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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!

Image

(Muriel Marjorie, DTES poet and cover photo for the Heart of the City Festival program guide. Photo by David Cooper.)

The Heart of the City festival is showcasing the culture, heart and soul of the DTES.

The massive program guide includes over 80 events happening from October 24-November 4. Events include workshops, poetry reading, community dances, musical performances, films – and more.

A misunderstood creative community

For Terry Hunter, associate director of the festival, it’s a treat being able to showcase Vancouver’s most diverse neighbourhood.

“I’m so thrilled to be able to work with the community to put our voice and our culture onstage,” said Hunter in a phone interview on Thursday.

“We want to change perceptions of the community. Many people have a black and white perception of the Downtown Eastside as a drug-ridden neighbourhood full of crime … People don’t see who we really are.

The artists of the DTES may or may not call themselves artists in a professional capacity, but regardless of their stature, they create some of the most prolific art in Vancouver right now. Because many come from marginalized situations, they see art as a means to communicate their voice, struggles and lives with the community.

“It’s all about relationships” – Terry Hunter

Planning such an extensive and diverse festival is no easy task to undertake.

“The only deadline we have is to get the info on the program guide,” said Hunter.

The team that plans the festival takes an integrative approach. They actively book events or showcases themselves, often grouped under an umbrella theme like “Rock and Roll.” Often, communities themselves plan something, and the Heart of the City team supports them in whatever ways needed.

“They might say, ‘We want to do a show but we need a space,’ or, ‘We want to do a show but we don’t have enough money,’ and then we help them come up with that,” said Hunter.

Other times, a community event that’s already been planned will ask to be included in the festival. If the team feels the event is connected with the community or what the festival is all about, it will be included. And, if there are annual events, like the Carnegie Community Dance, they’re put under the umbrella of the festival programming too.

“We’re very integrated and such a part of the community … We’re talking to people about events we might do next year,” said Hunter. “It’s all about relationships with people in the community.”

Highlights and major events

Some of the top festival picks, like Barrio Flamenco: Flamenco for the People and SURVIVAL, STRENGTH, SISTERHOOD: Power of Women in the Downtown Eastside have already past.

Terry Hunter recommended a few of his top events over the phone on Thursday.

Building: a Social Writing Evening (Dunlevy Snackbar, 433 Dunlevy) with the DTES Thursday Writing Collective, directed by Elee Kraljii Gardiner, offers participants an opportunity to engage in a social writing exercise in an intimate, grassroots setting.

Big Jazz at the Heart of the City Festival (Ukrainian Hall, 805 E. Pender) brings the Downtown Eastside’s hot Carnegie Jazz Band together with the “King of Swing” Dal Richards and his seven piece Combo. This is one you’ll need to wear your dancing shoes for!

“Dal Richards is a legend in Vancouver’s jazz scene,” said Hunter. “My mother and father danced to Dal on top of the Vancouver Hotel in the 1940s.”

Terry Hunter is also a member of the Carnegie Jazz Band, which is led by Brad Muirhead.

OUT OF THE BASEMENT & V6A PROJECT PREVIEW (Carnegie Community Centre 3rd floor Gallery, 401 Main) includes the unveiling of the V6A Project, which highlights 11 years of theatre and music production in the DTES. A booklet of over 100 pages lends insight into all the productions profiled. Terry Hunter worked on this project as well.

“Personally, I’m really looking forward to sharing this book. It’s our way of thanking and honouring the community.”

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