The Washington Post
Picketing a restaurant won’t stop gentrification
Dunsmoor, a new restaurant offering up colonial-style cooking in the rapidly gentrifying Los Angeles neighborhood of Glassell Park, received the sort of pre-opening publicity most establishments can only dream about. The Los Angeles Times mentioned it; the popular foodie blog Eater hailed its chef in multiple posts.
But as Eater also noted, Dunsmoor’s “American Heritage cookery” doesn’t sound so appealing to some angered over the upscaling of Glassell Park, a longtime Latino enclave, where the cost of housing is soaring and longtime residents fear getting displaced.
They decided to make their stand at Dunsmoor.
Armed with tin pans, spoons, and signs saying “Gentrifiers are on the menu tonight,” “If our homes aren’t safe neither is your restaurant” and “Mi Abuelita would’ve hated this restaurant,” several dozen protesters showed up on opening night and again on a recent Saturday, when I saw them repeatedly yell at Dunsmoor’s customers.
Attention-getting? To be sure. I’m writing about it, after all. But effective? That’s another matter entirely.
The protesters have a beef: They don’t believe longtime Glassell Park residents — many of whom work low-wage jobs, can afford the actual beef at Dunsmoor, which costs $68. Or the $29 Pennsylvania Dutch Slippery Dumplings, with chicken, ham, and beet-pickled eggs. Or pretty much anything else on Dunsmoor’s “Bill of Fare.”
They also think Dunsmoor will attract people to Glassell Park who can. As a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Tenants Union, which offers assistance to low-income renters and helped organize the protests, told the Los Angeles Times, “The opening of restaurants like Dunsmoor in Glassell Park means more intense harassment aimed at the most vulnerable members of our community to remove them and replace them with new tenants who can pay market rents.”
But picketing a restaurant — no matter how expensive and twee — can’t fix this situation. Nor can telling its customers “You should be ashamed,” as I watched them do on Saturday night. Nor does screaming at them not to return to Glassell Park. “We live in the neighborhood,” one couple objected.
In fact, such confrontations can make things worse. While many dining at Dunsmoor attempted to ignore the protest, exchanges got contentious as Saturday night went on. One customer began raging at protesters, “You’re disgusting,” along with curses and accusations of reverse racism — despite the fact that a number of picketers, like most of the diners, were White. Hot tempers prevailed. “Trump supporters! Racists!” one picketer shouted after two departing patrons.
The thing is, it’s been a while since Glassell Park was an easily affordable place to live. It’s true that rents are up in Los Angeles 10 percent year over year, which is a huge challenge for many. But housing costs have been surging in Los Angeles, and Glassell Park in particular, for the better part of a decade. As for actually buying one of the neighborhood’s craftsman homes? Redfin says the median sale price is currently just shy of $1.2 million, up from $705,000 in 2017.
So Glassell Park is also already the home of a not insignificant number of upper-middle-class people and it’s hardly unexpected for them to want eat a fancy meal in the immediate neighborhood. The restaurant is following, not leading, the movement of its potential customers.
Still, as the protest demonstrates, this population shift is putting huge pressure on people who moved into Glassell Park before prices went into the stratosphere. When occupants of rent-controlled apartments move, landlords can raise rents to what the market will bear. No surprise, less scrupulous property owners are attempting to hasten that process along, a task made easier when tenants are low-income, or don’t speak much English. It’s no wonder many of those picketing Dunsmoor — some of whom said their landlords are attempting to do just that — are so scared and angry. It’s just not a very useful outlet for their anger.
What would really help Los Angeles slow its gentrification is more housing. But California and Los Angeles have failed to construct enough residences for its burgeoning population for decades. State regulators recently ordered Los Angeles to undertake a rezoning to add 250,000 new units, saying they would yank billions of dollars in affordable housing funds if the city didn’t comply by this fall.
A study released in 2020 by the Urban Institute tracked the speed of gentrification to the high cost of real estate for buyers and tenants, concluding, “Boosting the supply of housing can slow the pace of new buyers moving into lowerincome neighborhoods.”
As for Dunsmoor, it’s not a coincidence that a restaurant is what set off this mess. Food — especially seemingly extravagant food — has long been a flash point in American culture (see: toast, avocado). The arrival of haute cuisine can be a visceral sign that a neighborhood is changing.
Dunsmoor’s owners say they are trying to calm the waters. When I reached out to them, they sent me a statement reading, in part, “We remain steadfastly committed to being good neighbors.” I certainly hope so. Restaurants, at their best, can bring us together. But that’s an increasingly hard ask in the United States, where it often feels like we are all on one side of a political or economic divide — or picket line — or the other.