Pidgin restaurant continues to draw protests

A new high-end restaurant in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside remains the focus of nightly protests, as those redeveloping the area clash with critics who say the poor are being pushed out.
Poverty protesters say the restaurant is not welcome in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside 2:07

A new high-end restaurant in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside continues to be the focus of nightly protests, amid a clash between those redeveloping the area and critics who say the poor are being pushed out.

Pidgin restaurant opened on Carrall Street in February, directly opposite Pigeon Park, a drug-dealing landmark and makeshift home for many of the area’s troubled residents.

Protesters say the restaurant -- which offers a modern menu fusing Asian and French flavours - is gentrifying the area and the premises would be better used for housing.

Co-owner Brandon Grossutti says demonstrators have been gathering outside on a nightly basis.

"They have shone flashlights into our restaurant, so we had to block out the windows," he said. "The big thing is the screaming and intimidating our guests."

High-end Pidgin restaurant (on the right) sits directly opposite notorious Pigeon Park (on the left). (CBC)

Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is undergoing a dramatic transformation as trendy new restaurants and new condo developments pop up.

But Grossutti believes he has a responsibility to the neighbourhood.

"There is a guy down here who is now our dishwasher and at the time was homeless and I used to take him out for groceries all the time," he said.

"I said to him about two years ago, 'When this project takes off you have a job.'"

'Saturation point'

Grossutti said he employs as many low-income people as he can and helps local charities, but to the protesters outside the restaurant represents a tipping point.

The protestors say the area now has too many high-end businesses and still doesn’t have enough social housing.

"We are past the saturation point for that," one demonstrator told CBC News. "It means the real estate values are going up … and people get displaced."

Grossutti agreed there needs to be a dialogue about the lack of good social housing, but said it's important to have a mix of people in a neighbourhood.

Co-owner Brandon Grossutti hoped Pidgin would open a dialogue about providing dignified housing in the area. (CBC)

"It's not the Downtown Eastside and the rest of Vancouver — it is Vancouver. It's time we start talking about how we work together," he said.

"There is a discussion that needs to be had but I still feel as though, rather than a building sitting empty with boarded up windows, this is creating jobs, paying taxes and stimulating the economy."

Protester Dave Diewert disagrees.

"We are supposed to be grateful for some of the housing in these projects but what come with the gift are the shock troops of gentrification that take over the place and render space a completely alien space for low income people," he said.

Protestors say they won't leave until the restaurant goes out of business.

But Grossutti says the protests are actually helping prevent that — the restaurant's phone has not stopped ringing with calls from supporters.