February 28th, 2012
When Gentrification Goes Wrong: Chicago Bakery’s Racist Snafu

By Jose Cruz,

Last week In less than 48 hours a controversy erupted within the Humbolt Park community of Chicago. Local Bucktown bakery Tipsy Cake owner Naomi Levine’s insensitive comments about the community in a video went viral. The controversy highlights some very pertinent issues about the gentrification of Latino neighborhoods in places like Chicago and elsewhere.

By Wednesday a large group of protestors gathered for a press conference outside of the bakery in response to Levine who said in the interview: “I started out of my condo online, and then I bought a bakery in Humboldt Park in 2006, and there were just too many gunshots in the cake, so we decided to leave after five years.”  Another issue that drew outrage was the name of one of her pastries — “Humboldt crack bars.” Levine said she gave them that title “when neighborhood police officers started knocking on the bakery door late at night asking for ‘crack.’”

The rally cry was sounded and after massive amounts of negative feedback in the press Levine issued an apology on Facebook that has since been removed.

The Tipsy Cake outrage speaks volumes to issues of gentrification that our taking place in Latino communities across the country. We should ask the honest question: Would Levine’s comments been as inflammatory had they been made by a Latino business owner who had moved their storefront one neighborhood over to improve business? I don’t think so; they probably would have never made the press. But it is commonplace for a community to critique itself and somehow, although hypocritical, okay for us to act in a way that outsiders do not. Being part of a community for an extended period of time gives you the right to speak and even critique that community.

I grew up in Chicago, lived for over a decade and still own property on the Border of Humbolt and Logan Square. My rehabbed loft was one of the first constructed in this community that has been undergoing gentrification for the last two decades. As a member of this community, we welcome the new businesses and changes that are leading to higher property values. What made the statement of Tipsy Cake such a rallying issue was a simple lack of smart public relations and the community pressure seemed to force the owners hand into issuing an apology.

The good news is that things are changing. You can go out on any given night to an upscale bar in Humbolt, Bucktown or Logan square and find Latinos side-by-side with their “gentrifying” neighbors. Any notion of “Hipsters get out” will inevitable be dispelled by the reality that some of those hipsters are part of a new generation of Latinos who may rather drink a micro-brew and listen to the Black Keys than toss back a Modelo while listening to Hector Lavoe (personally I like both).

The Tipsy Cake controversy should be seen as a win for the community, in so far as all businesses need to respect the neighborhoods they move into and understand their deep cultural history. It was a beautiful thing to see our community come together on and off-line to give public exposure to Levine’s comments. But as the “historic community” we have a duty to critique ourselves. An old friend took one look at the picture from the protest outside of Tipsy Cake and bluntly asked — “Who is that kid in the red hat, why isn’t he in school today?”

Jose Cruz is a Puerto Rican/Irish multi-city/multi-hat guru at An online entrepreneur, Jose is the in house editor and writer. With a background in politics and a career that includes a law degree, the Clinton White House and managing and developing websites geared at the Latino community, his tastes are as diverse as his work. Just at home diving into a Chicago Deep Dish Pizza to munching on a Fish Taco in East LA. Twitter: @JoseCruz2000

[Photo By Veronica Ocasio]

4 thoughts on “When Gentrification Goes Wrong: Chicago Bakery’s Racist Snafu

  1. No one said she can’t be there or that the neighborhood isn’t for her. However, if she’s going to be a business owner (with all the power and privilege that that entails) in a historic Latino neighborhood, she should be respectful of that community. One way to be respectful is to not bad-mouth it.
    She should not get any free pass simply because her company brings a few jobs to the area.

  2. So, she mentions that Humboldt Park has crime and that makes her a racist?  Humboldt Park does have crime. This whole thing is ridiculous and it will make business owners think twice before setting up shop there in the future.  And the idea that some neighborhoods are only for people of certain racial or ethnic backgrounds and no one else is disgusting.  

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