An upscale restaurant that has been criticized for its choice of name since its opening date is facing pressure to change it from a Vancouver policy council.
Owners Alex Kyriazis and Ari Demosten opened the Latin American–inspired restaurant Escobar at 4245 Fraser Street in East Vancouver's Fraserhood on May 11.
The establishment, featuring a menu that incorporates Latin American– and Spanish–influenced food and drink, shares the same name as Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.
Protestors expressed their opposition to the name by protesting outside the establishment's opening night and an online petition asking for the name to be changed has been signed by over 1,700 signatories.
In April, Demosten had previously told the Georgia Straight in an interview that they were taken by surprise and shocked at the controversy that arose over the name.
“All I can really say is that Escobar is just a play on words, emphasizing ‘bar’ and Latin influence,” Demosten stated. “We aren’t trying to celebrate in anyway the negative elements of drug cartels, violence, or murder. We’re really here celebrating a Latin American-inspired bar atmosphere.”
Now, the Vancouver Food Policy Council (VFPC) is questioning why the restaurant is being allowed to continue to operate with this name.
The mandate of the VFPC, which advises Vancouver city council on food policy and systems, includes ensuring that all food for citizens is “safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate” and is “produced, processed, marketed, consumed, and waste products reused or managed in a manner that protects the health and dignity of people”.
On October 30, the VFPC published an open letter on its website in solidarity with concerns raised by members of Latin American communities about the restaurant.
The letter questions how this establishment is being permitted to continue to operate "while bearing the name of a known terrorist and murderer"?
"When a restaurant is named after someone who is responsible for heinous crimes, mass displacement and the death of thousands of people, it automatically targets, victimizes, and alienates members of the community who have been affected by those historical events," the letter states.
It goes on to add that the name "makes light of a painful period in Colombia’s history under the guise of entertainment; it trivializes the oppressive infrastructures set up by Escobar during his reign of terror, which continue to affect people’s lives in Colombia and around the world to this day."
The council notes that the Colombian Embassy in Canada, the Consulate of Colombia in Vancouver, and Latin American community members have all expressed their opposition to the "culturally inappropriate decision" for the name.
"A restaurant that is named after a known terrorist and glorifies drug trafficking culture, as in the case of Escobar, cannot be a cause for celebration," the letter states. "Escobar restaurant’s publicity strategy glorifies violence, and has leveraged outrage and shock for its own benefit; this ignores the trauma of people affected by drug trafficking and the war on drugs."
The council claims that the owners have been unwilling "to engage in dialogue with members of the Latin American community after many attempts, and antagonistic responses towards those who have raised questions about their business, contradict what we believe to be a just and sustainable food system built on respect and dignity".
It also claims that restaurant team members "block and delete comments and reviews from concerned community members on social media".
The council states that the business fails to operate under the principles of the Vancouver Food Charter as "the business threatens people’s dignity and personal and social well-being, and fails to reflect meaningful dialogue between community and the food sector".
The council calls upon the City of Vancouver to "review and take action on the concerns we have laid out".
When the Georgia Straight contacted Escobar today (November 6) to verify the claims in the letter, Demosten agreed to an interview to be conducted at a later date.
Other establishments around the world have used the name Escobar, including nightclubs in Toronto and Montreal and restaurants in Singapore, Mumbai, and Atlanta.