The gentrification war in East Vancouver

Violent protesters go off-menu

A bitter aftertaste: Commercial Drive’s Famoso restaurant has suffered repeat attacks. (Gerry Kahrmann / Province)

Only in Vancouver could Mark Brand be made a target. The conscientious Downtown Eastside businessman serves a $1.50 sandwich at a loss, employs drug addicts with mental-health problems and regularly opens his freezers, Rocky-style, to a youth boxing club; he trains troubled residents in an “incubator kitchen” above his Hastings Street anchor, Save on Meats, and is tripling the number of healthy, hot lunches he serves to the down-and-out to 1,500—with plans to expand the model to two East Vancouver schools. Eventually, all Save On’s profits will be directed to charitable work.

Anywhere else, Brand, whose foodie empire counts nine local businesses, and whose plans to help the neighbourhood—which, he says, “has more courage, more love than any other in the city”—spill out in an excited babble, would be celebrated as a civic hero. But the tattooed entrepreneur, labelled the “poster child of gentrification” by a violent city anarchist group, has been at the receiving end of a campaign aiming to chase him out.

Brand was demonized in a poster campaign that papered the neighbourhood last year, and again at a “public information” session organized to turn local sentiment against him. Then Save On’s iconic sidewalk sign was stolen, only to turn up last week on a global anarchist website, the latest incident in a “class war” the group purports to be waging on East Vancouver businesses.

A block east on Hastings, Brandon Grossutti’s high-end restaurant, Pidgin, is being targeted by slogan-chanting, placard-waving protesters—a fight that has “escalated from property damage to violence and threats,” Grossutti says. Last week, East Vancouver’s Famoso restaurant, whose menu tops out at $14.50, had its floor-to-ceiling front windows kicked out for the third time since opening less than a year ago. The Anti-Gentrification Front targeting Brand and Grossutti is claiming responsibility.

Famoso, a small chain restaurant run by Alberta expats, had dared to open on Commercial Drive, a diverse neighbourhood that’s home to Italians, slam poets, yuppies with Labradors and the city’s lesbian community. The repeat attacks have left Famoso’s soft-spoken co-owner Trevor Stride, a former non-profit manager, “disappointed, frustrated and confused.” His insurers are demanding $20,000, Nicaragua-style steel shutters to repel radicals.

But if Vancouver’s anti-gentrification thugs were hoping to turn the city against these and other businesses, a very different sentiment is taking hold.

Stride is being swamped with flowers and well-wishers. Foodies are rallying behind Pidgin, and its cured steelhead and ponzu jalapeno salsa. “It’s as though the city has said ‘enough is enough,’ ” says Brand. “No one committing these acts has ever contributed anything to these neighbourhoods.”




Browse

The gentrification war in East Vancouver

  1. I saw the television show where Mark Brand had to pitch his idea to Dragons Den Arlene Dickinson for money to keep Save On Meats going. I just don’t know how it will given his present approach to running a business. As someone who’s lived in Vancouvers East End I commend what he’s doing, but every business needs to think about making a profit if it’s going to survive. Although he made the changes she recommended in order for her to even consider making the investment that was required to keep it afloat, this is literally a leap of faith. I wish them both well in this venture.

    • SOM is only one of Brand’s many businesses in the area. The rest are purely for-profit.

      • Yes. I was aware of that. I was speaking specifically to Save On Meats. I think that he inherited the business so it’d be a shame if it went under. It’d be nice to see it stay in the family, at the same location. What it’s doing, in terms of giving those people in the East End a chance to do something with their lives, is totally righteous.

        • Mark Brand didn’t inherit SOM. He bought it, and if you look at his 6 other businesses in the DTES it’s pretty obvious that SOM is his philanthropic front. It’s the business he points to when he wants to impress Oprah& show the media what a great guy he is. It helps him obscure the fact he’s a gentrifying force, and has an invested interest in turning Hastings into a high-end neighborhood (which will displace low-income residents).

