Pidgin and the question of gentrification in the downtown eastside

Makoto Ono, star Canadian chef, recently opened his latest restaurant in the heart of Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Located by Pigeon Park, the place is aptly named Pidgin.

It is, by all foodie accounts, a fantastic new addition to the Vancouver culinary scene but there are those within the neighbourhood pulling out the cry of gentrification.

Daily small-scale protests have taken place outside of the restaurant for a week and it seems they’ll continue into next week.

The issue of gentrification has taken new life in the downtown eastside in the past year as shops and restaurants that would traditionally find a home in gastown bleed out past Carrall Street for the cheap rent and the “authenticity” of doing business in a “dangerous” neighbourhood.

Makoto Ono

Makoto Ono’s new restaurant Pidgin is drawing heat from downtown eastside residents.

The reality is that many residents of the eastside are not mobile. If their neighbourhood turns into condos and cafes, they have nowhere to go. Perhaps rightly so, many people in the community are deathly afraid of becoming obsolete in the name of development.

Perhaps this post by the Carnegie Community Action Project back in 2009 best explains the fear. It’s not an uncommon fear for the Lower Mainland, that development will destroy existing communities. We’ve seen it an all sorts of neighbourhoods.I grew up in Steveston where double lot houses routinely turned into seven or eight townhouses. Steveston today is now close to million dollars for a routine house, certainly not what I grew up around.

So, are the protests against Pidgin justified?

Well, I can imagine there is a bit of anger about a restaurant that opens up kitty-corner to one of the eastside’s most popular hang outs, co-opts the name and offers big windows so the patrons can watch the street action. It doesn’t exactly make me feel right either. At the same time, more business within the community can be a mutually beneficial thing if done correctly. I have no idea what the owners of Pidgin intend, so I can’t speculate.

But I feel like they realized this week that to put in to the eastside, you also have to give back.


8 thoughts on “Pidgin and the question of gentrification in the downtown eastside

  1. Mr Paywall

    One correction: The full name of the restaurant is Pidgin.

    I think most people feel the same way as you on the subject. I personally think having more people in the area is better than thinking of the area as some “slum” of Vancouver. Sure, there are 100 examples of bad urban planning (from government, city councils) but I’m also pretty skeptical when it comes to NIMBYs whether it’s in the suburbs or DTES.

    Thoughts from someone on one of the protestors at Pidgin:

    And after Fat Dragon BBQ closed from CCAP:

  2. Kimmy

    Instead of protesting, try working, you lazy idiots.

    I’m making a reservation this week. Protestors, be warned: I don’t intimidate easily. Shine your lights and take my picture. Maybe I’ll return the favor 🙂

    Sick of the entitlement attitude that the DTES espouses.


      Well said Kimmy. The stupidity of this protest is astounding. I know so many people who who never have heard of this restaurant but are now planning to eat there because they, like me, can’t stand bullying.

      1. Grant

        These anarchist douchebags haven’t a clue about Vancouver. My grandmother lived on the drive for 60 years, my father sold newspapers at the age of 12 at Main and Hastings in the Thirties. I’ve watched the Downtown Eastside degenerate into a filthy, drug infested, pimp ridden slum since the late 60’s. The owners of Pidgin, and Save On Meats are the kind of people that will rebuild and save the Downtown Eastside. It’s the left wing activists that have enabled the pimps,gangbangers, and drug dealers, that have ruined a once proud area of our city. I’m disgusted by the actions of these Anarchist Scumbags that probably live in Mommies Basement, and have never held a real job in their lives.

  3. tf

    Quite interesting article about a complicated and long-term issue.
    But I do take exception to Mr. Paywall’s comment that “having more people in the area is better than thinking the area is a slum.” I live here and the streets are full of “people” so do I presume the current residents of the neighbourhood aren’t the “right” kind of people?
    Language use can be revealing.

    1. tf

      Additional comment –
      Latest stats –
      % of hotel rooms where all rooms rent for welfare rate ($375 or less)
      2009 – 29%
      2010 – 12%
      2011 – 7%
      2012 – 5%
      Those numbers tell the story why residents of the DTES have nothing left to lose.
      The Owelympics were good for some, but not the residents of the DTES.
      Gentrification and free-market real estate development is not a wave; it’s a tsunami.
      Thanks again for taking my comment.


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