DINER: New Pidgin Eatery Speaks Up After Being The Target Of Anti-Gentrification Ire

February 14, 2013 

by Andrew Morrison | As many of our regular readers are well aware, the recently opened PiDGiN restaurant on Carrall has seen its entrance picketed nightly by protestors who view the eatery is an unwanted agent of gentrification on the Downtown Eastside. There’s been an active, oft-emotional and occasionally bizarre conversation about it in one of our comment threads. The restaurant has stayed mum on the protests until a little over an hour ago, when the following statement was released:

First and foremost PiDGiN is about food and dining experience; we have worked tirelessly to create something that all Vancouverites can be proud to call their own. Our focus on food, bar, service and design will contribute to an already thriving reputation as an international destination for great hospitality and culinary exploits. That said, we are intimately aware of where we call home and all the responsibility that comes with. PiDGiN is by definition a bridging of language and culture and our location is not haphazard; we are opening in the most diverse and interesting part of the city and that’s why we are here.

Over the course of the last 7 months of building PiDGiN we have supported and created a dialogue to integrate ourselves within the community. It has been our mandate since inception to introduce programs that will contribute and support the great efforts made within the DTES. We are implementing donation programs which all proceeds will go to charities that will be crowd-source picked by our patrons and residents of the DTES as well as creating food programs for residents of the DTES. During the build process we worked with groups in the neighbourhood, including The Window and Beauty Night, we also gave work to those that asked on the construction site as well as outside. Upon opening we have employed 2 DTES residents, local recycling, window washing, Blue Shell for linens and interior cleaning and will continue to hire within the neighbourhood wherever we can.

When choosing this location we knew that there would be a stark contrast between what is outside and inside. Rather than this being viewed as a negative we believe it starts a conversation, one that is overdue. Our patrons come from the DTES and all over the city, some of which have never taken a step in Pigeon Park. This venue is on the divide between the east and west of the city and can serve as an opportunity to bring a more integrated community, where we can better understand each other’s viewpoints and struggles.

Despite the fact that the protestors have chosen to confront this business, we all agree, there absolutely needs to be more dignified housing and services for low income residents of the DTES, our inability to help those most in need in our society is a horrid reflection of the lack of progress by all levels of government. Rather than us being divided in our fight to help those in need, we welcome a dialogue with them and other community leaders to focus our collective strength on the real problems facing the DTES, not on a small business trying to be socially responsible.

Take it as you will. My view on the restaurant – which remains unchanged – is here.

  • Jill

    For years, the DTES sat vacant as a place where survival sex workers went missing without police batting an eye, drug lords preyed on desperate addicts and open drug use was rampant and no local business would dream of setting up shop here. I think we should be celebrating local businesses while also demanding that they find ways to work with the local community. I hope that the DTES can become a model for how to attract local independent businesses and attract a mixed, diverse community of different incomes (inc. middle and high). Every model community that people are attracted to has a mix of incomes, people, and businesses. Everybody knows that. Anything else is a ghetto. My only fear is that one day the local biz like Pidgin get priced out by some shitty chains like Earls, Joeys, etc. (been to Yaletown lately?)>

  • rr

    What a fantastic letter. Doesn’t apologize, doesn’t attack its critics. A lot of people could learn from this.

  • Eleanor

    As a long-term resident of the DTES, I’m sick of the bullying tactics employed by Carnegie Centre thugs such as dreary Ivan Drury, VANDU and the rest of the poverty-industry crazies. I’ll eat anywhere I damn well want to eat whether it be the Ovaltine or Pidgin. Calls to boycott businesses just make me more determined to patronize them.

  • Thomas

    rr, my thoughts exactly.

    Well done, PiDGiN.

  • CA

    Cogent. Thoughtful. Honest. A run-on sentence or two, perhaps, but I will make up for that with a sentence fragment. Or two. I look forward to a future in which our civic discourse is more considered and nuanced, less binary and polarized.

  • Shawna

    Yea, it sucks balls but the truth is, is that Vancouver’s been gentrified for a long time. I left there 20 years ago and it was happening then.

  • David J Cooper

    Maybe the owner/manager will read these comments and return my call or e mail asking for a reservation. I suppose they are so busy they don’ t need a table of 4 on a Saturday night. Also their Open Table app doesn’t work.

  • http://www.AndIQuote.org Andi Quote

    seems pretty clear by the website, i just tried entering a 4 for saturday, and it’s pretty easy and straightforward, unless you were wanting 7:00. the app seems to work fine. maybe they are too busy ON VALENTINE’S DAY to get back to you about saturday.

    “I suppose they are so busy they don’t need a table of 4 on a Saturday night.”

    really, who talks like that?

  • Mike

    Picketing obviously doesn’t belong at the frontsteps of a restaurant, especially one that attempts a dialogue with the neighbourhood and employs its residents, but let’s not forget how big of an issue gentrification is in Vancouver. If we don’t make an effort to be culturally progressive, we will lose more Waldorfs and more neighbourhoods, and diverse culture will be nonexistent here before we know it. Every block is going to turn into a skyrise with a starbucks and a walmart in the basement. Sound familiar?

