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Save-On-Meats
March 4, 2013 1:55 PM   Subscribe

For over 50 years Save-On-Meats was a fixture in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. When original owner Al DesLauriers retired in 2009, the building was renovated & reopened as a modern diner and butchershop under the same name. It was the first Canadian eatery to be visited by that Guy. New owner Mark Brand gave a passionate TED talk last year about the ups and downs he experienced integrating with the low income community. Their latest initiative is a controversial breakfast sandwich token that patrons can purchase and distribute to hungry neighbourhood residents.
posted by mannequito (27 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
(just to add, I considered adding something in the post about the recent issues with nearby restaurant PiDGin, but I see now that there was just a post on that a couple weeks ago)
posted by mannequito at 2:11 PM on March 4, 2013


Save-on-Meats is one of eight restaurants Brand owns in Vancouver's embattled Downtown Eastside (DTES) and the only one which pretends to "care" about low-income residents, which his establishments are alienating and displacing. He has been on at least two reality television shows promoting his public ethos, which focus on how hard it is to be a business owner with a conscience -- and then he shortly opens up some new Portlandia caricature in Gastown.

The token scheme is particularly egregious, for what should be obvious reasons: it tacitly does not trust the poor with money (thus the "problem" it solves is the one in the moralistic quandary of the giver, not the actual person in need); it is a money-maker for him (apart from the free publicity, some 25% of all gift cards are not redeemed, so even if he's selling at cost, he'll make a profit); the sandwich itself is not available inside the restaurant, so even if a panhandler redeems it, they are not welcome inside Save-on-Meats.

I'm fairly sure Mark Brand believes he is doing good -- and he has convinced many people of this belief. But he has not convinced the low-income people he claims to do this work for.
posted by Catchfire at 2:12 PM on March 4, 2013 [17 favorites]


When Save-On first opened their product was, indeed, affordable - just as it was when it was run by the old owners. Lower income residents of the DTES shopped there. Then Brand slowly moved away from that towards organic, free-range, grass-fed, ethical, blah, blah, meat geared towards more affluent new-comers. All good, and all - but the old-time locals were priced out. Not everyone has the luxury of eating bacon that comes from a pig with a skylight in its pen.

The butcher-shop side is currently closed for renovations so they can implement some "exciting new products and services". I'm hoping it's an old-timey provisions store. Gastown really needs another one of those.
posted by doublesix at 2:31 PM on March 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm hoping it's an old-timey provisions store. Gastown really needs another one of those.

Will you be able to get your handle bar moustache wax there? That's what I want to know.

Seriously though, on the east coast there is a gentrification war going on as well, but it's much slower. But I honestly think for the most part that the residence of the North End of Halifax are more organized and have more support than DTES. I'm not familiar with who is fighting the good fight on the west coast, but we've had people like Rocky Jones here.
posted by SpannerX at 2:40 PM on March 4, 2013


Mark Brand and his gentrifying compadre Sean Heather (who also owns a stupid number of DTES businesses... 10 now?) are very good at putting a human face on their capitalism, but they only do the bare minimum to prevent themselves of being the target of the community's ire. (When you fail to do even that, you get the Pidgin picket.) It's just standard corporate social responsibility PR operation fluff, there's no there there.

That said, Brand is uniquely capable of getting traction with his particular...brand. I wouldn't be surprised to see him running for mayor someday.
posted by mek at 2:41 PM on March 4, 2013


I don't think the challenges of the DTES can be solved by telling people like Brand to stay out - like I've said in an earlier post, I don't think anyone wants to live in a flophouse subsisting on minimum wage, although there is noplace else they can go on this side of the Rockies.

However, I think what Brand is doing is pretty cool - he's helping create an actual food culture in downtown Vancouver that didn't exist there a decade ago. I think the more people that come into downtown, the more vibrant it will be.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:49 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Granted, I think one of the main reasons why the locals are more organized around here might be the fact that they displaced quite a few people when the bulldozed Africville, and Cogswell Interchage so they've been fighting this sort of thing against Governments instead of just businessmen since the late 50's early 60's. Not that they've won...
posted by SpannerX at 2:50 PM on March 4, 2013


It's just standard corporate social responsibility PR operation fluff, there's no there there.


