The right-wing honcho of the multibillion-dollar Marriott hotel chain, a man named J. Willard Marriott, is supposed to be a smart business guy. But when it comes to understanding anything about getting along with local folks, Mr. J. could use a few lessons. He recently buzzed through Austin, where an outfit called White Lodgings Development Corp. plans to raze an entire downtown block and throw up not one, not two, but three Marriott hotels. Problem is, the rubble that those bulldozers would create includes Las Manitas, a Congress Avenue eatery that is a true Austin icon. This small, funky place, owned by the Perez sisters, not only serves up bodacious Mexican food. It is also a beloved center of political gossip and social activism.
As a result, a robust “Save Las Manitas” campaign has swept the city, and both the mayor and the project developer have rushed out to assure the outraged citizenry that, somehow, this Austin treasure will be accommodated. J. Willard then bulled his way into the fray. In an explosion of ignorance and arrogance, he thumbed his nose at the Perez sisters and all of Austin. “Why should you hold up a several hundred million dollar investment because of a small little restaurant?” he asked. “The restaurant can relocate and should relocate.”
He might as well have climbed atop the Texas Capitol dome and urinated on us as to throw that little public tantrum. Besides, Marriott already has three hotels downtown—let him move.
Las Manitas represents the best of Austin. Let’s not let King Marriott shove our “small little restaurant” around.
Former Observer editor Jim Hightower is a speaker and author. To subscribe to his newsletter, the Hightower Lowdown, call toll-free 1-866-271-4900. For more information about Las Manitas, see www.savelasmanitas.org.