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Friends roll up their sleeves to help with renovations at the Commercial Street Cafe. PHoto courtesy of Nadene Rehnby.

Friends roll up their sleeves to help with renovations at the Commercial Street Cafe. PHoto courtesy of Nadene Rehnby.

Family-owned cafes on “The Drive” are popping up all over.

One of my managers, Chris, recently quit after several years of working at the Rio Theatre to open up a new business with his roommate Margot and neighbours Nadene and Pete. The Commercial Street Cafe (3599 Commercial Street) opens tonight at 7 p.m. The Tangent Cafe (2095 Commercial Drive) opened just shy of a month ago on October 12, and is owned by Nate and his husband Linda.

Commercial Street Cafe is a new endeavor for the gang, who have roots in graphic design, publication,  management, makeup, just to name a few.

“My wife and I both have a passion for good food and drink and thought this was a good way to share it,” said Nate of the Tangent Cafe.

Community ethos

It seems like both businesses got some advice for getting their feet off the ground from that song by The Beatles – no, not “I Am The Walrus!” (that song only makes sense under a certain influence anyways) – “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

“We relied a lot on family and friends to do a lot of work, like repainting chairs,” said Nate. For most of the other dirty work, they hired outside contractors.

The Commercial Street Cafe was brought to life over 5 days of sweat and love. Numerous friends and family helped Chris, Margot, Nadene and Pete repaint and refurnish the old corner store to make it into the space they were dreaming of.

The Drive

The community-oriented vibe on Commercial offers the perfect haven for indie, mom n pop cafes to thrive.

The Tangent Cafe is the product of a re-branding of the previous restaurant at that location, so Nate and Linda renovated quickly to facilitate a quick turnaround so as not to lose out on regular customers of the old business.

“It’s been decent … we’re quite busy on the weekends for brunch,” said Nate.

They live on Commercial Drive so the location was a no-brainer.

The Commercial Street Cafe is just down the road from Chris’ gang, too.

“There are lots of places like this .. [Commercial Drive] is something of a destination in the region,” said Nate.

It’s nice to see that when you get out of the downtown core, there’s more to be had than just a Starbucks, Blenz or Waves – quality and service with a smile hasn’t gone the way of the pager and let’s hope it never does!

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News 1130 reported today that Bon Wong, proprietor of well-known East Van eatery Bon’s Off Broadway, received the Bad Boss Award from the Employee Action Rights Network (EARN).

Bon’s serves greasy spoon-style chinese and diner food, but is relied upon by many East Vancouverites (including myself) for its answer to a hangover cure on a plate: the $2.95 breakfast special. Two eggs any style, bacon/ham/sausage, toast, and hash browns (INSIDERS TIP: ask for garlic & onion in the hash browns. sends them to another level!) smothered in enough grease to coat your stomach and send you to the bathroom before the day’s over.

“One of the ways the costs are so low or the prices are so low perhaps is that people aren’t being paid what they’re legally entitled,” says EARN’s chairman Stephen Von Sychowski.

According to EARN, one current and one former employee have alleged that Bon Wong pays his employees under the table, below minimum wage and offers no overtime or vacation pay.

A sworn statement from a current employee says that bussers are paid $7 an hour (with a $10 tip-out from each server on shift) and servers are paid $6 an hour (plus tips). The statement also says the employee worked 11 an 12 hour shifts without overtime pay, was paid from the till, and provided with no T4 forms.

As reported in The Province, however, Wong denies the allegations against him. “A couple of staff got let go, so that’s where the story is coming from,” he told The Province. He upholds that liquor servers are being paid $9/hour and kitchen staff are being paid $10.25/hour.

Wong does, however, get tipped out $2 per hour from each server because he often works alongside them when business gets slammed during a rush.

“I’ve been working in this business for 30 years. If I was a bad boss, nobody would be working for me,” he told The Province.

I’d really like to look into this story further. Bon’s is a mainstay for my coworkers and I to converge and catch up or “recover” over the cheapest meal in town. Wong has always seemed like a pleasant man, rolling up his sleeves and working alongside his employees; it would be a shame were it all a sham, and I’m going to reconsider supporting a business which mistreats its employees.

However, working for an independent business owner myself, I understand that sometimes it’s hard to make ends meet and employers sometimes need to cut corners temporarily and employees need to either accept that and have some flexibility or quit if they’re unhappy with it. I can’t speak for what the conditions at Bon’s are like, obviously, but I know I’ve had to sit out late or bounced paycheques from my employer. It was maddening at the time and going to the Labour Board has crossed my coworkers’ minds on more than one occasion… but the money came through eventually, and I’m willing to sacrifice temporarily if it means my employer can stay in business and I get to keep working at a job I love.

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