Mairin Cooley describes Vancouver’s newest vegetarian eatery as a “cozy, bright, happy place to be”. But don’t call the artist-turned-restaurateur the “owner” of the Slow Bean (99 West Pender Street).
“Owning is a purely capitalist notion,” Cooley told the Georgia Straight by phone from the Crosstown café.
Last week, the Slow Bean opened at the Nines, an artist-run “slow food and culture club” at the corner of West Pender and Abbott streets. Occupying a formerly vacant one-floor, detached building, the Nines features an art gallery and a dining room that doubles as an exhibition space.
Cooley, a 29-year-old videographer and video artist who lives in Chinatown, is the director of the Drop Out Video Arts Society, which started up the Nines in June. According to her, the 1,200-square-foot space with a “diner, drive-in, gas station kind of feel” has hosted music and arts shows in partnership with Music Waste, the Heart of the City Festival, and Simon Fraser University’s music program.
But the operator of the Nines noted that a vegetarian café, with vegan options, was always part of the plans for the community arts space.
“It’s a business that enables us as a group to have a foundation here at the Nines that has a certain level of consistency, that allows us to offer employment, training, and learning opportunities for our staff, and opportunities for members of the community to have access to inexpensive, healthy food, and also opportunities for them to even host their own events,” Cooley said.
The Slow Bean offers daily specials but no set menu. Customers choose between a “bowl of hot” (small $3.50, large $5) and a “plate of hot fresh cool” (regular $5, platter $8). On one day this week, the bowl featured hot spinach tomato potato soup on brown rice while the plate came with hot soup, a fresh spinach arugula cabbage salad, and a cold rice garbanzo carrot dill salad.
Cooley said that everything is made from scratch. She described the food as “refreshing and tangy”.
“The taste should be like the feeling of fullness that you get when you eat something really healthy, really wholesome,” Cooley said. “It’s a good feeling—almost like a joy and happiness—when you know that you’ve done something good for yourself. That’s the kind of reaction that people get when they eat here.”
She maintained the café’s goal is to serve food that’s accessible to residents of the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.
“I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that there’s a lot of struggling artists and young professionals in the Downtown Eastside,” Cooley said. “I consider that my community. But I also consider people who are working and who are trying to make a positive impact in our neighbourhood part of my community. It’s just a notion that involves the philosophy that people are trying to get together to make our neighbourhood function better.”
The Slow Bean is open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. While those hours cover lunch and (early) dinner, Cooley noted they’re considering adding brunch.
“It’s a very-authentic-feeling, sincere effort made by people who are responding to a need in our neighbourhood,” Cooley said of the Slow Bean. “After much thought, it was decided to do things this way, because that’s the kind of business that we want to see happen and that helps make our lives better.”