I'm not sure about that. You go too far. If every operator in the DTES had his sense of responsibility to the community the area would be far better off. He's at least aware of and concerned about the area he operates in, whereas many other new comers to the area are not seeming as engaged with the area. Same with Sean Heather. Say what you will, he too seems cognizant of the fact he's not in Yaletown or Kits.
posted by Keith Talent at 2:56 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


"it tacitly does not trust the poor with money"

I wonder why?

Frankly, the plan doesn't reflect Save-on-Meat's reluctance to help the poor and homeless. It reflects the reluctance of all the various people, organizations, and police that give out the tokens.

"I'm not saying it's the whole solution. It's a portion of it."


"But he has not convinced the low-income people he claims to do this work for."

Except for those individuals redeeming a whopping 75% of these tokens for a damn tasty meal.
posted by markkraft at 2:56 PM on March 4, 2013


I'm fairly sure Mark Brand believes he is doing good -- and he has convinced many people of this belief.

I'm kind of torn on this front. I live and work within a couple of blocks of Save-On-Meat, so I know all about the extreme cases of poverty in the area. I totally agree that this token scheme is flawed for all the reasons you say. I also know that some of my coworkers, who often see the local street folk as dangerous aliens, have bought said tokens. Some misguided sandwiches is probably better than none, although certainly not ideal.

(Many years ago I helped protest the Woodwards building demolition as part of a sit-in, and now I live in the condos built there. Bourgeois comes in a cloud of age and comfort and really good restaurants.)
posted by jess at 2:57 PM on March 4, 2013


I think the guy is probably tone-deaf and should just drop the embarrassing "corporate social responsibility" schtick. He's an entrepreneur who takes risks, and appears to be very good at that aspect of his life. It's not like there's some guarantee that his various businesses are going to be a success - this is the restaurant trade, after all, which has been hard-hit by the recession + HST in British Columbia.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:01 PM on March 4, 2013


Beggars can't be choosers with Save-on-Meats sandwich token
posted by mek at 3:03 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


He's an entrepreneur who takes risks, and appears to be very good at that aspect of his life.

He says he’s personally in debt to the tune of about $1-million, but he has no plans to stop expansion.

Does anyone actually use this or is it just mobile advertising for the Brand?
posted by doublesix at 3:14 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Actually, I can see why East Van folks would be pissed by the misappropriation of the East Van "brand".

Interesting to see the Anthem Properties connection.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:17 PM on March 4, 2013


I live in the Tenderloin part of San Francisco, which, like Gastown, is in close proximity to some of the downtown's most expensive businesses... and I can honestly say that there are plenty of high-end businesses that operate in the neighborhood... but that none of them that I know of offer such a large, visible program to provide food for the hungry and financially challenged.

Some of them offer charity and food to the homeless, certainly... but they don't do it at their places of business. They'd rather the homeless not hang out near their businesses, frankly. However, the homeless have other ideas. Many would rather not go to the homeless shelters if they can possibly avoid it. Can you blame them, entirely?! Most of you don't want to be there either.

So, when I see a program that dispenses sandwiches at an outdoor window, I tend to think more of "Wow. How much did it cost them to build and staff that window?" And when I check their website and see that these tokens can also be redeemed inside the diner, well... all I can say is that they offer up a greater degree of dignity than many, many other businesses would offer them.

The basic fact is that both the Tenderloin and Gastown are areas that *should* be expensive real estate, based on proximity. Both are home to many of the city's services for the homeless, drug rehabilitation, etc. That said, Gastown will also tend to attract businesses offering affordable rents near the downtown. More affluent people will move in, *if* they think that the neighborhood is safe enough... and why shouldn't it be?!

