A heated debate on gentrification and the controversial branding of several new vegan restaurants in Parkdale will come to a head this weekend.
The company, the 5700 Inc., is celebrating the opening of three new “Vegandale” restaurants by throwing a weekend-long block party between Dufferin and Brock on Queen West. Meanwhile, local community groups are hosting a public forum to discuss the corporate rebranding of Parkdale and greater issues of gentrification.
Anonymous Instagram account Parkdale Life, which has over 37,000 followers, along with the non-profit Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT) are hosting the community forum. The event takes place Saturday (August 3) starting at 3 pm in the Milky Way Garden (87 Milky Way), a shared community garden owned by PNLT.
In a Facebook post for the event, organizers list two demands: that Vegandale cancel their block party until further consultations with the community take place, and that they remove and stop all “Vegandale” branding.
Earlier this year, the 5700 announced their plans for “Vegandale” via a rendering of Queen West featuring their current businesses and future restaurants. The mock-up purposefully excluded long-time Parkdale institutions, such as St. Francis Table and the Hamza Mosque, and included street signs and banners replacing “Parkdale” with “Vegandale.” Since then, it’s triggered a greater conversation around food insecurity, rising commercial rents and the disappearance of affordable housing in the neighbourhood.
“Owners of [Vegandale] have not addressed concerns about their branding of the neighbourhood from residents,” Parkdale Life wrote in an email. “The goals [of the forum] are for Parkdale residents to meet in person, not only on the internet, to discuss the issue, and hopefully then the Vegandale owners will listen.”
Although gentrification has been an issue in Parkdale for decades – and the Vegandale restaurants are one of many higher-end eateries and bars that have moved into the neighbourhood in recent years – it epitomizes the community’s deep desire for meaningful conversation about the future of Parkdale in the face of encroaching gentrification.
“I view the brazen rebrand of the neighbourhood as offensive, and I view the moral high ground as offensive, especially because it associates morality with eating in [Vegandale] restaurants, which many people can’t afford in Parkdale,” says Parkdale Life. “If some company came in and tried to rename a stretch of Parkdale, ‘Meatdale,’ we’d be just as against that.”
As PNLT wrote in an Instagram post, “To the people behind Vegandale: please reconsider your marketing strategy…Parkdale is a diverse community where many people struggle with food insecurity and struggle to main stable housing in one of the last remaining affordable places in Toronto.”Although being invited to attend by PNLT, representatives from the 5700 will not be present at the forum.
In an email to NOW, Hellenic Vincent De Paul, the owner of the Vegandale restaurants, writes: “We are committed to this neighbourhood and want to remain sensitive to the needs and the feelings of the community. We are happy to speak to community organizations one-on-one about our presence here, in an environment with fair and equal representation of both sides.”
Despite months of criticism from residents and community groups, however, the 5700 has not addressed these concerns outright.
After the community forum, there will be a more casual gathering in front of the Parkdale library (1303 Queen West), with free food from Vi’s No Frills, Tibet Kitchen, Superpoint Pizza, CiCi’s Pizza and The Tempered Room. They will be raising money for Parkdale Project Read, Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre and the Parkdale Community Food Bank.
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