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Community group fighting Russian bakery’s plans for La Victoria space

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A Richmond District Russian bakery plans to open in the space formerly occupied by La Victoria. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)

A Richmond District bakery’s plans to relocate to the space recently vacated by the popular Latino bakery La Victoria are meeting with opposition.

Michael and Marika Fishman, owners of Cinderella Russian Bakery & Cafe in the Richmond District, scooped up La Victoria’s building in the Mission District this month and expect to open a bakery there in six to nine months, after major maintenance and retrofit work are completed. Their takeover of the space was first reported by Eater SF.

But the Fishmans have not received a warm welcome in the neighborhood. The Examiner has learned that the community culture and advocacy group Calle 24 is opposing plans to convert what the advocates described as a long-time “Latino community anchor” into a Russian baked goods operation, and threatening a boycott.

The group is demanding that Fishman, who last week closed a $3 million deal to purchase the business and the corner building at 24th and Alabama streets, “bring La Victoria Back.”

“We are not happy,” said neighborhood activist Erick Arguello, who is also the president of the Calle 24 Latino Cultural District. “They are removing a legacy business. Even though [La Victoria] is gone, it’s our history. It’s the history of the immigrant struggle here in the neighborhood.”

SEE RELATED: La Victoria bakery tenants told to clear out

For decades La Victoria, which is not a legacy business registered with The City, was run by Jaime Maldonado, son of the bakery’s proprietor, Gabriel Maldonado.

The younger Maldonado most recently rented out the bakery’s commercial kitchen to a handful of merchants in an effort to keep the family business afloat.

But a dispute with the family trust that owned the building, headed by his stepmother, Susanna Maldonado, ultimately resulted in the business and property being put on the market in March.

Until it shuttered in early October, La Victoria was co-managed by former employee Laura Hernandez and Danny Gabriner, the founder of Sour Flour, a sourdough bread bakery that has been renting kitchen space and holding baking classes in the La Victoria space since 2010.

The pair attempted to buy the business from the Maldonado family, but were rejected. In July, Hernandez, Gabriner and the other merchants who subleased space in the bakery received eviction notices from the family trust.

The Mission Economic Development Agency, the neighborhood’s non-profit developer, made attempts to purchase the building to ensure that its longtime commercial tenants, which also include a Latino-run hair salon and jewelry shop, remained in place, but were also unsuccessful.

Arguello and the Calle 24 council are now calling on Fishman to re-rent the La Victoria commercial space to Hernandez and Gabriner, who are currently operating out of a temporary space in the Bayview District and could not immediately be reached for comment.

Calle 24 is also demanding that Fishman rehire La Victoria’s original bakers, and that La Victoria’s outdoor signage remain intact, among other things.

“The council decided to take a strong stance in that if [the owner] brings in another business, we will boycott,” said Arguello, adding that the decision is based on a “bigger picture” of recent evictions of long standing community serving spaces in the Mission.

“We just had Galleria de La Raza evicted,” he said, adding that many of the Latino cultural district’s “strong anchors” are facing displacement.

But Fishman countered that many of the people running La Victoria in recent years “had nothing to do with La Victoria.”

“Maldonado was renting the facility to a lot of different vendors. Then there was a dispute because I don’t think the trust was getting rent,” said Fishman. “The trust pulled the plug and put it on the market, and the building was on the market for one year or maybe more.”

Fishman said that when the property’s price “dropped about half a year ago,” he decided to step in.

“There are not a lot of buildings with that profile in San Francisco. We have been renting for the past 30 years from our current landlord, who is not willing to sign a long-term lease for us,” said Fishman, about Cinderella’s original location at 436 Balboa St., where it has operated for several decades.

Fishman took over the business in 2008. 

“My family wants to stay in the business. This is my chance to secure a space. We need to have some kind of control, and [this is] most logical,” he said.

Maldonado, who is no longer affiliated with La Victoria, said he “heard that Cinderella bakery was looking to move in and possibly have a bigger role with the corner.”

“I’m happy for the trust that they decided to move forward and I’m happy for Cinderella bakery,” said Maldonado. “I’m still deeply saddened that La Victoria in its current form could not coexist with the decision made by the trust, but I accept it. “

The La Victoria property’s purchase also included two neighboring buildings that housed La Victoria’s commercial kitchen, a jewelry store and a hair salon, as well as several vacant residential units.

While the hair salon and jewelry store operate on month-to-month leases, Fishman said that he has no plans to displace those businesses.

“I told them they are here to stay,” said Fishman. “I respect them, they are hard working people.”

Fishman said that he is also considering some concessions to ensure that his bakery will fit into the neighborhood, which in recent history has housed a predominantly Latino population. In the La Victoria space, Fishman said he plans to expand Cinderella’s project line to include “cakes, wholesale and some Latino desserts and pastries.”

He said that he plans to travel to Oaxaca and Mexico City with his wife for inspiration. Fishman also said that he would like to hire La Victoria’s former staff back, but has yet to locate them.

“I want to get in touch with original workers. I want to continue the history,” he said, but added that he was not pleased with what he described as an “unpleasant conversation” with Calle 24.

“They said they would boycott our business. I heard this in the Soviet Union as a teenager. These threats, I don’t take it lightly,” he said.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

 

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