Protesters target Cuchillo as another symbol of gentrification in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

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      Anti-gentrification activists are calling it the “next PiDGin”, promising another long campaign against the newest upscale eatery in the Downtown Eastside.

      Cuchillo opened at 261 Powell Street on June 30, according to the restaurant’s Twitter feed. Less than one week later, the Latin restaurant is about to become the subject of “daily” pickets, organizers vowed.

      “We’re calling it a stabbing in the heart of the Downtown Eastside,” said Richard Marquez at a gathering outside Cuchillo held earlier this evening (July 5). “It’s in the bottom of a single-room occupancy hotel called the York Rooms....Up above, the conditions are putrid and deteriorating. Upstairs, people are struggling with food security issues, affordability, nutritional deficiencies, and health challenges. They have no kitchens, no bathrooms. But downstairs, they put in more than a million [dollars] in a brand new spanking kitchen to provide dining for the wealthy.”

      The social worker and self-described antidisplacement activist said Downtown Eastside residents are worried that the introduction of establishments like Cuchillo are the beginning of a gentrification process that will eventually push low-income earners out of the area.

      He explained it like this: Real-estate developers buy towers in low-income neighbourhoods for relatively low prices. They lease ground-level space to upscale bars and restaurants for cheap. Wealthier people perceive the neighbourhood as beginning to change for the better, and follow the nice restaurants into the lower-income areas. A growing demand for residential real estate then begins to increase property values, driving up rents and the rates those ground-level boutiques were paying. And slowly but surely, the low-income earners who were occupying those buildings before the real-estate developer came along find themselves squeezed out of the market, and forced out of the neighbourhood.

      “We’re seeing this play out in Brooklyn, in Queens, in San Francisco in the Tenderloin district, and now we’re seeing it here,” Marquez said. “It’s a transformation that happens step-by-step, culturally. These restaurants are the beginning of a new narrative of displacement in the Downtown Eastside.”

      Cuchillo restaurant sits on the ground floor beneath social housing units occupied by some of the poorest residents of the area.
      Travis Lupick

      Among 30 to 40 protestors standing alongside Marquez at the Cuchillo picket was Homeless Dave, who earlier this year staged a hunger strike to bring attention to calls for social housing; Herb Varley, who recently led an anti-gentrification protest attended by some 200 people; and Wendy Pedersen, a prominent housing activist and long-time resident of the DTES.

      Pedersen told the Straight that the community is asking for assistance with housing in the form of two key demands.

      The first, that the single-occupancy rooms in the York hotel above Cuchillo have their rent frozen at $375 a month, the amount allotted for housing to people on welfare. And two, for the government to put forward and act on a realistic plan to create 5,000 social housing units that would alleviate the Downtown Eastside’s homelessness problem.

      “Residents living in the area where Cuchillo restaurant is and where this York Hotel is, the residents nearby, they have the lowest income in the region,” Pedersen noted. “Seventy-five percent of the residents here live on $7,000 a year. That’s not very much.”

      She told the crowd that pickets would continue daily at 6:00 p.m., as they would some four blocks away outside PiDGin restaurant, where protesters have gathered Tuesday through Saturday for five months now, since February 5.

      Wendy Pedersen holds the mic for Homeless Dave.
      Travis Lupick

      Cuchillo’s Facebook page describes the establishment as Latin American, serving “modern pan-Latin tapas with unique and classic cocktail creations in the sexiest room in town(s).” The dollar cost of single-portion items on the menu mostly ranged in the mid-to-high teens.

      Inside the restaurant, about as many customers as there were protestors outside dined comfortably, with ambient music muting chanted calls for affordable housing.

      The Straight was told Cuchillo’s general manager, John Cooper, was around but working, and not available for comment.

      Staff chatted casually about the group outside. “I thought there would be more,” one hostess remarked.

      July 8, 2013 update: Cuchillo restaurant management responds to Vancouver anti-gentrification picketers.

      Travis Lupick
      Travis Lupick
      Travis Lupick
      Travis Lupick
      Travis Lupick

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      Greg Norgaard

      Jul 6, 2013 at 3:32am

      It is well known that "homeless Dave" isn't homeless, why not start calling him "jobless Dave" or even "give me more attention Dave"?
      Why don't these people picket city hall either? Picketing restaurants isn't going to help their cause at all, start picketing the people that can actually help with the housing problems that the DTES is suffering from.


      Jul 6, 2013 at 7:04am the protests have deteriorated from stupid to downright racist.