          There is nothing righteous about what he does. Even the few low-income DTES residents he employs – believe it or not – had lives before Mark Brand came along. Sure, Brand is employing a few folks from the neighborhood at minimum wage now, but y’know – the amount those workers earn won’t be enough to cover their rent in the DTES in the future and there’s nothing generous about being forced out of your neighborhood.

          • OK. Let’s say your right on the first point. But why are these few people, who you say he’s taking advantage of, by paying them minimum wage, not working somewhere else if the pay is so crappy? Because they’re so marginal they can’t find employment anywhere else. Just like 99% of the derelicts that you find living in the East End. There are terrible tenement buildings where the landlords take advantage of them. Yes they have roof over their head, a neighborhood to call home, but the buildings are full of cockroaches, crackheads, prostitutes, dealers, whinos. and violent mentally deranged people. Senior citiizens are fair game in these places. I lived right in the midst of them so I know. It’s time to clean it up, and if gentrification can help then bring it on. Even if Mark Brand leads the charge.
            Oh. And if you’re so concerned about the well being of the DTES as you say your are then why not donate your time and effort into making it better. Best of luck with all that.

          • Thank you for your advice, but i already volunteer at an indigenous women survivors of trauma group and a non-profit resource center in the DTES! Your concern aside, however, i can’t speak to all the reasons why someone would want to work a minimum wage job, but y’know… it could have to do with the marginalization thing, or the fact that its difficult to find decent paying work, or both.

            Either way, you seem to essentially be advocating for the exploitation of people simply because they are exploitable. You also seem to believe that because these people live in extreme poverty they also should be forced out of their homes, even though you acknowledge many have mental health issues or are elderly. You don’t touch on the fact MANY survivors of the residential school system call the DTES their home, or that the majority of those living in the neighborhood -only- do so because it’s all they can afford, but… hey! Go, Mark Brand! It’s about time someone kicked all those poor people out! What? They’ll end up homeless & living on the streets? Great! Mark Brand will never run out of token charity causes to make himself look good!

          • Chinatown. Does that ring a bell Pavlov? Don’t hear you bitching about how they took over a whole neighborhood. Or is that OK with you because, well it’s OK with you? Yes, you’d rather that people live in abject poverty, in totally squalid, pathetically degrading conditions, because, well, that’s all they can afford. Go girl.

          • Yes – if people cannot be responsible for their own actions and thier own lives, if they piss away their school years and young adulthoods chasing the endless party and aquire a bunch of substance addictions, if they CHOOSE TO BECOME PARASITES BECAUSE OF SOME IMBECILIC SOCIAL THEORY THEY PICKED UP ON THE WEB; then yes, I think it’s fair to say that the economies of the world are unable to sustain themselves as nanny states any longer. And I for one will applaud that. Choose to live or choose to die, but regardless: choose not to be a bipedal leech.

          • Do the natives actually have to make EVERY FUCKING THING about them? This is about gentrification, which is good for a neighborhood not residential school survivors. What is WRONG with you?

          • This gentrification front is actually people from other areas that don’t want the drug traffic moving to their hood.

          • Thanks for this info. I didn’t know this, and I bet most people don’t. You don’t hear this part of the story in the media.

          • Bigrig Parker: Although I do not feel that low-income residents of the DTES should be forced out of their community via gentrification, I also feel that people are pointing the finger at the wrong culprit. The larger problem here is that the government needs to allocate more funding to social programs and social housing (which as employees in the DTES you and I both will attest to). The fact that residents cannot afford rent in the DTES is not the fault of Mark Brand, and as metropika points out, he is at least providing jobs to people who would be really hard pressed to become employed anywhere else; this is something you don’t see many other entrepreneurs doing. Brands efforts are totally usurped by the fact that we are living in a neo-liberal era which leaves marginalized people without many options while blaming them for not just “pulling up their socks and getting ahead”. Its easy to point the finger at an individual, however, much greater social change is in order than can be addressed by attacking well-meaning business people in the DTES. Sorry, but I just don’t believe that boycotting Pidgin, ruining the personal property of others or publicly attacking a Gastown business owner is going to solve the problem or get the attention of the people and organizations that is needed in order to promote real, serious change.

