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The Globe and Mail

Restaurant’s closing a blow to Downtown Eastside

The restaurant is said to contribute a safer street environment to a stretch of East Hastings that’s desolate in the evening.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Instead of reopening his restaurant after the long weekend, Joe Chaput stood outside Au Petit Chavignol on Wednesday, telling customers that the bistro was closed, and would stay that way.

"In a nutshell, really it wasn't making very much money," Mr. Chaput explained to The Globe and Mail. "The restaurant had lots of great customers. It just didn't really have enough of them."

The restaurant, which specialized in wine pairings with cheese and charcuterie as well as cheese-based dishes – raclette, fondue, a killer cheeseburger – is on a stretch of East Hastings that's desolate in the evening, and certainly after dark. And the chair of the local residents' association worries this closing could have implications for the block, the neighbourhood – and for safety.

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"It certainly contributed to a safer street environment and encouraging other businesses to show up," says Pete Fry, chairman of the Strathcona Residents' Association. "It was eyes on the street, it was just a presence, and we want to see that kind of thing grow. There's literally nothing within a 12-block radius after dark there. … It's a ghost town."

Mr. Chaput and his wife, Allison Spurrell, and mother-in-law, Alice Spurrell, opened Au Petit Chavignol in 2009, along with an eastside location for their popular Kitsilano cheese shop, Les Amis du Fromage.

They opened the side-by-side operations on the 800 block of East Hastings, in what could be described as a no man's land between the Downtown Eastside and the Waldorf Hotel. The next block east is scheduled for a condo development, but in the meantime, the bistro was surrounded by empty storefronts and across the street from businesses that include a medicinal cannabis dispensary and the Vancouver Seed Bank. The cozy bistro, which was until this week open Wednesdays through Sundays, became a bright spot for residents of nearby Strathcona.

But while the cheese shop has thrived, the restaurant was more of a struggle. Closing the place will allow the owners to concentrate on growing other aspects of the operation, in particular their frozen-food business.

The restaurant's troubles have been apparent for a while, but the family finally made the decision to close over the last week.

"We actually had a serious conversation about it and crunched some numbers and went: it's not making sense," Mr. Chaput says.

The staff was informed on Tuesday, and later that day a note went up online and in the window: "We would like to let you know that we've made the decision to close Au Petit Chavignol effective immediately," it began.

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The closing is in no way related to the spate of anti-gentrification activism targeting some eastside restaurants. But Mr. Fry, who sits on the city's local area planning process committee (representing the residents' association), says the protests and vandalism could have a negative impact on his association's vision for a vital, mixed neighbourhood.

"It's a somewhat polarizing issue and there are certainly a lot of the anti-gentrification activists who are concerned about what kind of revitalization happens on the Hastings corridor," Mr. Fry says.

"I'm personally disappointed because it was reasonably affordable," he adds, "and they had one of the best burgers I've ever had."

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