The problem isn't that there are increasingly more reasonably affluent people willing to take a bet on Gastown or the Tenderloin. It's not that, by doing so, we'll somehow push the poor out of the neighborhood... especially if they are in low income housing projects. Rather, the problem is that these neighborhoods have been used as dumping grounds for the poor by a larger NIMBY community. Putting all these services in one area tends to attract drugs dealing, criminality, etc.

Perhaps Vancouver, BC should consider building a new methadone treatment center and homeless shelter on the westside, rather than complaining about how the marginalized are being pushed out of the eastside?!
posted by markkraft at 3:50 PM on March 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I wonder why?

What?
posted by rtha at 3:52 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because the homeless people on the DTES are notorious vegetarians...
posted by dobie at 3:55 PM on March 4, 2013


If it's anything like Victoria BC, there's already plenty of services for folks living in the DTES - they don't need tokens for food. There's a need for more shelter beds, more wet shelter beds, more affordable housing, more safe-injection sites, more mental health services, a guaranteed income, and more services to help transition people off the street.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:59 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"What?"

rtha, you live in San Francisco, right? Remember the expression "Care, Not Cash"?!

It's telling that the interview I linked to mentioned that Brand originally wanted to create an alternate currency, good at all kinds of places... but that he received all kinds of push-back for doing so. He didn't say why, but you can bet that it was because of the concern amongst many of the key players -- police and shelters likely included -- that the alternate currency could be sold or traded for other things, such as drugs, alcohol, etc.

As such, Brand now focuses on what is easy for him to offer people... an inexpensive sandwich, not cash. Given he runs a diner, I can't exactly blame him.
posted by markkraft at 4:03 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perhaps Vancouver, BC should consider building a new methadone treatment center and homeless shelter on the westside

While NIMBYism is a factor in this, a broader problem is these kinds of social services are the duty of the province, not the city. And in BC we've been undergoing austerity at the provincial level for about 30 years now, thus the thousands of people who can barely afford to live. Welfare is $610/month. Because of the historical existence of SRO hotels, and the dismantling of mental health services & associated social safety net over the last 30 years, the DTES is now a nexus of social services providing basic care to retired people, disabled people, addicts, & all the many forgotten meek and poor, and they are dependent on those services to survive.

Displacing them without providing for their needs elsewhere is politely asking them to die. And that's exactly what Vancouver is doing. The rest of the province should be outraged.
posted by mek at 4:03 PM on March 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Displacing them without providing for their needs elsewhere is politely asking them to die."

Or, more precisely, asking them to go homeless. But the good news is, 450 of them a day will have access to tasty, hot breakfast sandwiches.

(Were you expecting a complete solution to this problem, because outside of taxing the Westside, I've got nothing. Fortunately, the westside wealthy are uniformly opposed to the PM's policies, and are more than willing to have their taxes raised to solve the problem, I'm sure.)
posted by markkraft at 4:17 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perhaps Vancouver, BC should consider building a new methadone treatment center and homeless shelter on the westside, rather than complaining about how the marginalized are being pushed out of the eastside?!

Like in the vacant buildings of the Riverview Hospital out in Coquitlam?

WAIT NO you specified westside. My bad.

As an American cousin I say, keep giving the guy a hard time, but not specifically because he's doing the minimum or because it's a marketing veneer or something. It's way more than anything I would expect from an American businessman and the fact that there's debate about whether it's enough or if it's legit and acceptable is why you, dear fellow Cascadians, should keep up the needling. Never settle.
posted by mwhybark at 4:40 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think there may be a slight cultural disconnect here - in Canada we expect the government to play a strong roll in solving challenges like this, rather hoping some philanthropist will step in.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:49 PM on March 4, 2013


Save-On-Meats

Why do I have A-ha stuck in my head?
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:50 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


I nearly forgot to link the relevant satirical twitter account.
posted by mek at 4:50 PM on March 4, 2013 [3 favorites]


Help end poverty by giving us $7500! #TED2014
posted by KokuRyu at 5:00 PM on March 4, 2013


Those anarchist jerks just stole his sign.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:46 AM on March 21, 2013


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