Anti-poverty activists were out protesting at Pidgin restaurant again Tuesday, vowing they will continue the daily demonstrations until the trendy new eatery in Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside moves.
“This is what you can expect — pickets day and night,” said one of the protesters, who goes by the name Homeless Dave.
“As long as we have no justice, they will have no peace.”
Protesters have been outside the Carrall Street restaurant daily since it opened Feb. 1.
And while the protest has put the restaurant that sits in the gritty 300-block of Carrall in the spotlight, co-owner Brandon Grossutti still sees a silver lining to the controversy.
“I think what is great about all this is we are having the conversation, the dialogue, about what is going on down here,” said Grossutti.
He did not expect Pidgin to get the attention it has with the protest over the ongoing gentrification of the area.
And he admits people now know the name of his new establishment because of the recent media coverage.
“It is only going to make business better,” he added of being cast in the spotlight over the protest group’s concerns about the gentrification of the streets around Hastings and Carrall.
Despite being a daily target of a few dozen protesters, Grossutti is not bitter.
“Even though I disagree with them, they still have good intentions. I hope sooner or later they take their passion and use it for constructive energy,” he added.
“There’s 15 restaurants that have opened down here in the last two to three years,” he said of the changing landscape in the high-crime neighbourhood.
Grossutti said the protests have happened under the watchful eye of the Vancouver Police Department.
“The police have been great,” he said. “They just want to make sure our guests are safe.
“It is bordering on mischief what they are doing,” he added of the protest.
On some nights protesters have shone lights inside the restaurant, and harassed patrons as they enter and leave.
“When you look at what they are doing, the protesters look more ridiculous,” he said. “It is a really silly way to approach a complex problem.”
In setting up the restaurant, Grossutti consulted with various community groups in the impoverished neighbourhood to hire some local workers.
“I’m hoping some good comes out of this,” he said of the protest. “We are here because of the food. It has become a political thing and what’s been lost is we have one of the best chefs in Canada [Makoto Ono] working with us.”
Grossutti also wants to clarify that the restaurant is moderately priced, with dishes ranging in price from $5 to $26.
“We are a casual eatery with moderate pricing,” he said in response to claims the restaurant is expensive and only catering to the wealthy.
Other restaurants and stores in the area around the drug-riddled Pigeon Park are keeping a close tab on the protest.
John Leung is the owner of Wing’s Cafe, across the street from Pidgin. He has operated the small diner at that location for 38 years.
He knows the locals who hang out at Pigeon Park and then come into his diner for coffee and food. He said he doesn’t recognize the people protesting at Pidgin.
“The protesters, they aren’t from around here,” he said. “I don’t see them around here. It is a group of organized anti-poverty protesters.
“The regulars down here aren’t protesting. I think most of this is politics.”
Despite the controversy, Leung said he thinks the area is going in the right direction.
“I would say it is better here than ten years ago. Ten years ago this was a war zone down here with all the drugs and crime.”
Leung also is noticing more tourists walking along Carrall.
“This area is changing and it is good for the city,” he said. “Tourists now come through here since they’ve cleaned it up.”
Some who frequent Pigeon Park also wondered about the protest.
“The only thing this restaurant has done is displace the people selling heroin and cocaine,” said area resident Mike Smythe, 41.
Trish Smith, 39, said she is a crack cocaine addict and sex worker who works the area. She wonders why the protest.
“Why don’t they do the protest somewhere where it means something? Do it where it matters. They’re just trying to run a business here.”
“I’ve got nothing against this guy — he is totally in the wrong spot,” said demonstrator Fraser Stuart, 60.
“The rich don’t need another playground down here in a poor area.”
Downtown Eastside resident Bud Osborn, left, was among the protesters outside Pidgin restaurant on Tuesday, claiming gentrification is hurting their community.
Photograph by: Arlen Redekop , Province
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