    There needs to be an organized, formal and larger platform for advocates and activists, like those involved, to broadcast their message that perhaps works hand-in-hand with Pidgin and other like-minded businesses. and Scout too.

  • Peter Van

    I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t need a table of 4 on a Saturday night. New, highly anticipated restaurant in this town? Good luck with the reservations. It was hard getting a seat for one at Wildebeest in the first few weeks.

  • George

    My partner and I had a conversation with a couple of these misguided but good intentioned protesters last night as they heckled patrons going in and taking their photos with a rather nice smart phone.
    Their goal is to only have businesses in the DTES that everybody can use. That’s right, everybody.
    My question is, how many business can a homelesss person, drug addict or a SRO dweller really afford and what would those budiness’s be?
    There are coffee shops, dollar stores, discount clothing (army and navy) and restaurants (save on meats, pot luck cafe) already.
    Clearly these people envision a ghetto; an ‘us versus them’, Gangs of New York style neighborhood of segregated communities.
    I believe we can all live together ; the rich and the poor. And in doing so it will give one group hope and make the other more socially responsible.

  • ciaran

    Classy letter. Well played. Can’t wait to try it out.

    I’m not sure what the protesters are offering as a solution, do they want it to shut down and be a vacant space again? Put 15-20 restaurant employees out of a job?

    Even if you took every dime that Pidgin was built with and put it toward whatever the protesters agenda is, it wouldn’t accomplish much.

    I would like to understand more about their efforts but it’s difficult to take anyone seriously picketing with a sign and chanting nonsense.

  • Rudy

    Very well put. Nice letter.

  • http://www.nickler.biz Sean Sherwood

    Nimbyism isn’t just for the west side, it seems they’ve exported that to the East side as well.

    Vibrant communities are inclusive, and a truly great neighbourhood builds bridges, not walls.

    Just like some other well known social movements with great intentions, sometimes the vocal minority represents a less informed, more inflamed, and louder megaphone that kills any opportunity to move the dialogue forward in an intelligent, reasoned manner.

    Proud as hell to see Pidgin bring class and balance to a conversation that some are determined to drag through the mud.

  • Thomas

    “Nimbyism isn’t just for the west side, it seems they’ve exported that to the East side as well.”

    When was “Nimbyism” vacant from the East side, Sean?

    Who are they?

    Respectfully,

    Thomas

  • Leslie

    How can a conversation be had when the neighbours aren’t invited, can’t afford it and aren’t even welcome inside? Isn’t that what they call, a one-sided conversation?

  • http://www.nickler.biz Sean Sherwood

    Leslie, I believe you’re point is valid, but what more would you expect from the local business, which seems to have made a position to invest hundreds of thousands into the neighbourhood, work aggressively to direct much needed commerce into the area, and employ local people as well?

    As I look through the mandates of organizations that claim to serve impoverished areas like these, those three seem to be at the top of their list.

    Thomas, yes, the East side has it’s own special flavour of nimby.

    I’d love to see a true community spirit evolve out of this that tossed petty, selfish resentments and had an honest discussion about the problems and solutions (that didn’t involve government).

    If we want to be a great city, it won’t come from municipal policy, it will come from great people building great communities. Time to stop fighting with each other and start fighting for each other. The results will surprise you.

    Once again I applaud Pidgin for embracing this approach, I encourage everyone involved to take a page from this playbook and see if the results are an improvement on the current approach of pointing, blaming, and criticizing.

  • Robert

    Dear anti-gentrification protesters of Vancouver: Trump Tower.

  • MerK

    I ate there last Saturday night, as a walk in by the way, and it was an amazing meal. The protesters must have been on a coffee break, but were soon back. One of the owners was outside speaking with them, not pushing them away, not calling the police, simply talking. Keeping the dialogue open seems to be how they are dealing with the situation, commendable really.

    Nobody was displaced for Pidgin to open, it was previously a pawn shop I believe. I understand protesting the gentrification of an area, but to target a small restaurant owned by individuals rather than the large companies coming in & actually tearing things down seems to be counterproductive! The letter shows their intentions for giving back to the community, for trying help.

    These protesters may as well be picketing every single small business in the DTES. Most of the local residents cannot afford to shop or dine at those places, either….

  • Leslie

    I don’t have the answers. Is it possible for us middle and upper middle class folks to just mix with these people in a collegial way? I’d like to think yes but… how do you set that up so they don’t feel like victims? Can you? Should you? I don’t know.

  • MerK

    Easy Leslie.

    Treat them like you would treat anybody else. A little bit of kindness & respect goes a long way. I work in the area, bring my children down regularly. I rarely encountered any problems & talk to anybody that talks to me. Smile.

    People from all areas of Vancouver have problems to overcome, might just be victims in a nice set of clothes. The problems that are the most prevalent in the DTES are just harder to hide.

