Downtown Eastside restaurants respond to antipoverty activists

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      Anywhere else, Cartems Donuterie could probably sell $3 pork-sprinkled pastries in peace. But at its pop-up location at 408 Carrall Street across from Pigeon Park on a recent Tuesday morning, area advocate Ivan Drury was causing a scene.

      “The mere fact that this place exists is an aggression,” Drury hollered in the lineup, which was about eight people long, and mostly men in business attire. He stared down the line, asking people: “Excuse me, are you from this neighbourhood?”

      Drury, who had never set foot in Cartems before, was there to tour new eateries in the Downtown Eastside. He’s been the most outspoken activist slamming the restaurants, including organizing a community meeting in March to raise awareness about what he characterizes as their “violent” impact on the residents of the neighbourhood.

      In line, the man just ahead of him said, “Actually, I am from the neighbourhood.”

      He explained that he was Tarry Giannakos, an owner of Revolver Coffee (325 Cambie Street), which opened last summer. “So I guess I’m one of the ones causing problems for you,” he said jovially. “Sorry about that.”

      After an awkward silence, the line moved along and Drury selected a citrus doughnut. Later, Drury refused to eat it or have his photo taken with it, saying that he “felt dirty” having entered Cartems. “If people open a restaurant here, they should realize they’re part of a social cleansing and there’s nothing they can do to make it better,” Drury, a Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council board member, told the Georgia Straight that morning.

      He said a legacy of abusive foster care, residential schools, and prison shape the neighbourhood. It’s a place, he said, where those whose lives have been marked by constant violence can find a sense of stability and acceptance.

      “The capitalist economy comes in with its restaurants, boutiques, and condos, and it’s hostile to those bonds. What can they do to make up for destroying that? Nothing. If restaurant owners want to help the neighbourhood, they should not open restaurants here.”

      It’s a statement that comes after the fact. Over the past several years, plenty of eateries have opened, including Acme Cafe, Save On Meats, Catch 122, and Bitter Tasting Room on West Hastings Street; Au Petit Chavignol on East Hastings Street; Meat & Bread on Cambie Street; Big Lou’s Butcher Shop and Fat Dragon Bar-B-Que on Powell Street; Dunlevy Snackbar on Dunlevy Avenue, and Calabash Bistro on Carrall Street. More are opening soon.

      In the same period, several restaurants serving resident-affordable food have closed, including Uncle Henry’s Restaurant and Flowers Café on East Hastings Street, and Vic’s Restaurant on Main Street. However, many of the new restaurants are giving back to the community. The most famous is Save On Meats, owned by Mark Brand. Each day, his kitchen makes 480 meals for residents of Atira Women’s Resource Society buildings. He says that he “subsidizes” mammoth $1.50 breakfast sandwiches—which include generous ham and real Cheddar—and sells about 200 per day.

      Brand also employs 30 residents of the neighbourhood, a model based on the West Hastings’ Potluck Café & Catering’s social enterprise, which accommodates a wider range of behaviours on the job. And, he told the Straight in a phone interview, he’s helping Grandview elementary start a breakfast program.

      “It’s always a good idea to work with the community you’re in,” he said, pointing out that he attended the entire, hostile, antirestaurant meeting that Drury organized. “But it’s unfair for restaurants to be polarized like this. Mostly, they’re independent operations just trying to do their thing, and for a small group to rally against this is really unfair.”

      Indeed, Wes Regan, executive director of the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association, said restaurants have no ethical obligation to provide food security in the area—although many restaurateurs are going above and beyond.

      “The new breed of business owner down here does this stuff,” he told the Straight in a phone interview, noting that he’s heard Drury’s complaints about how stale, leftover food is given to residents. “We’re not always going to be successful, but we’re getting better and better about how to fit the social components into the business model. The more we do this, the more we learn.”

      Sean Heather, who owns nine eateries and pubs within a five-minute walk from his office at Hastings and Carrall, said no one loses when the drug dealers leave the streets—except the drug dealers. He’s watched them disappear from in front of his businesses since he opened the Irish Heather more than a decade ago.

      “Very few people open down here with the idea that they’re going to change the neighbourhood,” he said in an interview in the lobby of the old B.C. Electric Building, mentioning that he doesn’t like to promote his own charitable activities. “Those that do don’t last long. If your attitude is, ‘Don’t assimilate, dominate’, there’s always a backlash.”

      At this point, though, there’s simply generalized backlash. Heather said Drury recently followed him up the street, shouting, “You’ve got the blood of the poor on your hands!”

      At Cartems, home of Drury’s uneaten snack, owner Jordan Cash donates doughnuts to shelters and works with the Salvation Army’s historical Donut Day fundraiser, among other initiatives.

