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Cafe owner reaches deal with some Mission District activists, but protests expected to continue

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Manny Yekutiel, left, owner of Manny’s, helps customer Lia Salaverry at the Mission District cafe on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The Mission District entrepreneur whose eatery and event space has in recent months been the subject of weekly demonstrations has agreed to concessions including hiring and training Latino staff to meet community demands.

A coalition of activists has been picketing every week since December outside Manny’s, a cafe and civic engagement space, accusing owner Manny Yekutiel of pushing a “pro-elite, pro-Zionist and pro-gentrification agenda.” Groups involved include the Black and Brown Social Club, the Lucy Parsons Project, Gay Shame and the Brown Berets.

A number of current and former San Francisco leaders have rushed to Yekutiel’s defense since the demonstrations began, asserting that Yekutiel has worked with a number of community groups to ensure that his establishment is serving the community in a neighborhood hit hard by gentrification.

SEE RELATED: Mission District civic engagement space met with protests, calls for boycott

In a joint statement issued on Thursday, Yekutiel and United to Save the Mission (USM) — a coalition of Mission District community advocacy groups not affiliated with the recent protests — announced that they have signed off on “mutually agreed upon memorandum of understanding (MOU), with more than a dozen programming and operational goals reflecting this shared mission of greater equity and community stabilization.”

The contract requires Yekutiel to offer an affordable menu and event programming that is accessible to the local community, “including free and pay-as-you-can events” and programming that “amplifies the struggles of the oppressed, colonized, persecuted, and unjustly treated.”

Other stipulations include Spanish language signage, free use of Manny’s event space for community organization and a promise to hire and train a bilingual workforce, among other things.

Yekutiel already works with a nonprofit to staff Manny’s kitchen with formerly homeless workers.

“We are confident that, with the continued implementation of these programs and goals, Manny’s has taken meaningful steps to address issues of gentrification and will be the healthy addition to the Mission community that it aims to be,” reads the statement.

San Francisco Planning Commission President Myrna Melgar said that the contract “will provide good sustainable jobs, benefits to the community and integrate this business sustainably into the neighborhood.”

But opponents say that they are not satisfied with the promises made on paper.

“it does not meet our or many other people’s standards and it has inspired us and the other coalition members to intensify the boycott, said Ralowe Ampu, an organizer with the Lucy Parsons Project.

The groups have cited Facebook posts by Yekutiel in which he inquired about Bay Area Zionist groups, and have criticized Yekutiel’s political connections.

The protesters, who include Bay Area rapper and activist Ilych Sato, also known by his stage name “Equipto,’ have said previously that they would only end the boycott once Manny’s leaves the Mission.

Roberto Alfaro, director of the youth violence prevention organization HOMEY and a representative of USM, said that the demonstrations started after USM was already in negotiations over community benefits with Yekutiel.

“We were in the middle of crafting the MOU,” said Alfaro, adding that the weekly demonstrations “really galvanized the effort and made sure we were finishing up the process and having our due diligence,” adding that more community stakeholders “got involved in the creation of the MOU as a result of the protest.”

Yekutiel told the San Francisco Examiner that the new contract is a “natural extension” of the initial negotiations with the community that began about a year ago and “represents goals we’ve always had for Manny’s.”

“The coalition issuing this joint statement work every day to keep the Mission from gentrifying. That’s our goal at Manny’s too and I’m proud to be working in partnership with them,” said Yekutiel.

Mission District Supervisor Hillary Ronen said that she is not surprised that Yekutiel and USM were “able to reach this agreement,” adding that her experience with Yekutiel “has been a very open willingness and desire to create a truly accessible space.”

Ronen, who is Jewish but said that she does not support Zionism, said she feels that Yekutiel has been unfairly targeted from the beginning.

“My beliefs about Israel do not fit with Manny’s beliefs, but that does not mean that he should be targeted for protests, it means we should continue the dialogue,” said Ronen, adding that Manny’s “has gone above and beyond in trying to be a responsible, accessible business that brings net benefits to the Mission.”

Opinions remain split among other Mission activists over the merits of the protesters’ accusations.

“There are different opinions even within our coalition about the protest,” said Alfaro, of USM. “We can’t stop people from voicing their opinion, but that is, as I see it, something positive.”

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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