Tucked away in Vancouver’s Chinatown neighbourhood, staff at a small restaurant prepare dozens of Chinese dishes, ranging from honey garlic spareribs to pig’s feet with peanut.
It’s one of the few spots in the city where people can pick up a two-item rice or noodle combo for under $12.
Kent’s Kitchen is considered by many to be an institution in the area, offering large portions of food at an affordable price and helping out other businesses.
But soon, it will be gone.
The restaurant, which has been around for more than 40 years, will be forced to close come April due to a 30 per cent rent increase, according to William Liu, the director of the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants’ Association.
Vancouver’s Chinatown is one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city, but it’s long been in need of revitalization. Located on the edge of Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside, It has faced economic health and crime challenges that were exacerbated by the pandemic.
Earlier this year, both the federal and municipal governments committed millions of dollars to revitalize the community.
Meanwhile, rent for both commercial and residential real estate continues to soar across the city.
And Chinatown is no exception.
“I think it just has to do with a lot of the development potential in Chinatown,” said Lu on CBC’s The Early Edition of the rent increase that is closing Kent’s Kitchen.
“That potential is enticing to a lot of developers, enticing to a lot of the property owners, so they just decide to increase the rent and are just pushing out all these legacy businesses.”
Kent’s Kitchen’s owner confirmed the restaurant’s closure but did not want to be interviewed.
Liu, a restaurant owner himself, said the closure has been a long time coming and suspects other businesses are in a similar position.
“We’re all just struggling,” he said. “We’ve been struggling for so long, and we’re just at a crux right now.”
Food delivery program for seniors to end
Stephanie Leo, who volunteers in the area, said losing Kent’s Kitchen will be tough on residents.
“When seniors are going into places like Kent’s Kitchen … they’re buying these large portions of food, but they’re often not just saving it for themselves, they’re sharing it with many people within their SRO [single-room occupancy hotel] and portioning it for several days,” she said.
“What might be a normal portion for me or you ends up sustaining these seniors for maybe over a week.”
On Monday, Leo had to deliver more bad news to Chinatown seniors alongside the groceries she gives out as a volunteer with the Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice — that service, too, would soon be ending, as their grant funding was not renewed.
She said there are 7,000 seniors over the age of 55 living in the neighbourhood. The program supplies food for about 77 people, she said.
“We’re really seeing this trickle-down effect from increased property taxes now turning into issues of food insecurity, unfortunately,” Leo said.
Liu said the closure of legacy businesses in Chinatown affects everyone around them because they all shop locally and make an effort to support one another.
“Kent’s Kitchen, they get their meat in Chinatown, their produce in Chinatown,” he said, adding that his staff often order meals from there. “We work with each other, and we send people off to other businesses when we don’t have certain ingredients or certain products.
“We need these kinds of businesses in Chinatown. Once we lose them, we lose that integral part of Chinatown.”