- Matthew Odam American-Statesman Staff
East Side Pies pizzeria owners Noah Polk and Michael Freid, who have been the target of harassment sparked by the fake online news story known as “Pizzagate,” appeared at their Airport Boulevard location Thursday to announce an anti-bullying partnership with East Austin nonprofit Creative Action.
With every purchase from East Side Pies, customers can donate $1 to Creative Action, which “supports the academic, social and emotional development of young people.”
The restaurant owners say they will confront bullying head on, but Polk felt it was important to support groups working with children.
Creative Action teaches anti-bullying and leadership skills to children in five Central Texas school districts, using interactive performances and role-playing that offer students solutions in the face of bullying.
“What Creative Action does is unique in that we are using the creative arts. So it is a super-engaging program, so students are really learning without feeling like they are learning,” said Shobie Partos, director of school and community partnerships for Creative Action.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s office reached out to East Side Pies on Wednesday and connected the owners with the anti-bullying group.
“Who knew the mayor’s office was so cool?” Polk said.
“It’s important to me that we have each other’s back in Austin, and I’m heartened to see the community rally to support the folks at East Side Pies when they were under attack,” Adler told the American-Statesman.
The East Side Pies owners and Partos announced their joint effort hours after the second occurrence of vandalism in two days at the Airport Boulevard location.
Austin police said Wednesday they are questioning a “person of interest” in their investigation of the online harassment of East Side Pies that began last week. The man was arrested on an unrelated charge by Pflugerville police but is not facing any charges by the Austin Police Department.
Pflugerville Assistant Police Chief Jim McLean confirmed “an active investigation” was underway by Austin police of James Christian Lowery of Pflugerville. The Statesman obtained the arrest warrant affidavit for Lowery, who was arrested Tuesday on a charge of deadly conduct after firing a weapon in the air at his home on Dec. 2.
“Pizzagate,” a debunked conspiracy that attempted to tie associates of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to an underage sex-trafficking ring run out of the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., may sound ridiculous to some, but East Side Pies’ owners have seen the disturbing effects of fake news.
“The story is fake; the threat is real,” Polk said.
Polk said many customers have expressed sympathy and dismay about the events.
“Our customers have truly rallied around us,” Polk said. “We’re going to continue to do what we do every day, which is serving great pizzas to Austin. None of this is going to stop us from doing what we do.”
Polk said Austin police responded quickly and seriously to their initial complaints this week and urge anyone enduring similar harassment to follow suit.
“Stand up and don’t be bullied,” Polk said. “If you feel threatened, reach out to the local authorities.”