A Case of Gentrifurcation?

Jumpolin site to become parking lot for cat cafe

The Lejarazus (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The site of the former Jumpolin piñata store now has new tenants: It will serve as parking for the Blue Cat Cafe, an eatery where diners can interact with felines while munching on a sandwich or swilling coffee. "You can grab a cup of coffee or have a bite to eat, and if one of the cats speaks to you, you can take one home," said Jacques Casi­mir, a principal in the business along with Rebecca Gray. "If you just want to hang out, you can do that, too."

The new 1,500-square-foot business features 12-foot ceilings to accommodate high-altitude paths for the 15 to 20 cats inhabiting the place at any given time. The aim of the business is to adopt out the felines, with the added bonus of sandwiches, coffee, smoothies, cakes, and cookies as incentive for patrons to spend quality time with cats before providing forever homes. But customers already with cats as pets are welcome, too. "We won't tell your cat at home if you're cheating with another cat," Casimir joked.

"We're at 95 Navasota," said Casimir. "Our other street address is 1401 E. Cesar Chav­ez, and that other lot is going to end up being our parking lot. The one where the piñata store was." 95 Navasota and 1401 E. Cesar Chavez are still owned by F&F Ventures, the landlords who were responsible for the demolition of the Jumpolin building. Neither Jordan French nor Darius Fisher of F&F responded to calls and messages from the Chronicle asking about their new tenant.

A dejected Sergio Lejarazu did reach out to express his dismay. While he and his wife were ousted after running a profitable neighborhood business for eight years, a cafe catering to animals' needs is being welcomed with open arms. Casimir and Gray raised more than $62,000 from the public in just four months, while the Lejarazus have managed to raise about $5,600 since their ouster, have yet to find a new site with affordable rent, and have been forced to operate out of their home since being unceremoniously ousted from their erstwhile business base. "My morale is on the floor," Sergio said in Spanish during a telephone interview. "It's curious they would put us on a lower level than cats. First we were cockroaches, so it is a step up," he joked grimly.

The Lejarazus have sued French and Fisher for the demolition. Their attorney, Doran Peters, said if the site were rented out for parking, it would seem to conflict with an injunction by a judge preventing the site from being developed until the outcome of his clients' lawsuit. "Nothing they do will surprise me," Peters wrote in an email, noting the case is slated for trial late this year or early 2016.

Casimir, meanwhile, described with palpable enthusiasm his Blue Cat Cafe as one of just a few in the U.S. – with similar ventures in D.C., New York City, Denver, and San Fran­cisco – as part of a feline-focused trend begun in Japan. In adherence to food preparation guidelines, the new eatery's food and drink offerings will be prepared in an adjacent food truck, he noted. Given the Leja­ra­zus' plight, they would be welcomed to their former hub with their compliments, he said.

"Obviously, as a tenant, there is not a lot we could do before the dispute and all the negativity that came from that," Casimir said. "We're offering any of their workers to come here, and we'll give them food and coffee on the house. We'll do whatever it takes to take care of them."

The Blue Cat Cafe is scheduled for a mid-September opening.

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Jumpolin, F&F Ventures, Blue Cat Cafe, Rebecca Gray, Jacques Casimir, Jordan French, Darius Fisher, Sergio Lejarazu

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