      Jul 6, 2013 at 7:21am

      The poor and the sick, just barely surviving, in run down rooms with no kitchens just above a pricey trendy restaurant with a million dollar kitchen for the rich.

      This is so unbelievable but it is actually happening in today's Vancouver.

      For all those who will be customers, will make money from it, were involved with the zoning permits and gentrification-shame on you.
      You are misery promoters.

      teth adam

      Jul 6, 2013 at 7:41am

      picket the drug dealers, hookers and welfare offices. oh, sorry, forgot they are all victims and not responsible for their actions. it was someone else's fault! my bad!

      they deserve their personal ghetto near the core of a metropolitan centre. urban renewal and improvement to the area is not an option!


      Jul 6, 2013 at 7:51am

      I have sympathy for the DTES crowd. But they make the city a sad and depressing place to live--they pee on sidewalks, shit on bathroom floors, and frankly don't do any work and don't seem to want to do any work. Vancouver has more services and housing for the no-income crowd than any city I've ever been in. In NYC--where I come from--those DTES protestors would have been cleared out weeks ago.

      The homeless disappeared from New York years ago. And it's true that NYC real estate prices have gone through the roof. But artists and the ambitious still find ways to live in New York. Good cities like NYC have beautiful architecture and beautiful people.

      Vancouver's problem is one of too many homeless and wealthy transients, and of too few artists, hipsters, and intellectuals who are creative, cool, funky, and want to stick around.

      Rick in Richmond

      Jul 6, 2013 at 8:09am

      As with their failed picket at Pidgin, these people are going after the wrong target. Again.

      Chuchillo has neither real nor symbolic power. A restaurant is a ridiculous target for people who demand public housing.

      The picketers claim they are "drawing a line in the sand". Turns out, they are drawing it in their sandbox.

      In the real world, like Greg Norgaard says, they would go after BC Housing, or City Hall, or the Parliament Buildings.

      The Mayor and the Premier are laughing behind their hands. Their opponents keep chasing the wrong targets.

      City profits from gentrification / social housing for all

      Jul 6, 2013 at 8:25am

      As one of the protestor's signs, in a photo above points out, the City profits from gentrification in that it leads to rising property values, which in turn lead to rising tax revenues. This is one of the key reasons the City facilitates gentrification. While all the municipal political parties loudly declaim the problem of homelessness and the precarious position of renters due to redevelopment, the City is actually quietly promoting gentrification (tho of course they'd never use the word or admit they are promoting it). Certainly Vision and the NPA will continue on this path, all the while talking about their support of social housing, but there talk is just to placate Vancouverites, and their commitments to social housing are only symbolic. Vancouver needs a political party with a platform that explicitly calls for a program of social housing. The huge majority of Vancouverites would jump at an opportunity to escape the grinding burden of extortionate rents and a life time of mortgage payments. Social housing should be for all, not just poor people. A program of universal social housing would be hugely popular. Consider this: if our universal medical plan was available only to poor people (like Medicare in the US) then this program would have few advocates, but because it is universal and all benefit from it, an overwhelming majority of Canadians support it.


      Jul 6, 2013 at 9:32am

      Here's a news flash for protesters who would like to preserve slums. Set some loftier goals for yourself. The people who worked hard to start their own business did...and you think it's your right to take that away from them ?


      Jul 6, 2013 at 9:55am

      5,000 units of social housing to solve the homelessness problem? Hasn't this guy ever heard the phrase "If you build it, they will come?". Homes aren't going to solve the larger issues of mental health and addiction.

      D. Sutherland

      Jul 6, 2013 at 10:13am

      Developers, land owners, business owners and politicians have been trying to "gentrify" DTES since the sixties that is almost 50 years. There have been waves of minor and major development during all that time. The effect has been minimal as the iimpoverished population in the area has grown and small family run businesses have disappeared as their clients would no longer come to the area. Over the long term this neighbourhood has not been gentrified, it has been held captive by the drug dealers, the drunks and the drug addicted who hold sway here. Picketing a delusional restaurant owner will only bring the restaurant more business. Better to target the politicians who may be able to effect change. Hang out in front of city hall and jump up and down if you must. But understand that ?they? have been trying for years to turn cheap real estate into upscale and it hasn?t happened yet, but if you keep on picketing and providing free advertising for the opportunists that gentrification might just come along faster than if you ( the picketers) and thereon everyone else ingnored those who try to take avantage of the free advertising the picketers provide.