Former Ovaltine Café employee raises funds to help diner recover from fire

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      A May 28 fire in the alley behind the Ovaltine Café seriously damaged the long-running diner and the historic building near Main and Hastings Street in which it resides. 

      Now, a former employee has launched a GoFundMe to help the business recover from the suspected arson. At the time of writing, it has raised nearly $3,000 in three days.

      Kristen Larson, who started the fundraiser, wrote that the café has an outsized importance to the community in the Downtown Eastside. 

      “Ovaltine patrons treat the staff with respect, often helping to clean up the front walk. It is an integral hub within the community, frequented by many,” Larson wrote. “One of the last remaining affordable restaurants in a rapidly re-developing neighborhood, it is a home away from home for students, seniors, and families in the area.” 

      Larson told Vancouver is Awesome that the café served as “kind of a community centre” for the neighbourhood. 

      “It represents a time that's kind of gone and there's a lot of people left from that time,” she said. "I'd unlock the door at 6:30 am and I'd have a lineup and [everyone saying] 'good morning, the usual.’”

      The restaurant, which has been in business since 1942 and owned by mother-daughter team Grace and Rachel Chen since 2014, is expected to be closed for a potentially significant length of time while damage is assessed. 

      “We were told it could be anywhere from four weeks to four months,” Rachel Chen told Postmedia. She added that her mother has been returning to the café to hand out meals made from restaurant leftovers to ensure no food went to waste.

      The GoFundMe hopes to raise $20,000 in order to “expedite repairs, cover the costs of utilities… and help the employees impacted by this unexpected event.” Six workers are affected by the closure.