Little Burgundy then & now: a Joe Beef story

It may seem hard to believe that a 10-seat restaurant could have such an influence in changing, or dare I say it- ‘gentrifying‘ a community.

Ok, I don’t really believe that Joe Beef gentrified the south-west borough, but I was really interested in knowing the difference between Little Burgundy in 2005, when Joe Beef opened, and what it’s like now. The restaurant’s manager, Vanya Filipovic, described the difference like “night and day”.

When Vanya started working at Joe Beef in 2005, she admitted that she had never been to the neighborhood, and that the patrons “had a baseball bat behind the bar, we had a red button that called 9-1-1, and there
were bankrupt antique dealers everywhere”.

Particularly astonishing is the difference on the city block where Joe Beef & Liverpool House stand: there’s a Starbucks, upscale Mexican restaurant, sleek British pub, a Java U set to open, and an independent coffee shop.

I also asked Vanya if she thought Joe Beef integrated into the existing community when they opened:

I think it’s a really fascinating kind of double-edged sword, because yes, I think it
did integrate with the community very well, but at the same time it drew in a lot of people
from elsewhere; especially all the media attention that was given from the get-go; it really
opened the eyes of Montrealers even, and people from outside to this neighborhood.

it just drew some attention to the neighborhood, and then people realized
that first of all, its really close to downtown; I don’t think anyone realized, I think
people thought St. Henri was far away, but it had kind of the ideal location of the canal,
the market, and the metro

Vanya was quick to answer questions surrounding Joe Beef’s influence on the neighborhood, I could tell she had given this a lot of thought, and after thinking about it myself, I agree with her. The restaurant didn’t come into the neighborhood ostentatiously or with the desire to change things, she even contributed the restaurant’s choice of location to “being off the beaten path”. However, it’s imminent success was a factor in the neighborhood getting known and more popular, especially in it’s near surroundings.

I wouldn’t blame Joe Beef for kick-starting gentrification, at the same time, I wouldn’t praise them for lowering the crime rate- these guys are famous for doing what they want to do in their restaurant, but I can’t imagine they could have predicted the change in atmosphere around them. After all, Joe Beef’s rustic small-scale quality blends in in Little Burgundy- Starbucks, perhaps less so.

Categories: MTL Food Identities


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