A classic diner and commissary kitchen in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is undergoing a transformation but it isn’t closing—in fact, it’s actually ramping up its efforts to ensure access to food security in its community.
Save On Meats co-owner Ash MacLeod told the Georgia Straight by phone, just before helping to prepare the evening’s drag show, that they want everyone to know they are remaining open for business and are excited about the changes that they’ve been implementing over the course of this month to serve their neighbourhood better.
For those unfamiliar with the backstory, Save On Meats originally opened as a butcher shop in 1957 and closed in 2009. A new team relaunched it in 2011 as a social-enterprise diner (retaining the landmark neon sign).
MacLeod said that they’re going to be “focusing on some the aspects of our business that have just taken up more meat than they have previously” (he subsequently apologized for the “genuinely unintended” pun).
That’s because a lot of their initiatives have been a hit for all involved.
As an example, MacLeod said A Better Life Foundation's Plenty of Plates event has ramped up in frequency from once every two to weeks to up to twice or three times per week—and he’s anticipating it’ll be even more next year.
“Various groups and teams come down the diner and volunteer to prepare a three-course meal and then we serve it to some marginalized folks who live in the neighbourhood,” he explained about the event. “What we’re really finding is the reason why it’s catching on is because a lot of fun for people on both sides of the service but is also a really excellent tool to help combat some of the stigma that surrounds our neighbourhood and the people that make up our unique social fabric.”
He also cited events like their biweekly drag show Late-Night Snack, which uses the diner as a stage.
They’ve also increased their production of distributed community meals from about 800 to over 1,000 over this past year and their sandwich token program, which can be purchased for $2.25 and given to those in need of a meal, is still going strong with 60 to 80 tokens every day.
As these events and programs become more of a focus and take up more staffing and organizational resources, they have reduced their lunch service from about 50 to 60 seats to 14. However, it’s still operating, and will have a greater focus on take-out and delivery.
MacLeod said the menu is “slimmed down” but he noted that 75 percent of the orders were for burgers. He added that they have expanded their breakfast sandwich offerings to include breakfast croissant and a BELCH (bacon, egg, lettuce, and cheese on a potato bun).
Amid all the changes (which will be officially launched in the new year), MacLeod invites all Vancouverites to come down to 43 West Hastings Street as the establishment is not just about helping people to benefit from food but also from human connection.