As protests and unrest took over Austin this weekend, local restaurant owners and chefs expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement through social media.
The nationwide protests, which started on Friday evening in Austin and many other cities, were prompted by the death of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody. Police officer Derek Chauvin, who held his knee against Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while detaining him, was charged with third-degree murder on Friday.
In Austin, protesters demonstrated throughout the downtown area, taking to blocking traffic on I-35 at points, and marching around the Capitol and Austin City Hall. The demonstrations sought to raise awareness of far-reaching police brutality, racial injustices, and the silences of those who don’t encounter these adversities in the city and country.
To express her feelings about the movement, Sharon Mays, owner of fast-casual salad restaurant Baby Greens, shared an Instagram post from Aoki Lee Simmons, of which she described as Mays’s own “inner monologue perfectly and eloquently written.” In it, Simmons questioned the lack of vocal support from her friends who aren’t black: “I understand now, that you will only interact with the girl you understand [...] But blackness? I guess that’s not like you.”
“I shared it because I really connected with what she wrote,” Mays told Eater. “I felt that same awful anxiety of wondering why my friends weren’t more upset and bracing myself for the answer. It’s a lot to unpack but her post did it very eloquently.”
Deepa Shridhar, co-owner of Indian-Texas pop-up 33 Tigers, shared her deep appreciation of black music because it helped her find a foothold in a new country as an immigrant. “It is not mine,” she acknowledged, “but I have always been welcome. To me, that is how this Indian immigrant first understood America.”
“I’m not going to be silent,” Shridhar said to Eater of sharing her sentiments on social media, “and moreover, it’s my duty as an immigrant to fight actively for the best parts of American culture, and my business is too.”
For the next two weeks, Shridhar is donating partial sales from the market to organizations that are raising bail money and offering legal counsel. She also promises transparency and will share exactly how much will be donated and to which organizations. “If we’re here for the music,” Shridhar wrote on Instagram, “then we gotta be here for the culture when they really need us.”
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We’ve been thinking about what to do. On our personal pages and stories, we’ve posted. It’s not enough. Both @sawks__ and I (@deepa.shridhar ) have been thinking about this, how we can help a situation just being two chefs, owning a small business and not having much financially to help. As immigrants in this country finding your path and finding another home, both physically and culturally, is a challenge. Personally speaking, as a young Indian kid- 4 years old new to America, that came through music, specifically, hip hop; Black music and culture. I feel to this day, so lucky, a lot of my friends, my career, my way of thinking has been heavily influenced by that culture. It is not mine but I have always been welcome. To me, that is how this Indian immigrant first understood America. At 33Tigers, our ability to create a “vibe” , one of the reasons our parties were so popular, special, different was the music. A majority of that music is Black music. If we’re here for the music, then we gotta be here for the culture when they really needs us. For the next two weeks, a portion of our sales are going directly to the Minnesota Freedom Funds , or the Louisville Community Bail Fund or any other organization that is in the most need for contributions for helping protestors with bail money, immigration services or legal counsel by the end of these two weeks. We will also let you know who we donated to and where/what your contribution is going towards. If you are trying to find a way to contribute, this is a great way to not only continue supporting us but helping our brothers and sisters in a fight they have been fighting for far too long. If you just want to make a donation to them, the link for the Minnesota Freedom Funds is in the bio, as we get more educated and learn more about the situation at hand, we will be adding to those links of various places you can contribute. We do not ask you to go through us, if you do, that’s wonderful, regardless, we’re making a contribution. It’s time 33Tigers finds a way to voice our support and help. Thank you Austin, for all of your support, your listening and your awareness that Black Lives Matter. #linkinbio
The protests were a wakeup call for Foxtail Supper Club owner Page Pressley. He realized that he held a privileged position as a white male chef who drew on cooking techniques and influences from other cultures but “never asked what I owe,” as he wrote on his personal Instagram account. “I owe more than I can ever repay because I was given more than anyone should ever be given.”
Pressley went on to ask that restaurant owners (himself included) use their positions to create opportunities and growth areas for others, and to “stop filling our fine dining kitchens with mostly white men.”
“We can admit we have been wrong,” Pressley wrote. “We can stop standing on the shoulder of those given less than us for the sake of profit. We can FINALLY show up for the people that have shown up for us.”
Pressley posted the statement because he “finally snapp[ed] awake holding myself accountable for my actions to match my beliefs and words,” after attending the protests on Sunday, as he told Eater. He is donating all June profits from his virtual fine dining tasting menu restaurant to the NAACP.
Other restaurants have donated or will donate to like-minded organizations. Windsor Park restaurant Hank’s shared that it would donate to the Equal Justice Initiative. Vegan bakery Zucchini Kill donated $335.50 of its weekend sales to the Minnesota Freedom Fund on Sunday.
Zucchini co-owners Cece Loessin, MT Gibbs, and Jess Freda posted the donation amount as accountability, “because we think receipts are important,” they told Eater. “People talk, but not everyone always follows through.”
It was also a way to show gratitude to Zucchini’s customers because they “are the direct reason we are in a position to be able to monetarily support something we believe to be extremely important and vital.”
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Thank you to everyone who ordered from us this weekend. It is because of you that we were able to support @mnfreedomfund ❤️If you have the means, please also consider directly supporting @reclaimtheblock @blackvisionscollective . . #blacklivesmatter #justiceforgeorgefloyd #defundthepolice
Los Angeles-based hospitality group Pouring With Heart, which runs downtown Austin bars Half Step, Seven Grand, and Las Perlas, shared Instagram posts stating its intentions to donate to NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. All three bars closed on Sunday, and will reopen “as soon as we feel it is appropriate,” noted additional respective posts.
Other restaurants shared supportive statements and quotes. South Austin’s Crema Bakery and Cafe wrote that: “Yes, all lives matter, but right now we’re focused on the black ones because it’s clear our law enforcement and judicial systems don’t recognize that.”
The post continued: “It’s about white people not recognizing and being willing to admit that black people are still suffering at our hands more than 150 years after the end of slavery.”
Downtown bar Small Victory shared a text image in support of Black Lives Matter, writing that “silence is a privilege,” and that it calls for “an end to the terror of law enforcement brutality and the systemic racism that plagues the American justice system.” Veracruz All Natural posted a quote from Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire about liberating people by recognizing them as actual people.
Taco walk-up restaurant Vaquero Taquero took it one step further by sharing statistics that show the disproportionate number of black jail bookings, calling out how the city segregated the black community to east of I-35, and noting gentrification of Rainey Street and East Austin.
Out of solidarity, Korean restaurant Seoulju decided to close the restaurant early on Sunday, which was far from the epicenter of the protests. “My family and staff were all working with a heavy heart,” owner John Lee told Eater, “feeling the pain of our fellow black Americans and the financial downturn impact of COVID. With everything that’s going on, I feel like we were not in the right mindset, so I decided to close early.”
The restaurant’s dining room hasn’t reopened for dine-in service because of customer feedback. He collected a survey where 70 percent of people voted to keep it closed.
“I’m working through this and trying to stay positive,” Lee added.
Update, June 2, 11:07 a.m. This article, originally published on Monday, June 1, has been updated to include additional comments from Sharon Mays.