By Jakob Stein
Earlier today, graffiti reading “Boycott F&F” was seen painted on the doors of the former Blue Cat Cafe at 1401 East Cesar Chavez in the historic Chicano barrio on the East side of Austin. “F&F” refers to F&F Real Estate Ventures led by Jordan French and Darius Fisher, at one time the co-owners of the land where the building sits. F&F faced a community boycott after they carried out the violent demolition of the Jumpolin piñata store which formerly occupied part of the lot.
While Blue Cat Cafe closed after a three-year-long boycott for crossing the picket line against F&F, the appearance of graffiti shows that the anger toward the landlords persists and stands as a warning to other would-be occupants of the building. For three years, the cafe faced community outcry and militant pickets, led primarily by Defend Our Hoodz (DOH), which included multiple arrests of activists and violent confrontations with fascists, leading to the eventual victory over Blue Cat.
In February 2015, French and Fisher demolished Jumpolin, a Mexican immigrant-owned business and fixture of the East Austin barrio, without notice, with the business’ merchandise still inside. The landlords said it was to make parking space for an event planned to coincide with South By Southwest (SXSW), a tech, music, and film festival held annually in Austin.
The wealthy Ivy League graduates and tech industry investors may have expected that their attempt to benefit from the gentrification of East Cesar Chavez would result in easy profit. Instead, a community boycott originally called by reformists, was then vigorously upheld by Austin’s growing revolutionary movement, ensuring that F&F’s anti-people crime would not lead to the business-as-usual march of gentrification in this particular instance.
Recent tax records show that the most recent ownership of the lot is now in the name of 1401 Cesar Chavez LLC Austin, and prior to that MM Holdings LLC. One of the addresses of MM Holdings was listed at 206 San Marcos, which was one of French and Fisher’s Airbnb properties and sometimes used as an office, however the current 1401 Cesar Chavez LLC has a generic address registered to a business services company that appears to specialize in setting up Limited Liability Companies (LLCs). LLCs are shell companies often used to shield the identities of owners, and the most recent deed transfer appears to fit the pattern of obscuring the owners from public scrutiny.
Fisher and French have reportedly been at odds with each other in the years since the demolition, including suing one another over other business ventures throughout 2018. The demolition was a key part of the lawsuit, with each side pointing fingers at who was the true source of the decision. In the trial, French provided text messages between Fischer and another associate, in which the associate texted, “I am going to knock down the piñata store. Are you sure you want to do this?” According to French, Fisher replied, “Ha ha ha.” French himself was infamously quoted as comparing the demolition to clearing out a house, “infested by roaches.”
As young capitalists with money to burn, East Austin attracted French and Fisher with an opportunity to participate in the deep exploitation of the primarily Black and Chicano working class in the form of gentrification. The graffiti on the vacant building and landlord’s inability to rent out the space is a testament to the pulsing people’s resistance to gentrification and capitalism in Austin and across the US.