  2. The sandwiches cost $2.50, not $1.50. And although each sandwich that gets served may cost Save On Meats close to or slightly over $2.50, there are many, many tokens that are purchased and never cashed in. It’s the same business model as a gift card and it buys amazing publicity for very, very little money.

    • Who’s fault is it if they are not cashed in?

  3. Sorry, $2.25. Pretty shoddy having a factual error in the second sentence of your article.

    • What”s your point – that price difference justifies the violence?

      • Well… it’s just wrong. It’s shoddy research. I don’t think he means anything more than that.

  4. Nice job presenting the other side’s argument. Very even-handed of you. Seriously, what is the anarchists’ argument? I suspect you don’t even care. Well, some of us do.

    • The only argument here is of a pathological nature. You can’t change because change means dealing with the very problems that got you there in the beginning. The vast majority of people in Vancouver want this neighborhood to turn itself around. I managed to turn my life around. And no one had to hold my hand while I did that. So don’t tell me that they can’t do the same. Wer’e all really tired of hearing the same BS excuses.

      • No, I asked, what THEIR *argument* is. Not, what is your opinion of their psychological state? Geez, man.

        • OK. My bad.

    • Who in their right wits GIVES a damn about the “argument” of a bunch of children? We need fully functioning adults in this world, not propaganda-spewing suspended adolescents.

      • So, by your own admission, you don’t even care what gives rise to the issue. You know nothing about these people and at the same time you pass judgment about their maturity status as if you did know something about them.

        • I could not agree more with you. We cannot ascribe the same traits, abilities, etc to people who come from very different worlds with VERY different opportunities. We do not live in a meritocracy whether people want to trick themselves into believing that we do, or not.

    • The argument is that they want to enforce 100% low-income housing. Basically, they want condo development to stop in the neighborhood and for it to remain a ‘low income place’. They argue that Pidgin and other businesses like it ‘displace low income residents.’

      I disagree. I think a mix of people in a neighborhood brings about awareness of the drug and poverty issues around there. I live in the neighborhood and I believe all Canadians are entitled to save and buy their first home. I believe a small business should be able to thrive without being bullied, ransacked, or made monsters of.

      I understand the frustration at only seeing one side of an argument, but these topics have been in the news for months… many at the protesters’s point of view, so…

  5. Metropika: Brand does make a profit. As the article states, he owns and operates 9 businesses total, most of which are among some of the busiest places in downtown Vancouver.

  6. Bigrig Parker: Although I do not feel that low-income residents of the DTES should be forced out of their community via gentrification, I also feel that people are pointing the finger at the wrong culprit. The larger problem here is that the government needs to allocate more funding to social programs and social housing (which as employees in the DTES you and I both will attest to). The fact that residents cannot afford rent in the DTES is not the fault of Mark Brand, and as metropika points out, he is at least providing jobs to people who would be really hard pressed to become employed anywhere else; this is something you don’t see many other entrepreneurs doing. Brands efforts are totally usurped by the fact that we are living in a neo-liberal era which leaves marginalized people without many options while blaming them for not just “pulling up their socks and getting ahead”. Its easy to point the finger at an individual, however, much greater social change is in order than can be addressed by attacking well-meaning business people in the DTES. Sorry, but I just don’t believe that boycotting Pidgin, ruining the personal property of others or publicly attacking a Gastown business owner is going to solve the problem or get the attention of the people and organizations that is needed in order to promote real, serious change.

    • well said.

  7. radical ideologies giving people excuses to be assholes; yeah yeah this place totally gentrifies with it’s highest costing pizza beloww $12, hahahahahah fucking dipshits.

Sign in to comment.