Pilsen bakery targeted by graffiti sends message of resilience

It's a bitter taste for a Chicago business that makes sweet confections, after someone graffitied an unwelcome message on a new bakery in Pilsen. What makes it sting even more is that the owners are part of the Hispanic community.

"The number one thing I felt was disappointment. It was sadness," said Katsuji Tabares, a co-owner of the new Bittersweet Bakery in Pilsen. "I wasn't even upset. I wasn't angry. I was just more sad."

Tabares said they were stunned Friday morning when a person seen on surveillance video graffitied the front of their new location in Pilsen, scrawling "gentrifiers," "sellouts," and "get out of Pilsen."

"The first thought was our employees’ safety. That for me was my number one concern," said Tabares. "Paint, graffiti, we can remove that. We cannot take away that feeling of being injured by someone."

They're not the first business in Pilsen to face blowback from people upset about rising property values and rents, and a large influx of non-Hispanic residents drawn by the neighborhood's vibrant shopping and restaurant scene and proximity to downtown.

In fact, Bittersweet opened its second location in January after more than three decades serving sweet treats in the North Side Lakeview neighborhood.

"It's been doing great, by the way. The community has been extremely supportive," said Tabares.

The irony of the attack is that the vast majority of people who work at the bakery, and even own the bakery, are of Mexican-American heritage.

"It's the ignorance of the people who do not know that we are immigrants. We are not gentrifiers," said Tabares, who is himself a Mexican immigrant. "We are trying to make our city more beautiful. Much more welcoming. Chicago is a great food city and we're trying to embrace that."

25th Ward Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez has been a critic of gentrification in Pilsen but said in a statement, "While I am fully in solidarity with the struggles residents have faced due to large developments, in no shape or form do I condone acts of violence against people in our communities."

Tabares said Bittersweet Bakery won't crumble under pressure.

"We're not gonna let that intimidate us. We're not gonna be held hostage from ignorant people who antagonize. We're gonna open more locations. We're gonna keep doing what we're doing every day."