Upscale restaurant targeted by DTES protestors
CTV British Columbia
Published Tuesday, February 19, 2013 7:16PM PST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 19, 2013 7:25PM PST
After opening its doors in the center of Canada’s poorest neighbourhood, a new upscale restaurant has attracted some unwanted attention from Downtown Eastside protestors who say the establishment is helping to gentrify the area.
Pidgin, a restaurant that serves hybrid cuisine costing between $14-$26 per entree, opened at 350 Carrall Street across from Pigeon Park several weeks ago.
The park is the unofficial cornerstone of the neighbourhood, which is known for its high proportion of homeless people and drug users.
DTES advocates began protesting against Pidgin two weeks ago, saying the restaurant is part of an ongoing wave of high-end businesses moving into the low-income area, displacing residents.
“We’ve had a protest out here every day for basically the last two weeks,” said Pidgin owner Brandon Grossutti. “They’ve come up against our patrons and have been fairly aggressive with them.”
At first, protestors picketed and shouted at customers, Grossutti said. When they realized it wasn’t affecting the restaurant’s business, they started shining flashlights through the glass and into customers’ eyes.
“It’s not a mature way to have this conversation,” he said. Pidgin then blacked out its windows with paper.
But Grossutti said he harbours no ill will toward the protestors, and that he agrees things in the DTES need to change.
“This neighbourhood needs some help, it needs to change. Sometimes you look out this window and it shocks you that we’re in Canada,” he said.
That’s why Grossutti has pledged to support the community through fundraising initiatives and hiring some DTES residents.
“We’ve literally taken a guy off the street and gave him a job as a dishwasher and changed his life around, and the guy walks out of here proud every single day,” he said.
Outside Pidgin’s doors, protestors voiced their opposition, saying more low-income housing is needed in the DTES.
“Why do we want Pidgin shut down?” one person shouted.
“No homes no peace!” protestors yelled in reply.
Others said the restaurant is an insult to the area’s residents
“This is a high-end place, they’re eating high-end food, they had the windows wide open,” said Wendy Pederson.
“They’re staring across the street at the poorest people in Canada. People who are victims of residential school abuse and other systemic abuses. It’s disgusting.”
Not everybody who frequents the DTES supported the protests. Stefano Rossi, who works in the neighbourhood, called the demonstration “embarrassing.”
“What other city in the world do you go to and people are protesting an improvement?” he asked. “We want this area to change…I think it’s great for the neighbourhood.”
So far, people on both sides of the debate have promised they won’t back down from the fight.
“This is a line in the sand against retail gentrification and condo gentrification, and displacement of people in the Downtown Eastside,” said Dave, a protest organizer.
“This is what you’re going to expect, you’re going to get pickets day and night. As long as there’s no justice there’ll be no peace.”
“I’ve got big shoulders,” Grossutti said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Shannon Paterson