Colombian community slams new Vancouver restaurant named after drug lord Escobar

A Vancouver restaurant named after a notorious narco-terrorist has prompted a backlash among the Colombian community, who say the owners are being culturally insensitive.

'It's something that brings pain,' says head of Latin American society about the name

The name of this soon-to-open restaurant on Vancouver's Fraser Street has upset some people in the city's Colombian community. (Doug Kerr/CBC News)

A soon-to-open Vancouver restaurant named after a notorious narco-terrorist has prompted a backlash among the local Colombian community, who say the owners are being culturally insensitive.

Escobar is a "Latin-inspired" restaurant-bar that will be opening on Fraser Street on May 11. 

The restaurant's executive chef, Sarah Kashani, said the name is simply a play on words, because it has the word "bar" in it.

Kashani also said it capitalizes on name recognition. Escobar is a popular Latin American name, she said. It's also the last name of former Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar who has experienced a recent surge in popular culture with shows like Netflix's Narcos

"By no means are we a Colombian restaurant. We actually don't have anything Colombian on the menu," said executive chef Sarah Kashani, who likened the name to establishments like Capone's or Godfather Pizza. 

"You watch those movies because they're entertainment, and we are a restaurant. We are for entertainment. We're not trying to make any type of political statement."

Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar in the Netflix series Narcos. (Daniel Daza/Netflix/Associated Press)

Kashani pointed out that the name Escobar is not unique for a restaurant. In fact, several have popped up around the world. 

But Colombians in Vancouver say the name represents pain and suffering for the many people who had to flee their country to escape the violence and killings that Escobar ordered and caused. 

5,000 dead

Escobar died in 1993. Accounts vary, but by some estimates he's said to have caused the deaths of about 5,000 people, most of them in Colombia. 

"I don't think we would like to name a restaurant after other people in history that bring that kind of memories," said Paola Murillo, whose parents sent her to the U.S. in the 1990s to go to school and escape the violence in her home country.

"It's part of the history, but I don't think we need commemorate it and celebrate it."

Paola Murillo says she would be happy to work with Escobar restaurant to help them understand why their name is so offensive to Colombians in Vancouver. (Doug Kerr/CBC Vancouver)

People have been criticizing the restaurant's name on social media platforms, including its Instagram account. 

"I truly regret that people are affected in a negative way by our restaurant name," Kashani said. "By no means are we insensitive to that."

'It's not a celebration for us'

Despite the criticism, Kashani defended the restaurant's name and invited those offended by it to come by and discuss it with them. 

Murillo also called for discussion.

As the executive director of the Latincouver cultural and business society, she said she's always glad to hear of businesses inspired by Latin culture.

But Murillo said the owners should have done more research before choosing the name so they could have been more culturally sensitive.

"It's not a celebration for us, it's something that brings pain," she said. 

With files from Deborah Goble

Clarifications

  • The story has been updated to clarify how the name Escobar was chosen for the restaurant. An earlier version of this story stated that Paola Murillo fled Colombia in the 1990s with her parents to escape the violence there. In fact, her parents sent her to school in the U.S., in part to escape the violence, and her parents remained in Colombia.
    Apr 30, 2018 11:43 AM PT