Robert Belcham doesn't want Vancouverites to read the failure of his Fat Dragon Bar-B-Q restaurant as a negative reflection on the Downtown Eastside.
"I want it to be a reflection of Vancouverites. I want them to look at it and [ask] 'What is the real reason I wouldn't support it, was it because I was too scared to go down there?'" he said. "If that's the reason then I feel sorry for you because where Fat Dragon was, we never had any crime perpetrated against us. You go to Gastown, I'm driving on Carrall right now, and it's a f***ing open drug market and people are packing Gastown every night_ to me it's not really logical."
The critically acclaimed Fat Dragon Bar-B-Q on Powell Street, just east of Oppenheimer Park, closed its doors just before Christmas, a mere nine months after the restaurant with owners from Campagnolo and Campagnolo Roma opened.
"It's simple math, actually. Not enough bums in the seats," Belcham said.
He believes the style of food, its location and "the fickleness of Vancouverites" all contributed to the restaurant's demise.
Belcham thought Vancouverites would be keen to try a mash up of American southern barbecue and Asian flavours. But he concedes the concept may have failed to lure diners.
He thinks it's misguided to pin the problem solely on location. While someone smeared feces on the lock on the front door on opening day, he denies other problems.
"It's a great area of town but it's totally, absolutely disregarded by society in Vancouver because it's always been considered the ghetto of Vancouver," he said.
"There're some great businesses over there like architectural firms," Belcham added. "Aritzia's head office is over there. They were a great customer of ours."
Belcham bristles at suggestions Fat Dragon was too expensive for the area. He compared it to the nearby Au Petit Chavignol and Two Chefs and a Table and added he wouldn't be willing to sacrifice top quality ingredients to cut costs.
"I'm not going to start buying shitty ingredients from Sysco to drop 10 per cent of the price," he said.
"The Downtown Eastside should be nourished by small businesses," Belcham asserted, noting Fat Dragon employed 15 to 20 people and 90 per cent of them lived on the East Side.
Without big backers, chefs can't afford to run restaurants in more upscale areas of town, the co-owner of the defunct Fuel turned Refuel on West Fourth Avenue said.
Belcham says he understands concerns about gentrification eliminating affordable housing.
"I would never say that people should be pushed out of where they live, never in a million years, that's just not fair. But at the same time, leaving a whole section of the city to lie in waste when there's such beauty there, it seems absolutely idiotic," he said. "There has to be a middle ground. There has to be a way to help both to happen."
Belcham and his partners signed a 10-year lease on the Powell Street property that he says previously housed a restaurant that sold marijuana. He said Dec. 28 they would probably make a decision on what they'll do with the space in the "next couple of weeks."
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