When I started blogging I had come up with a list of food topics I wanted to write about in my Food for Thought posts. One of them was how restaurants as a group can serve as beacons regarding different aspects of the neighborhood they are situated in (such as ethnic diversity, economic affluence, etc). From the cuisines they serve, the prices they charge, and their concentration in area, eateries can revel important clues about people that live nearby.
I was doing a lot of “Restaurant Studies” because I was hunting for my first home. Given how expensive housing is in the Lower Mainland, I was looking at places in unfamiliar neighborhoods. I needed some way to figure out if this neighborhood would be a right fit, so I turned to one of the things I knew well which is food.
I was compelled to write about this topic now instead of later (the idea was near the bottom of my list) because of the recent news about how individuals are targeting restaurants in their battle against gentrification.
As far as I’m aware Pidgin, Famoso and Save-On-Meats have had various levels of mischief and protest leveled against them.
Based on my “restaurant studies”, very few restaurants garner “Destination” status (where it’s so good, people regardless of distance travel to eat there). The average person (not food enthusiasts) I believe is willing to walk or drive 15 minutes to an eatery. After a long day at work, I don’t think too many people are willing to travel too far to get food because it is just too tiring.
Restaurants only survive and thrive by serving the community they are located in. They have to adapt their menu and price accordingly to people living near by. So if a restaurant is out of sync with the neighborhood, they will just go out of business.
Essentially, the communities of people (consumers) are established first and then businesses show up afterwards to carter to that group.
That’s why successful restaurants when studied as a group can revel so much about the area they are situated in. For example, when eateries charge about the same price for the their entrees regardless of cuisine, it means the residents nearby probably make more or less the same amount of money.
When you see a range of prices, then you can guess that people make a range of incomes in the community. The Kitsilano and the West End communities come to mind because you have affluence mixed in with students.
The available types of cuisines can show either ethnic diversity or monotony. There are lot or varieties of Chinese food available in the Metrotown area, guess what – there are a lot of Chinese people living in the Metrotown area. Ditto for the Korean restaurants located on North Road in the Burquitlam area and the large Korean community located there.
A lot of this is common sense and there are always exception to the rule but it gives you a good but brief glimpse into a neighborhood.
In the end if a restaurant is doing well that means that enough of the nearby community is supporting it. As a result I find the protests at the restaurants misguided and the vandalism appalling. These individuals are targeting the outcome and not the cause because by the time the restaurants have set up, the neighborhood has already changed.
In the last 5 years, the Woodward’s complex and 8 plus condo towers rimming the Stadium Sky train station have brought a huge influx of people (at a minimum 3,200 people = 8 towers X 200 units per tower X 2 people per unit) to the lands bordering the downtown east side. These people have money and a willingness to spend it on dining out.
So even if the protests are successful in closing down Save-on-Foods and Pidgin, it won’t stop others from setting up businesses. The customer base living in those shiny towers are too alluring for entrepreneurs not to try to create successful businesses.
So if people are truly concerned about gentrification, they need to protest and lobby city council to prevent further condominium approvals in the area and not the restaurants that are simply trying to make a living. Although I think that won’t create the media attention some of these protesters crave.