the hearing on plaintiff’s motion for contempt and for sanctions and the related attorneys fees to be incurred by all parties, our clients will agree to … relocate the trailer to south of the power pole between 1401 E. Cesar Chavez and 95 Navasota [the site of the Blue Cat Cafe]; remove the few feet of concrete slab poured to the north of the power pole; remove the loose cinder blocks and seating area situated to the north of the power pole; pay $1,750 in attorneys’ fees…”
The Lejarazus did not accept the settlement and are confident they will win in December.
BLUE CAT CAFE’S GRAND OPENING ENCOUNTERS PICKETING FROM THE COMMUNITY
On October 17th, Blue Cat Cafe hosted their grand opening.
In response, the community decided to picket outside to,
“send a message that people and businesses coming into neighborhoods must stand with communities that have been under attack, or they can expect the community to hold them accountable.”
Blue Cat Cafe called the cops twice to police the sidewalk entrance. Officers told community members not to cross the sidewalk line into the parking lot.
AUSTIN KITTY LIMITS
Blue Cat Cafe tried to host another event called “Austin Kitty Limits,” the following Saturday. On the event page, people shared their disdain for their business and encouraged musicians to join the boycott.
One of the bands on the lineup, The Manifest Electric, decided to honor the boycott.
However, other musicians like Poppy Fields did not honor the boycott, claiming the apolitical approach.
Blue Cat Cafe canceled the online facebook page, which had received over 500 RSVPs, due to so many complaints. But Blue Cat Cafe still proceeded with hosting the event.
EVEN DURING RAIN, THE COMMUNITY PUSHES BACK
Community members organized to hand out brochures about the boycott to patrons of the event, despite it being a very rainy day.
Despite the tremendous community push back, Rebecca and Jacques still commit to criminalizing the Lejarazus for an irrelevant stolen bicycle case.
They argue that they have nothing to do with demolition, yet they refuse to acknowledge that the community boycott against F&F applies to them.
Rebecca and Jacques seem to have no interest in truly respecting the East Cesar Chavez community and are comfortable siding with institutional racism. Here’s an example of their exemplary public relations:
Ultimately, Blue Cat Cafe sides with the racist state when they disregard the community’s wishes, calls on enforcement to police Persons of Color, and make assurances on a court decision that they have no way of predicting.
Jumpolin Mystery Lawsuit Settled
The Chronicle reports attorney Doran Peters saying, “It’s been resolved.” Doran is who represented plaintiff business owners Monica and Sergio Lejarazu in the case. Peters later emailed, “I can’t comment on my feelings about the resolution, only that there was a resolution.” All parties have chosen not to comment further.
Neighbors of Blue Cat Cafe have raised concerns over inconsistent business hours that often continue long past dark on weekdays, and start early on weekend mornings in a residential neighborhood, effectively converting what was recently a quiet neighborhood into a noisy, crowded, commercial parking zone. Neighbors have also raised concerns over frequent loose trash pileup along the neighborhood facing side of the building.
Blue Cat Cafe has had to close early, or remain closed several days, already, since the grand opening in October. These business shutdowns were generally due to an inability by Blue Cat Cafe to find willing employees, despite the high pay and benefits they offer.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Blue Cat Cafe has dismissed the community that is fighting for survival, justice, transparency and dignity for longtime residents who are being pushed out of central city neighborhoods like East Cesar Chavez.
Blue Cat will write a check each month to F&F. F&F will protect respectability and sustain their ownership of the property from their rent and your potential purchases. The people’s dignity will not be bought.
If you’re disgusted with F&F and upset by Blue Cat Cafe’s complicity with their business practices, and you’re concerned with the serious issue of gentrification in East Austin and across the city, then we encourage you to:
- SHOW UP on Saturday, February 20th at noon at Chicano Park to attend Defend Our Hoodz from Displacement — Defiende el Barrio — Let’s March! Marchamos!
- DO NOT PATRONIZE Blue Cat Cafe or rent from F&F’s airbnb (93 Navasota, 206 San Marcos, 2215 Santa Rita St in 78702 zip code). Their relationship to F&F materially contributes to the process of gentrification and the dismantling of communities of color.
- SUPPORT JUMPOLIN’s facebook page and purchase one of their amazing piñatas!
- CONTACT THE BLUE CAT CAFE and tell them not to renew their lease with F&F, the first chance they have. Tell them you would be willing to patronize them at another location, outside of East Austin (if that’s how you feel). Contact them on their Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and continue to hold them accountable to their actions and antagonism with the neighborhood.
- PRINT the pamphlet and distribute to your network.
“SXSW Party Slated for Demolished Piñata Store Site Canceled after Protests.” Austin Culture Map, 25 Feb. 15. Web.
“Joint Community Statement.” Equilibrio Norte, 27 Feb. 2015. Web.
“Jumpolin Supporters Claim a Victory.” Austin Chronicle, 27 Feb. 2015. Web.
“Austin Landlords Demolish Piñata Store For SXSW, Call Mexican Tenants ‘Roaches’” Latina.com, 16 Mar. 2015. Web.
“An Open Letter to the City of Austin.” Status Labs, 26 Mar. 2015. Web.
“Jordan French, the Landlord Who Demolished the East Austin Piñata Shop, Has Been Forced to Resign From the Company He Started.” Texas Monthly, 27 Mar. 2015. Web.
“Splash Inc. Finds a New Place to Party.” : Far Away from Planned Protest at Former Jumpolin Site. Austin Chronicle, 13 Mar. 2105. Web.
“Revealed: Texas Couple’s Piñata Store Demolished for SXSW Tech Party Parking.” Raw Story, 17 Mar. 2015. Web.
“These Austin Landlords Allegedly Demolished A Tenant’s Business For SXSW.” Web Culture. Uproxx, 17 Mar. 2015. Web.
“Destroying A Family-Owned Piñata Shop Totally Backfired Against This Company.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Mar. 2015. Web.
“Demolished East Austin Piñata Store Featured on Jimmy Kimmel.” Austin Statesman, 20 Mar. 2015. Web.
“Unanswered Questions at Status Labs.” Austin Chronicle, 3 Apr. 2015. Web.
“Cat Cafe Meow Open.” Austin Statesman, 15 Oct. 2015. Web.
“No Contempt in Jumpolin Hearing.” Austin Chronicle, 16 Oct. 2015. Web.