I heard something over lunch yesterday that made me tear-up over my roast beef sandwich. I was at Rainier Provisions, checking out Sean Heather’s latest Gastown foodie-magnet. Gastown is a tricky district to define. On the one hand it’s Vancouver’s oldest and most tourist-friendly; home to the ‘Gassy Jack’ statue, the singing Steam Clock, cobbled streets and twinkly fairy-lit trees. There are more hipster joints here than you can kick a hackysack at. It’s also home to the Downtown Eastside, where you’ll find more crushing poverty, drug addiction, homelessness and downright misery than any other area I’ve encountered in Vancouver. These two extremes live uneasily side by side. Occasionally, as with newcomer Pidgin, things break out and get weird.
I get it. Gentrification brings its problems between the haves and have-nots but I have to wonder – what would you rather? If it’s a choice between an empty building and no jobs, or a buzzing establishment that makes a conscious effort to give back to the local neighbourhood, well, it feels like a no-brainer to me.
Sean’s been in Gastown for almost two decades. He’s got a solid record of giving back and getting along with his neighbours. Rainier Provisions is next to the Rainier Hotel, a women’s single-room occupancy hotel, which just had a block of federal funding removed. Thanks to Sean, residents get fed, for free, once a week and a similar meals programme has been in place for years at another of his places, The Irish Heather. I got all mascara-smudged yesterday because I was told about Maggie, a lady who’d lived in the front door of the previously-disused building for three years. When Rainier Provisions was being constructed, instead of evicting Maggie from her doorstep home, it was decided instead to give her some security. So they frosted windows on three sides of one of the unused doorways, added a combination lock on the gate and now Maggie has a place to leave her things where she can come and go as she pleases. She says she feels safer now.
That’s what made me cry. So yes, while many talk up a storm about what gentrification may or may not mean for an area and those who are less well-off, I put all my support behind a company that pays more than lip-service to the idea that we all deserve a place in our community and a damn good meal too.
Oh – the food? Hey, it’s Sean Heather – a by-word for excellence – small producers, local suppliers trying to get along with their foodie dreams, so on the menu, great sandwiches, a daily roast (a huge plateful for as little as $8) and jaw-clangingly great ice cream from Vancouver’s finest, Earnest Ice Cream.
Pop in for a meal, or to stock up on deli items like East Vancouver’s Moccia Urbani, D-Original Sauage Company, Germany’s Drews Driessen, and England’s Neal’s Yard Dairy. Take an empty bottle to fill up on peppery olive oil and choose a treat from the towering pantry shelves. And say hi to Maggie if she’s home.
I ate here as a guest of Rainier Provisions. As ever – my views are 100% my own.