Why I am still boycotting Tipsy Cake

Why I am still boycotting Tipsy Cake

You know that CTA slogan, “See something, Say Something?”
Well, that’s exactly what people did last week after watching a video of Tipsy Cake owner, Naomi Levine talking bad about Humboldt Park, the community where she originally opened her bakery in 2006; and where everything is still “produced there and delivered daily across to the shop and to our deliveries.”

Tipsy Cake represents many start-up businesses across the country that aim to attract the affluent client, from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Echo Park in Los Angeles.

Humboldt Park represents working class neighborhoods that are in a constant fight with developers who see these barrios as big investments. These neighborhoods are not strictly Latino, but they are almost always inhabited by new immigrants and people of color.

Levine said she started Tipsy Cake in her condo taking orders online. I imagine this business savvy would give her a strong sense of how to interact with potential costumers using social media tools like Facebook and Twitter.

Based on the overwhelmingly bad reviews on Yelp before last week, Tipsy Cake was aware of what happens when you get an order wrong. However, this was different. Her words hit a nerve with people from all over and things only got worst from there.

For over 72 hours everyone understood that what Levine was saying was that the people who live in Humboldt Park were not her customers. Her customers, as she put it, are “the upscale client.”

“Absolutely, we could get any type of client in here and not feeling nervous. We did have some upscale client in Humboldt Park, but with Bucktown nobody would be too scared.”

The most damage happened when City Sole TV tried to remove the evidence by deleting the original video and Tipsy Cake started to block all unfavorable comments.

In true social media activism, LocoBiscocho downloaded the video before it was pulled and uploaded it on their account. Out of their control, the video continued to circulate.

Naomi Levine on why she named her pastry Humboldt Crack Bar – “Because in Humboldt Park the cops would knock on the door and ask to taste the crack.”

People tweeted at @TipsyCakeChi asking them “What were you thinking?” and “We demand an apology.” Surely an apology was in order right? Wrong.

Businesses register public Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts to keep their customers aware that their services exist. They ask customers to “follow” them or “like” them on Facebook. It is an incredibly useful tool to get the attention of existing and potential customers. On the other hand, it can also become a public platform for upset customers. How you respond is key to diffusing the situation. In this case, Aron Arellano is listed as the Director of Marketing and Social Media at Tipsy Cake. Let’s assume that Arellano was on shift and that someone at Tipsy Cake decided to handle the situation in the days leading to the apology by deleting all the comments on the fan page. At one point someone at Tipsy Cake did respond, but that was also deleted. In contrast Arellano and Levine were communicating on their personal accounts.

Director of Marketing and Social Media responds, but not on Tipsy Cake page. Photo Credit: Emmanuel Garcia

Remember no apology had been issued, but they were clearly aware of the backlash.

In the early 1930’s Puerto Ricans migrated and settled in various parts of Chicago. By the end of the 80’s Puerto Ricans had opened businesses, created community organizations and bought homes in the Humboldt Park neighborhoood. In 1995, then Mayor Richard Daley celebrated this Puerto Rican cultural history by commemorating two 59-foot steel Puerto Rican flag sculptures as gateways to Division Street, also known as Paseo Boricua. The flags serve as a symbol of its status as the only officially recognized Puerto Rican neighborhood in the U.S.

A group of angry protesters outside of Tipsy Cake bakery in Humboldt Park

Does violence exist in Humboldt Park? Of course, but it isn’t unique to Humboldt Park, violence happens every day in every neighborhood in Chicago. However, some neighborhoods are racially painted as worst than others. This is not explicit racism, it is coded language that happens everyday by outsiders. Keep in mind that Tipsy Cake is geared toward the “upscale client.”

Levine never saw her neighbors as her customers and that is probably the biggest insult for area residents. She never understood that together they were all part of the fight against violence in the community for the safety of businesses like hers. Instead, she casually threw them under the bus by implying that they were part of the problem.

She appeased outsiders who think that Humboldt Park is not safe, that even during business hours people are scared to go to Humboldt Park. A slap in the face to the hard working residents who live, work and organize against these stereotypes everyday. She painted a bleak picture that there aren’t any successful storefronts in Humboldt Park. In fact, it is quit the opposite.

Residents are constantly fighting off investors who see Humboldt Park as a great venture. Her comments negates that the community has organized in the past to stop gun violence and the selling of illicit drugs. It is insulting to hear someone jokingly talk about the neighborhood that was home to their start-up shop.

Now that the range of her cakes sell between $30 to $5,000, Levine easily ignores the role the community played in her success. Opening a business in Humboldt Park allowed Tipsy Cake to stand out from the rest. It also made it a “hot” new try for local magazines who are constantly looking for the next big thing to send foodies on culinary adventures. That is how Tipsy Cake stood out.

In this economy, I can’t imagine how any business would want to turn any potential customer off, but Levine never saw her neighbors as potential clients. She set her eyes on the Michael Jordan’s of Chicago. I see her apology as an inevitable move. A move that was pressured by a united community that was getting real media attention. In her apology she never addressed changing the name of “Humboldt Crack Bar.”
She had a bigger platform than she let’s on. Tipsy Cake offers out of state delivers. A potential costumer could have come across her video interview and concluded that Humboldt Park was a desolate war zone, but activists changed the narrative.
Levine should have apologized sooner, instead it seems the wait for her was a way of getting good publicity. Bad move.


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