Early in the morning on Wednesday, long before the doors first opened to Glassell Park’s newest restaurant, the Dunsmoor team arrived to bold red-and-white letters spray-painted across its windows.
“Gentrification Is Genocide," it read in all caps and in both Spanish and English, each tag on one side of the corner building, according to the owners.
It was just the beginning. The day would culminate in a protest that saw handmade signs stating, “GENTRIFIERS ARE ON THE MENU TONIGHT!” pressed against the restaurant’s windows as patrons dined inside. Another neon sign bemoaned the restaurant's prices: "F— YOUR $23 LENTILS!!!"
The new restaurant from former Hatchet Hall chef Brian Dunsmoor opened Wednesday night in a historically Latino neighborhood that has seen a rise in property values and demographic changes. Coupled with its proximity to Highland Park, Glassell Park is one of a number of Los Angeles-area neighborhoods central to the city’s ongoing discussion of gentrification and displacement.
“Last night we did close to 100 covers [served guests], and I touched every table,” restaurant partner Taylor Parsons told The Times on Thursday morning. “I would say that 50% were from the neighborhood, like walked here, and they were all really excited. Some of them got in verbal altercations with the protesters outside, going in or out, and some walked over when they saw the protest was happening.
"It’s a range of reactions. I think there's concern and there's also excitement.”
Before the protest, there was the tagging. Parsons said the restaurant’s security cameras captured the vandalism at 4:32 a.m. Wednesday. Based on the message written, the placement, the handwriting and the paint, the restaurant's team believed them to be done by the person or people who tagged the restaurant in January.
A resident of the neighborhood for nearly a decade, Parsons lives roughly five minutes from the restaurant and rushed over to the space. Graffiti film affixed to the windows, already in place, allowed the team to quickly remove the tags, and Parsons said they would file a police report Thursday.
On Tuesday, a new Instagram account by the name of @dunsmoorisdone posted a joint call to action with Street Watch L.A., a community-minded advocacy group founded by the L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Los Angeles Community Action Network.
The Instagram post called for protesters to arrive at Dunsmoor, which it claimed “will bring gentrifiers chomping at the bit willing to pay $200 per dinner from all over the County to this neighborhood which has not yet fully gentrified.”
"The players involved have already helped further gentrify other LA neighborhoods with their restaurants, including Culver City, Mar Vista, and Venice, and now they've set their speculative sights eastward and beyond," the post added. "This restaurant group WILL cause heightened displacement — and homelessness — unless they are stopped. Please come and help us send a clear message that these people not only chose the wrong neighborhood — but that gentrification pioneers can no longer count on feeling entitled to set up shop and cause displacement — and homelessness — wherever they see fit. Help us make it true, that Dunsmoor is DONE.”
Representatives from the @dunsmoorisdone Instagram account, which had 105 followers as of Friday, and Street Watch L.A. did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The L.A. Tenants Union, a member-funded group that fights for affordable housing and universal rent control, said it had some members at the protest.
"The opening of restaurants like Dunsmoor in Glassell Park means more intense harassment aimed at the most vulnerable members of our community, in order to remove them and replace them with new tenants who can pay market rents," a spokesperson for the group said Friday via email. "If you clink your wine glass over a $200 dinner while grandparents and children protest outside, you are refusing to understand your role in this harassment, displacement and violence."
Those who don't understand why people protested don't know "anything about the threats, the lies, the cash-for-keys harassment and the groundless eviction suits that developers use to clear out working-class tenants" from their homes, the spokesperson said.
The Glassell Park Neighborhood Council and the office of Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents Glassell Park, did not respond Friday to requests for comment.
Parsons said that roughly 60 protesters arrived Wednesday and stood outside the restaurant, which occupies a building that had been vacant for years (decades, according to the landlord, though the space reportedly had been used for house shows). A neighbor who had seen a Facebook discussion post about a protest at Dunsmoor on opening night alerted the restaurant's staff.
From roughly 5 to 10 p.m., protesters held signs with exclamatory messages such as “Save the hood! We say NO to gentry restaurants!” Some walked up and down Eagle Rock Boulevard to neighboring cocktail bar the Grant, a similarly upscale business, where a physical altercation occurred late Wednesday.
It “involved a woman that had been [dining] at Dunsmoor and was walking up the block after dinner,” Michael Lippman, owner of the Grant, said in a statement to The Times. “Nothing took place inside the Grant (and none of our employees were involved). I myself am a longtime Glassell Park resident and our neighborhood bar has been open for just under a year, and we have never had any issues or seen any protest.”
Parsons credits the restaurant’s size, publicity and the notability of its chef as factors that drew the protesters' attention. On Wednesday, a number of Dunsmoor's diners asked to pack up their meals to go, and some canceled their reservations entirely, according to Parsons.
“The people that were here took it on the chin,” he said. “I was proud of the staff; they did a great job. Guests were very understanding, and we tried to have the most warm and hospitable service possible under the conditions. The primary concern in that situation is always the safety of your guests and the staff.”
The intention of the protest, as explained in @dunsmoorisdone's sole Instagram post as of Friday, is for the restaurant to close. Parsons said that isn’t going to happen. The restaurant’s structure does, however, include mindfulness of the costs for diners and the neighborhood, he said, by keeping entrées limited to under $40 and capping wine markups below industry standards.
The restaurant serves seafood, meats and vegetables prepared through a number of methods and techniques prevalent in early American history, such as preserving and fire roasting. Those $23 lentils, for instance, involve smoked mushrooms, house red-onion relish and sour cream, while the $11 cornbread — a signature from Dunsmoor's time at Hatchet Hall — uses cultured butter, green chiles, white cheddar and honey.
The team discusses pricing every day, said Parsons, who admits that he doesn’t have all of the answers.
“We're just trying to bring a great little restaurant to this neighborhood and be good neighbors and community members and stewards of our space, our street,” Parsons said. “We all live here, close by. We're not trying to disrupt anyone's livelihoods or lives.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.