      “We’re not blind to where we are,” Cash said in a phone interview with the Straight. “Drury is entitled to his feelings, and we welcome a discussion with him. Ultimately, we’re just a business trying to make an honest product, and we’re doing our best to coexist in the area.”



      Lynn Stephanie

      May 2, 2012 at 1:28pm

      Conveniently focused on individuals -- oh the radical activist versus the calm business man -- this article blithely lists the systemic issues as some subjective construct of Drury's "he says..." as though this longstanding community of thousands isn't saying so too and as though Drury isn't a beloved presence for many members of the Downtown Eastside community, as though there aren't many of us in daily confrontation with the influx of self-focused, wealthier consumers. This article focuses on the 'reasonable' propertied, job-provider's right to participate in the gentrification and displacement of the neighbourhood. These narratives are brutalizing, this article is slanted and disappointing. Now, I suppose, to sit back and observe the unfolding of classist, ignorant, entitled commenters that are going to love this piece.


      May 2, 2012 at 1:38pm

      i bet ivan drury isnt even from time i see him i'll tell him to piss off......btw does he have a job??

      teth adam

      May 2, 2012 at 3:01pm

      Drury and other like-minded people do not own the neighbourhood.

      the ghettoization of the DTES is thankfully starting to end.

      vancouver belongs to people working, living and playing in the area. not a wildlife reserve for junkies, pimps and drug dealers.

      Pete M.

      May 2, 2012 at 3:48pm

      It's always insulting to read an article about gentrification that doesn't use the word gentrification...


      May 2, 2012 at 4:12pm

      This interview was 2 hours long, consisting of a tour of high-end restaurants and boutiques that Herb Varley and I conducted for Pieta Woolley. Herb, a Nuu-chah-nulth and Nisga'a man who lives in a gentrifying hotel owned by prominent investor-speculator Stephen Lippman, talked a lot about food security, health, stress, addiction, and low-income peoples sense of belonging being worn away by businesses like the ones fawned over here. Why am I focused on here to the exclusion of Herb? His words were far more interesting and relevant than mine.

      The lens that sets this story up as a conflict between opposing white-men leaders (Mark Brand-Sean Heather versus Ivan Drury) is not the reality of the DTES low-income community. Movements here are led mostly by women and Aboriginal women in particular. But they are often constructed as white-men pissing contests in the media. This story is, unfortunately, another example of the media eye for the white guy.

      thankyou lynnstephanie!

      May 2, 2012 at 4:24pm

      I just read this piece and my heart was already in my throat for the evil poor-bashing that was to spew forth in the comments section and to my surprise lynn's comment was exactly what I wanted to say!! I don't know why so many people in Vancouver look at poverty and poor people with such vile hatred and lack of compassion. It's not fair that people with money and options are allowed to condemn people without either [and say they earned their position of privilege by 'working hard for it']. These people get to be 'right' and they get to be 'sane' and they get to sound 'level headed' - there is a real violence to that silencing. Why do so many support the struggling business person in the Downtown Eastside? These restauranteurs are just there to make money - Why is their struggle more important and more morally sound than those who struggle daily to stay alive in that neighbourhood?


      May 2, 2012 at 5:06pm

      I don't see how small businesses "brutalize" local residents (of which I'm one), and I'd much rather see them flourish than the dealers and pimps who visibly brutalize people, especially women, every day.

      The issue is not gentrification but a lack of provision of social housing and related services.


      May 2, 2012 at 5:09pm

      As a student who is interning at a non-profit in the area, and has two part time jobs to live and study in Vancouver; it makes me sad to think that someone like the likes of Drury could just complain about business that are doing so much to help the area. Save-on-Meats and Boneta under the Mark Brand group have made Gastown and the DTES a destination rather than a place to avoid. They hire so many of my fellow students and provide fantastic food. There will always be complainers - maybe this Drury should get a job.

      Mark E. Mark

      May 2, 2012 at 5:16pm

      It's not a DTES problem. It's a VANCOUVER problem. Price inflation in this town has reached a tipping point (from groceries, to rent, to 10 dollar breakfast burritos), and there will be real consequences if there aren't solutions put forth.


      May 2, 2012 at 5:16pm

      I've lived in the DTES for 20 years. I'm sick of the drugs, boarded up buildings, needles, pawn shops, crooked corner stores, and constant crime. Just because we live down here doesn't mean we love the problems. I look at all those photos from our Hastings past and I see rows of good restaurants, theatres, stores and pubs. This was a working class neighbourhood that's been reduced to trash. It was never meant to be like this and it's not it's permanent state. I welcome the restaurants and coffee shops. Welcome to the DTES!