Local activist group protests cultural, economic changes to Eastside communities


Bre Westry

Lou’s Bodega faced community backlash recently for its use of Indigenous and Chicano imagery

On Jan. 26, a band of about 50 people gathered on the corner of East César Chavez and Chicon Street to peacefully protest outside one of East Austin’s latest restaurant additions, Lou’s Bodega.

The protest was organized by Defend Our Hoodz, a local activist group whose mission is “building power in Austin to fight displacement and exploitative development.” The group coordinated the protest on their Facebook page following the growing backlash against the establishment. The issue? Lou’s Bodega’s exterior walls are adorned with murals depicting, and as Defend Our Hoodz alleges, appropriating Chicano and indigenous imagery.

The restaurant’s website also brandishes similar iconography as well as the word “Bienvenidos” plastered in huge block text. Though the restaurant may display Chicano and indigenous culture on its walls and in its branding, its fare includes items like coffee, pastries, soft serve, wine, beer, and rotisserie.

Defend Our Hoodz called on the restaurant via their Facebook page to “end any use of Chicano and indigenous imagery in their branding, whether on merchandise, packaging or on their website. This includes their ‘woman warrior’ tote bags, their T-shirts with ‘Bienvenidos’ on them, and indigenous patterns on hats and elsewhere.”

They also called for the restaurant to stop selling Constellation Brands, makers of products such as Modelo and Corona, who are currently being boycotted by the natives of Mexicali, Mexico for their potentially detrimental overuse of water in the region.

Lou’s Bodega was founded by McGuire Moorman Hospitality, known for starting Elizabeth St. Café and June’s, and Bunkhouse Group: the company behind Jo’s Coffee Shop. The restaurant itself is named after Lou Lambert, a chef that already has ties with Bunkhouse through Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue.

Protestors chanted, “Not a dime, not a cent, for hipsters trying to raise my rent.”

The addition of trendy new spots like Lou’s Bodega in the East Austin area has not only hit the community culturally, but economically as well. Over the years, as the area has become more popular for developers to invest in, property values have skyrocketed. The current asking price for property in the East César Chavez area is $487 per square foot, a 12-percent rise in average asking price year-on-year. The increase in property value has raised a wave of questions about gentrification issues and how they apply to the area. The neighborhood is historically an area of color, but that is changing as the neighborhood becomes too expensive for minority families to afford.

Defend Our Hoodz took to their Facebook page following the protest to praise the work that had been done, saying in a caption along with a picture from the protest, “We have to continue to turn online outrage into images like this—real people stepping up to confront our exploiters directly.”

This is only the beginning for this group’s events planned for this year. On Feb 27. at the Cepeda Branch of the Austin Public Library, the group will be holding a discussion on LGBTQ people and gentrification. The group also recently released the first episode of their podcast series “Riverside Rising,” amplifying the voice of the Riverside community as their area begins to feel the ramifications of gentrification.

Lou’s Bodega has responded by opening up their emails to suggestions on how they can improve in the future but has made no direct move to change or remove the murals.