Cuchillo restaurant management responds to Vancouver anti-gentrification picketers

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      The co-owner of a new upscale eatery in the Downtown Eastside has responded to critics picketing his restaurant, telling the Straight that he doesn’t have much of a response.

      “I don’t really have anything to say about it,” said John Cooper, general manager of Cuchillo restaurant. “We’re just a couple of guys who put in every cent we had…and built a restaurant. And now we’re trying to focus on its operations.”

      Cuchillo officially opened for businesses near the corner of Powell Street and Gore Avenue on June 30, 2013. Five days later, roughly 35 people were picketing outside its front door, decrying the Latin restaurant as a “knife in the heart of the community.”

      At that July 5 demonstration, Richard Marquez, a housing activist and social worker in the area, told the Straight that the opening of upscale restaurants like Cuchillo begin a process of gentrification that pushes low-income earners out of the neighbourhoods they call home.

      “It’s a transformation that happens step-by-step, culturally,” he said. “These restaurants are the beginning of a new narrative of displacement in the Downtown Eastside.”

      Four blocks from Cuchillo, pickets outside PiDGin restaurant at 350 Carrall Street have occurred Tuesday through Saturday since February 5, 2013.

      A July 8 media release emailed to the Straight from the same account that’s been used to organize the PiDGin protests promised that demonstrations outside Cuchillo will continue on a daily basis.

      The anti-gentrification activists' demands include a reduction and freeze on rents in the social housing units that exist in the building above Cuchillo, and the construction of more housing for low-income earners in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

      On July 5 some 30-40 picketers staged what they vowed would be the first of many protests outside Cuchillo restaurant at Powell and Gore.
      Travis Lupick

      Cooper, who owns Cuchillo together with Stuart Irving, said that he doesn’t have an opinion on gentrification.

      “I don’t, really,” he said. “I certainly feel like someone who has a social context, but I don’t really know enough to have an opinion. That’s not where my area of expertise is. I’m not an activist, I’m a restaurateur.”

      Pressed on why he and Irving selected the specific location of 261 Powell Street for Cuchillo, Cooper said they liked some of the existing interior features and, while they might have preferred to be in Gastown, found the Downtown Eastside location’s lower rent made more sense from a business standpoint.

      “It was just one of the locations that we looked at and we thought we could do something nice with it,” he said. “It was priced—I can’t say reasonably, because there’s nothing priced reasonably in Vancouver. It just seemed like it was the right fit for what we could do something with.”

      Cooper maintained that he and Irving have accepted there’s little they can do about the picketers, and simply intend on forging ahead, focusing on creating a “great experience” for customers.

      “The only area where I would really feel that we would need to do something is if people were not being safe,” he said. “Other than that, it’s really not in my hands.”

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      Jul 8, 2013 at 6:24pm

      Brave, brave protesters...afraid to show their faces ! "Artists against Cuchillo!" .....that's rich. Why ? So they can have cheap rent studios and then sell their works for ridiculous prices. Gimme a break....their duplicity is absurd !


      Jul 8, 2013 at 6:29pm

      Hard work and risk are what move an ecomony forward, building a tax base to help fund the social programs for those less fortunate. Businesses like these provide the perfect opportunity for employment where a high level of trainging or education isn't necessary.

      These restauranteurs should be applauded not protested, glorified, not vilified. Look to these entrepreneurs for inspiration for wanting to build something special, to make something of themselves.

      I understand not everyone is afforded the same gifts in upbringing, health, intellect or mental stability. What I struggle to understand is why work so hard to protect a bottom, when you can, like these restauranteurs, reach for the top.

      I will pray that the protestors put there energys to better use and wish Cuchillo all the best... I hear the food is fantastic!


      Jul 8, 2013 at 6:42pm

      The property was for sale/lease...if the activists were concerned, why are they not leasing these properties and doing something with them? Perhaps an artist run facility. There has to be enough money...if they pool their resources and collect donations, they could easily outright buy some of these formerly derelict properties. I mean, if something is for sale/lease any one can pursue it. This is not Soviet Russia. I don't feel sorry for the business owner since he has to be a moron to not know there is controversy, but at the same time, the property was available so he leased it. There is nothing wrong with that. I sometimes think many of these "activists" are not long term residents. I was born in Vancouver and have lived in Mount Pleasant long enough to remember when it was REALLY, "you don't go out at night" scary. Ditto East Hastings. It's time for change down there. Let it happen and be part of it or shut up.


      Jul 8, 2013 at 6:47pm

      Good Luck to them! They are brave, innovative people who are doing something to make the city better.

      About ten years ago, there used to be a few decent Japanese restaurants nearby on Powell. These were among the last remnants of the area's legacy as a home for Japanese-Canadians. But even they were chased off by drug dealers and misery agents that are protesting today.

      Years from now, the city's efforts to reclaim our beautiful downtown core will be celebrated every day with life, vitality and hope. History will remember the Jean Swansons and Pedersens of this era as misguided Luddites who preserved and inadvertently created more of the misery they claimed they wanted to end.

      This battle is over, and the citizens of Vancouver are winning. It's time to accept that the future of social housing will be scattered throughout the city...not centralized into a single hell hole.


      Jul 8, 2013 at 7:01pm

      Did you read their list of demands? These are not serious people. This is fantasy. This does not mean that they are not angry or dangerous people, unfortunately.

      Bob Smith

      Jul 8, 2013 at 7:46pm

      Sounds like Cuchillo has a smart general manager. There is nothing to gain trying to reason with these protestors. As a resident of the Dtes, I will support this restaurant just like I have been doing with Pidgin.

      Doug EVan

      Jul 8, 2013 at 8:39pm

      Screw these "protesters"!! What do THEY do to improve the neighborhood? NOTHING. They only piss on it every day.

      Nobody should be supporting these useless malcontents. SOME people are trying to IMPROVE Gastown. If people want shelters (and I do, too), they should do it POLITICALLY, not by destroying the hard work of decent people.

      Jane Tikawa

      Jul 8, 2013 at 8:47pm

      Remind me again why social housing has to be located in some of the most valuable waterfront property in the city? So we can pay even more for social housing?

      Rick in Richmond

      Jul 8, 2013 at 9:44pm

      The Pidgin picket failed for the same reasons the Cuchillo picket will fail.

      It has almost no public support. There are 17,000 people in the DTES. These pickets attract barely one-tenth of one percent of that number.

      It has caused enormous internal dissent. On June 13, the democratically-elected Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council pulled its support for the picket: "The DNC shares many of the goals of the anti-gentrification protesters, but feels that the specific actions in front of 350 Carrall St. have served their purpose. The DNC therefor disagrees with the continuation of this action, and calls on the protesters to move on."

      The picket has squandered any goodwill it might have earned. If your issue is housing, why attack a restaurant? Straight readers, as liberal and progressive as they come, overwhelmingly side with the restaurants and against these pointless pickets. Just read their comments.

      The Cuchillo picket will go the way of the Pidgin picket: nowhere.

      If these people want public housing, they should organize a co-op and build it themselves. To do otherwise is to admit laziness and concede defeat.


      Jul 8, 2013 at 9:59pm

      Yeah I'd like to live downtown close to my work, where is MY social housing?! If you can't afford to live there, you move somewhere cheaper. The world does not owe you a living.