How Fraserhood became a Vancouver foodie hub

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      A few years after Andreas Seppelt and his business partner opened Les Faux Bourgeois in 2007 just off the intersection of Kingsway and Fraser Street, a reporter called him to get his thoughts on the City of Vancouver’s proposal to give the neighbourhood a new name. Nestled on the cusp of Mount Pleasant and Kensington–Cedar Cottage, it was to be called Little Saigon.

      The branding came about as a result of a grassroots campaign in support of recognizing the contribution Vietnamese residents had made to the area, but it wasn’t wholly embraced; some people signed a petition to stop the change, opposed to the idea of attention being given to one group over others. These days, a few small lamppost signs tout the title, but the diverse community that surrounds that busy intersection could easily go by another moniker.

      “I loved the idea of Little Saigon; we did actually buy an old pho joint,” Seppelt says on the line from what could have been called Pho Bourgeois. “I’ve heard some people say it could be called Little Portland. It’s distinct; it’s an eclectic little pocket.”

      The reference to the vibrant, progressive Oregon city known for its food, arts, and all things hip seems apt as the East Vancouver neighbourhood continues to flourish.

      On the dining front, Les Faux Bourgeois was one of the first restaurants to set up in what is now known as Fraserhood. Before that there was the Lion’s Den Cafe and several long-established pho shops; soon after came Los Cuervos and Sal y Limón. Then Osteria Savio Volpe, widely considered one of the best restaurants in the entire city, moved in; so too, more recently, did Crowbar (which refers on its website to the area bordered by Kingsway, Fraser, and East 15th Avenue as the “golden triangle”) and the Twin Peaks–themed Black Lodge.

      The Lion's Den Cafe is a comfy hideaway in the same block as the more upscale Les Faux Bourgeois.

      Meanwhile, coffee lovers have Bows & Arrows, Matchstick, Bean Around the World, and Prado to choose from. A little farther afield are Earnest Ice Cream, Greek restaurant Nammos Estiatorio, and Mensch Jewish Delicatessen, which is fast becoming famous for its pastrami, lox, and egg salad.

      And although Mega iLL and its pot-infused pizzas are gone, you can still find fresh pizza as well as bubble tea, beef jerky, jellyfish salad, ginger beef, Taiwanese meatballs, tempura strips, curry dishes, and more—all in the same neighbourhood where there are guns for sale, grassy parks for picnics and kickball, community gardens, sweeping views of the North Shore mountains, co-op brewing sessions, art classes and workshops, and comedy jams.

      Seppelt has lived a few blocks from FauxBo with his family for almost 11 years, and he says that the influx of eateries has invigorated the community he calls home.

      “Things have started happening in the neighbourhood,” he says. “There’s sort of an increased level of activity, and more and more people who maybe haven’t ventured into the depths of East Van and are coming here and going, ‘Hey, this is really nice!’ We were kind of whispering to ourselves with anticipation that that’s exactly what would happen.

      “You could literally almost see it from the moment Volpe came in. There was literally a bounce, a distinct bounce, and you could see it, a different crowd. We get quite a diverse crowd anyway, but there’s a lot of faces we haven’t seen before.

      Osteria Savio Volpe

      “I’ve always loved this little pocket and thought it was one of the more unique pockets in the city,” he adds. “I remember thinking, ‘Man, this is just magic here.’ There were moments when the street was a little rough-and-tumble. But we just felt really good about the ’hood and this little pocket, this sweet little triangle. It almost has a bit of a European roundabout feel.”

      With Les Faux Bourgeois, the owners wanted to offer something that didn’t exist in the area previously.

      “When you go to this part of the East Side, other than the wonderful plethora of Asian spots, you’ve basically got pubs,” Seppelt says. “We wanted to offer people the chance to have a glass of wine and a good snack and that was reasonable [pricewise].”

      Paul Grunberg has a similar story when it comes to Fraserhood. One of the owners of Savio Volpe—a relaxed, handsome Italian restaurant with a wood-fired oven that emphasizes dining alla famiglia and is routinely packed—he also lives in the area, having moved there from Yaletown after becoming a father.

      “I always wanted to have a neighbourhood restaurant, a place where I envisioned people could get off work and pop by for a beer, sit at the counter, and maybe have a snack or a bowl of pasta or in the evenings they could come and sit, have a beer or a glass of wine with pasta or steak or whatever in your own neighbourhood so you didn’t have to go downtown or go to Gastown. Vancouver has a lack of neighbourhood-style restaurants. I live in that area, and there was a want and a need.

      Savio Volpe won best new restaurant in the Georgia Straight's recent Best of Vancouver balloting.

      “There’s a lot of families and professionals moving to this area,” he says. “Because of its density and because of its restaurant life, it’s starting to be a little more of a community, and people are attracted to that. It’s a great place to raise a family and a great place to live in Vancouver, and you’re still very, very close to everything. The area is really on the come-up.”

      It certainly seems so. The rise of this little area could be attributed to “clustering”—the term describing the phenomenon of companies or organizations from the same industry gathering together in close proximity. Research has shown that the growth of newcomers increases the intensity of clustering, and that in turn just means more growth, more new entrants. At its most basic, the cluster theory holds that competition breeds innovation, which leads to excellence.

      Jeremy Pigeon, co-owner of Crowbar along with William Johnson (former bar manager at L’Abattoir), moved to the area recently himself after living near the nondescript intersection of Broadway and Oak Street. Crowbar, which also describes itself as a neighbourhood restaurant, has creative cocktails and fare that ranges from snacks like potato skins (with or without caviar) and fried pickles to foie-gras torchon and smoked sturgeon. Pigeon says he’s been pleasantly surprised by how receptive the community has been.

      “I thought it would be a little bit of a slower start, to be honest, but right off the bat it’s been busy since day one,” Pigeon says. “It’s the new fork in the road in Vancouver. Savio’s doing great things across the street; Faux Bourgeois laid the groundwork for the corner and took the gamble. You’ve got Sal y Limón and Black Lodge; everything’s so different.

      Los Cuervos is a hit with lovers of tapas.

      “I live 10 blocks from here and I love the neighbourhood,” he adds. “It’s a little bit edgy. Ten years ago, it was pretty dark over here; there wasn’t a lot going on. The area still looks a little bit rugged, but that gives it character. I like what’s going on down Fraser, with all the little spots popping up, and I think it’s going to continue to grow.”

      Drew Johnson and Nate Sabine started Bows & Arrows Coffee Roasters in Victoria and chose Fraserhood as the place for their Vancouver-based café and restaurant. Aside from pastries and fair-trade coffee, they serve dishes like chicken-liver parfait with cherry gastrique and cured and smoked Haida Gwaii salmon. Their pastry chef, Trevor Pruegger, used to work at Thomas Haas, and all of the bread- and pastry-making, as well as preserving and curing, is done in-house by chef Daniel Crossin.

      “I think it’s going to be a new hub,” Johnson says. “It’s the kind of up-and-coming neighbourhood I was looking for. We had looked downtown, but for square footage, it’s [the cost is] crazy. Coming from Victoria, the area has a similar feel. There’s a real loyalty to neighbourhood businesses. It’s nice to have people come in from the neighbourhood and make us feel welcome. We wanted a place people could stop in on their way to work or on their way home. It had a good feel.”

      The only thing about Fraserhood’s growth that has made FauxBo’s Seppelt pause is that it didn’t happen sooner.

      “I was surprised it took so long for it to reach its tipping point. I thought it would come faster. When we first opened we had a sense of whistling in the dark, but I always felt really good about this little pocket. We had a good summer even though we’re not a patio place. It’s been remarkably vibrant.”