  • Bradley

    Gentrification: you say it like it’s a bad thing. Anytime you have a free market real estate system there will be this inevitable struggle of capital. Investors and speculators and developers spot a position to lever and move in. Maintaining a community of low cost basic services in the face of this kind of economic force will be a difficult if not impossible task. The only way to assure a status quo is to put up virtually impenetrable barriers. Just as the rich have done in their enclaves.

  • Tom Servua

    The greatest danger to the DTES is not a restaurant like Pidgin. It is the continuing dark presence of the drug dealers who infest that neighbourhood, and destroy the lives of its inhabitants.

    These drug dealers operate without conscience. They are remorseless. Their enforcers push women out of hotel windows, and wait like piranhas on Welfare Wednesdays, demanding their money — plus interest.

    Pidgin displaced no one. That side of the block was dark for years, and occupied by drug dealers preying on people in the little park opposite.

    Pidgin doesn’t sell poison. Drug dealers do. If these paid protestors (yes, they get paid) worked as hard to get rid of DTES drug dealers as they do to complain about restaurants, we would all be better off.

    But they won’t. Drug dealers fight back.

  • Martin

    @Tom Servua
    Good points Tom!
    PiDGiN should get an award from City Hall for taking a risk and opening in this area.
    Why is the police don’t protect this restaurant like they would a restaurant in Kerisdale or Ktisilano?

    The ‘fight’ continues:
    http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Downtown+Eastside+protesters+hassle+restaurant+patrons+fight/7982142/story.html

  • B Love

    The biggest problem facing the DTES isn’t Pidgin. It’s our failed Mental Health policies, specifically the way we handle people with addictions. These protesters should make sure that their people are signed up to vote this spring and that they do vote.

  • Hungry Foodie

    B Love and who should they vote for? none of the parties have done much on the mental health file.

  • lindsay

    unfortunately brandon has been used as a scapegoat, partially i believe due the name choice. understanding that pigeon park, as been an integral part of the dtes low income/working class community for upwards of 40 years. it has been one of the only public spaces for low income and marginalized folks. expropriating the name for a mid price range restaurant, he HAD to know that he was going to stir-the-pot with that one, especially in a neighborhood a political as the dtes. the restaurants target demographic is not low income/marginalized (not a judgement, just a fact), thereby it is a pretty big slap in the face to use the namesake. for what is worth i personally feel that these ‘protests’ are misguided and ineffective when the common goal is positive social change. nobody should be shaming patrons or shining (assaulting with) flashlights in peoples eyes. this restaurant is feeling the heat as it opened up during an intense time with all that is happening with the LAPP and an election coming up. wendy/ivan’s political strategy is that they do not want any development that could drive up land values until the senior gov’t commits funding for social and affordable housing. albeit bullying a for profit business owner is the wrong approach, one cannot deny that we are in dire need of both types of housing. unfortunately this bears a negative light on the lot of us that are collectively working together on social justice efforts in our neighborhood, the dtes. i do believe folks need to tread lightly on development in the dtes. this neighborhood was ghettoized by CoV as a way to keep “undesirables” (see the wire) restricted to an area. it is a neighborhood with residents who DO have rights to have a say in how it is developed. i would personally never eat here, as i do not find it relaxing to enjoy a lovely meal with a view of folks who are suffering and entrenched in sadness, poverty and addiction. i think it is very naive to think that patronizing a restaurant with a view of that will open up positive discussion. in closing, to quote someone else on this issue, “Can we now stop being distracted by the battle between stereotypes, the doe-eyed poster child of well-meaning gentrification vs. the wild-eyed caricature of class warfare? (It’s a grudge match! Two walk in, only one walks out!). We should be exploring the vast (and apparently sparsely populated) space between these tenaciously held poles.”

  • Louise

    What tenacious and Caring owners;)
    To create and open a new dialogue, and an
    Intentional Energy to a very deserving community and Location.
    Can’t wait to try the food!!!

  • tf

    I have no answers to any of the questions but I do respect the people who try to understand the protestors.
    I found this article which provides some reason for loving your home community – have a look – thanks!
    “Identity – You and We” by Glen Pearson
    http://glenpearson.ca/2013/02/19/identity-you-and-we/
    He begins -
    “Communities have their own kind of DNA. They came together over years of development, experience, leadership, tough times, migration, ups and down of economies, artistic expression, politics and citizenship, to name but a few. Whether we are born into the place where we now live or moved into it at some point, it has special characteristics that existed long before we came along. Often, despite its drawbacks, we choose where we live because we like what history has made of our habitat.”
    I am a theatre artist and have lived and worked in the DTES for 16 years, Mr. Pearson describes exactly why I stand beside ALL the people who try to make a life in the DTES. If someone just drops by to taste the latest dish, I don’t think that helps.

  • David J Cooper

    Andi Quote. Who talks like that? I do, and I use my real name when I do it. I’ll be at Pidgin at 6 on Saturday if you want to see if I’M a real person.