Abdul Momeni and Ashton Chevallier have never met each other—even though they both used to work at Cisco, in the same building, no less.
Unbeknownst to the other, Momeni and Chevallier both started GoFundMe accounts to help raise money for downtown businesses that sustained property damage during the protests ignited by George Floyd’s death last month.
Yet through those independent efforts, they’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars.
Chevallier, his wife Farran and their friend, Archie Garcia and his girlfriend, Jamie Tryforos garnered $14,210 from June 1 to 23.
In that same time period, Momeni’s drive through the San Jose Downtown Foundation raised $16,435. More than 100 people donated to the cause.
By the end of last week, some 18 downtown businesses had received $1,700 each from the fundraising. Employees of the San Jose Downtown Association—Executive Director Scott Knies, Nathan Ulsh, Nate LeBlanc and Chloe Shipp—hand-delivered checks to the recipients last Friday. Ulsh credited Knies for his leadership and SJDA Board President Ramona Snyder for approving the Rebuilding Downtown project.
The businesses that received assistance include Chacho’s, CubaMex, Elyse, Flames Eatery and Bar, Forager, Grace Deli and Café, Guggenheim Entertainment/3 Below Theaters, Hotworx, Local Color, Mezcal, Miniboss, Mumbai Local, Picasso’s Tapas, Pizza My Heart, Rec Room, The Ritz, Smoke Eaters and Temple.
Adolfo Gomez’s Mezcal was one of the businesses hit hardest by the looters, who stole $14,300 worth of alcohol and caused $5,700 in property damage. The veteran restaurateur said he’s been overwhelmed with the show of support for downtown businesses—not just after the protests, but since the pandemic-related shutdown began.
“Something like this is uplifting,” Gomez said. “What they’re basically saying is, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together and we want to support the businesses because if one business closes, that affects all of us. The money will help—anything will help—but more than anything, the support has been uplifting.”
Chevallier and Momeni both have a passion for downtown and the business owners who give it life. Momeni used to work at San Jose Bar and Grill and has friends who own businesses in downtown, while Chevallier has lived in downtown since 2015. “We [Chevalliers, Garcia and Tryforos) spend a lot of time in downtown, so we know all of the local business owners and they know us,” Ashton said. “The reason I live in downtown is because of the small businesses—they really make this place kind of special.”
In raising funds for the downtown businesses, Chevallier and Momeni said they wanted to aid the owners while still giving full support for the peaceful protestors and the anti-racist message they sought to amplify. All told, they say that mission’s accomplished.
“I’m all for peaceful protesting, especially against police brutality,” said Momeni, who owns Studio 34 Salon near Oakridge Mall and works as a senior scrum master-team leader at FireEye, a cybersecurity company in Milpitas. “When the looting happened, I just remember thinking, ‘These poor guys are trying to open their businesses back up and now this happens.' So I created a GoFundMe account, which I had never done before.”
Momeni reached out to a couple of city government officials who got him connected with the SJDA. Chevallier said the SJDA and City Hall helped legitimize his GoFundMe account, a key reason why the fundraising took off the way it did.
“We were able to get the legitimacy needed to make sure people trusted us with fundraising efforts to the point where it would be effective,” Chevallier said. “They helped spread the word. Our description [of the account] and relative reputation within the San Jose community also helped, because we’re all very active on the local San Jose community boards on Facebook and other outlets.”
The compassion Chevallier and Momeni felt led to action, and in collaboration with the SJDA, the fundraising efforts soared. Momeni empathized with the downtown business owners because he’s also one himself.
“I’ve been paying my employees [at Salon 34 Studio] because they couldn’t get unemployment,” he told San Jose Inside. “I was selling personal stocks that were making money and giving that to employees so they would have a paycheck. With that in mind, that is what made me want to help.”