They welcomed their first customers just over five weeks ago, quietly offering what has become the store’s bestsellers: a cold brew and iced mocha.
But the owners of Weird Wave Coffee said Saturday proved to be their busiest day so far at the tiny shop on Cesar Chavez Avenue in Boyle Heights. More than 150 customers streamed in and out to grab a cup of java or a croissant.
Then it happened again.
Overnight, someone broke one of the store’s front windows. It was the second time in less than a week that the shop had been vandalized.
Co-owner Jackson Defa credited the recent surge in business in part to the shop’s thrust into the media spotlight, after becoming the latest target of protesters fearful of gentrification. Police have not determined who is responsible for the incidents of vandalism.
“The resistance has certainly propelled us into the limelight,” Defa added. “But to be honest, this isn’t about Weird Wave. This is about two parts of a community trying to decide their future — the part that wants to grow and the part that prefers no progress.”
Customers and neighboring business owners said Sunday that they support the owners of Weird Wave and decry the vandalism that occurred.
John King, a city planner from Lincoln Heights, said the shop was “a good opportunity for the community to have another choice to eat and drink. I get that people have reservations over gentrification and other issues. But to turn to vandalism and violence, that’s ridiculous.”
King and his high school buddy David Tse stopped by the cafe after lunch Sunday. Their conversation turned to urban blight.
“A cafe is better than a vacant building,” Tse said. “Any land that’s open is going to be developed. If it wasn’t this, it would be another type of business.”
King’s brother, Jeremy, said he understands both sides of the gentrification debate, “but I draw the line at harassment and violence.”
Other area businesses, including art galleries, have been targeted by demonstrators who believe they will draw new ventures, increase rents and push out working families. In one instance, protesters stormed into a show at a gallery and threw detergent at patrons as well as the food they were being served, according to witnesses.
But business owners munching on coffee cake and flaky croissants at Weird Wave on Sunday talked about how they’re “co-dependent” on one another and need to support each other to stay afloat. The coffee shop is squeezed between a pawn shop, a dental clinic and an insurance agency.
“They don’t bother me at all,” said Diana Alonzo, a sales clerk at a money transfer service a few doors down from Weird Wave. “It’s bad that these things are happening. Everyone has the right to work and, if they want to be here, then they should be here.”
James Valenzuela, a supervisor at a nearby barbershop, said that demonstrators have rights “but as business people, we welcome all other business people. Common sense, no?”
He’s tired of having to clean up after the protesters who he said scrawl chalk messages on the sidewalk along Cesar Chavez Avenue.
“Who doesn’t need money? Who doesn’t want to survive in this tough economic time?” Valenzuela said. “Protesters make a lot of noise, but they’re not getting haircuts.”
Customer Eric Soto, who grew up in the neighborhood and owns a finance company, described the fight as a “battle for market share. I understand forced displacement, but I definitely welcome their shop. This is not some big corporation entering. This is really mom and pop, and we’ll be watching how they mold themselves to the community.”
Soto questions why locals “would have to go to Silver Lake or Echo Park to find something cool. We should have it in our backyard.”
Defa said he and his partners chose the coffee shop’s name as a play on the third wave of coffee — a movement to produce high-quality, artisanal beverages.
“We’re absolutely staying,” he vowed. “Our mission is to serve great coffee without pretension.”