While someone threw a brick and broke the glass door of East Austin gelato shop Gelateria Gemelli around the same time as protests were happening nearby in the city on Sunday evening, it’s okay, explained owner Andrew Sabola.
“It’s a glass door, it’s not much to fix,” he said. “I care more about black people not getting murdered by the police. That’s what upsets me most, and people have the right to be pissed off.”
The ongoing nationwide protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody, call out police brutality throughout the country, and support black communities. Now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder. As the protests unfold, there have also been some instances of vandalism.
“I’m definitely of the school of ‘change by any means necessary,’” explained Sabola. “I’m not saying that I advocate or condone violence, but if your voice is not being heard and you need to throw a brick,” said Sabola, then that’s what happens. “I’m gay,” he added, “and if Stonewall didn’t happen, I might not be able to be out of the closet.”
Before Gemelli was vandalized, Sabola had updated the shop’s letterboard menu to read that there is “zero tolerance” for “racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, [and] Islamophobia,” which he shared to Instagram. The accompanying caption expressed solidarity with the protests: “We stand with protesters. We defend black lives. As a queer-owned business, we believe that if you have experienced discrimination, it is your duty to help others who face discrimination.”
It was important to Sabola to post a photo of the shop’s broken door to Instagram with a message of support for the protests, especially in contrast to the reactions of other business owners. “I kept seeing other people around town posting damage and having reactions that were pissing me off, frankly,” he said.
“It feels wrong to post pictures of gelato and cocktails when something so important is happening in the world,” Sabola continued. “We have a voice and we’ve got 3,000-something followers, and if I can show support and show that we’re a safe place,” then why not? The comments responding to the post have overwhelmingly been positive.
Sabola admitted that the shop damage “stings a little bit, because it’s personal,” but that “we got over that real quick.” The vandalism incident was captured by the shop’s security camera, positioned so it just captures the front door. “You just see a rock flying through the window,” he described.
To show further solidarity, Sabola also enlisted his friends at creative studio Good Snake to hand-painted a message of support onto the temporary plywood: “Black Lives Matter —Love, Gemelli.”
“I feel like I’m doing the bare minimum,” Sabola said, “in a moment when especially white people need to step it up and use their voices.”
Sabola noted that there are concrete ways for people to show further support. “It’s really important for us to all support black-owned, minority-owned, women-owned, queer-owned businesses,” he said. “Even as restaurateurs, I try to find vendors that fit those descriptions.” It’s another way restaurants, food trucks, bars, and the like can help support.
As of now, Sabola isn’t sure whether he’ll get the door fixed anytime soon, just in case there is potential further damage. If that does happen, it’s still fine. “We have insurance,” he said. “What are you going to take, a bottle of Fernet? Go ahead, there’s nothing really to lose.”
Currently, Gemelli is only open for patio seating and takeout gelato and cocktail kits, and masks are required for customers (though people who don’t have masks have “flipped out on us [because] we won’t serve them,” Sabola said). Sales are “okay,” said Sabola, but had been better during the city’s stricter “stay home” orders.
“I think, hopefully, we can make it through,” Sabola said. “If we don’t, that would be super sad, but that’s the reality. Between COVID-19 and the other fires in this country right now, gelato doesn’t seem like the most important thing.”