Discoveries and Destruction in East Van

Last week was filled with food experiences for me. Some good, some rather horrible. I will briefly describe two for you.


A few weeks ago, food writer Alexandra Gill wrote in a Globe And Mail article that Divino WineBar was “her favourite restaurant of 2009”. OK, what? Divino? The place on Commercial Drive next to the Italian Gelatria Dolce Amore? Huh?

Divino WineBar opened last year after lengthy renovations that saw the gelato shop move from its prime corner location, giving way for what looked to be another wine bar with charcuterie and cheese offerings similar to Salt or Au Petit Chavignol. At first I thought it was a welcome addition to the neighbourhood in which I live and I had high hopes, but they soon faded.

Saying that first couple visit “did not impress” is being kind. Nothing seemed organized, the server was a vegetarian and knew nothing about the meats she was serving us, and the wine list was generic, uninspired and over-priced. A second visit was more of the same, except now there were LCD televisions blazing away, attracting an unsavory and frankly unwelcome downtown & Yaletown crowd. One more failed visit led me to abandon all hope. In retrospect, I’m surprised I, or any of my Foodists compatriots, didn’t write up a scathing review of the place.

But then this glowing article by Ms. Gill, whose opinions I have found hit and miss, but it inspired a few of us to go back and let me tell you: she speaks the truth! David Fert is a master sommelier and has a unique talent for pairing wines, and chef Jefferson Alvarez is nothing less than a genius. We tried as many dishes as we could, seeking the flaws or exaggerations in Ms. Gill’s account or her experiences—couldn’t do it. The room is now cozy and genuine, the food is playful and passionately prepared (how does he do that in that tiny kitchen?) and the wine is superb. You could really lose control in a place like this. I’m a little worried that it is so close to my apartment…

If Foodists had a rating scale, we’d be awarding Divino Wine Bar five floating Buddhas. Go there. Now. You won’t be disappointed.


The weekend was shaping up well and Andrea and I happened to be standing by our living room window when we heard the terrible sound of screeching as an auto accident unfolded before us. A car, headed northbound on Victoria Drive, was struck from the side and spun around in front of us, only then to take off at full throttle southbound. We watched in horror as the terrified driver and passenger ran up the curb, over a sign, missed a fire hydrant by inches and ran straight through the wall of South China Seas at the corner of Grant and Victoria.

South China Seas is one of the Foodists favourite food importers in Vancouver, and the Victoria location was in fact where the collective officially launched back in 2008, so you perhaps you can picture me, standing with my hands on the glass yelling to the driver below “No, no, no! Brake! Hit the brake! Stop! Stop! Don’t hit my store!!” to no avail.

I was the first one on the scene, calling 911 as I ran, and found the driver of the car—which was still on, transmission engaged and wheels spinning—pulling her friend from the wreckage, followed by what looked like her groceries! After getting her and her passenger, who seemed rather injured, to lie down and showing some people how to administer C-spine immobilization, I ran into the store.

I’ll never forget what I found inside. The owners, Don and Joyce, weren’t there at the time of the accident, and their employee Mayumi, was standing in shock moaning and crying. The store looked like it had been destroyed by a bomb blast. The area where she had been standing was gone—literally buried under heavy rubble. How she escaped with only a bruise on her wrist I’ll never fully comprehend, but she explained that when she heard the screeching of tires, she turned around and began to walk the length of the deli cabinet when the wall beside her burst inward, sending dozens of bottles of sauces, shelving, and shards of glass flying. Apparently she dove through the passage beneath the counter beside the cash register and out of harms way. Amazing.

Thankfully no one was badly injured during this terrible accident, but it comes at a bad time for South China Seas. Owner Don Dickson says “This is a huge blow and it is difficult at this point to even take it in.” They are now faced with rebuilding much of the store, which may take months and their kitchen, in which they host cooking classes and prepare many of their products, was damaged.

To further complicate things, Dickson explained that since Granville Island (location of their other location) was being turned into an Olympics venue, they were counting on the East Van store as an option for Public Market customers who couldn’t access the Island. “We were even contemplating a delivery service so that orders from Oyama, Tenderland, Armando’s, The Salmon Shop and so on could be picked up at Victoria Drive.” says Dickson.

What Can We Do About It?

Plenty. Small businesses like Divino Wine Bar and South China Seas are part of the fabric of East Van—its what makes our neighbourhoods great. Let’s get out there and support these people. Next time you are considering a nice meal out, call David at Divino and tell him the Foodists sent you. And when shopping for your next meal at home, muscle your way through the Olympics crowds and show Don and Joyce your loyalty at their Granville Island Store until they can rebuild and re-open the Victoria location. Send them an email and send them your support and promise to spread the word about the greatest little import food store in Vancouver. Let’s bury them with our business and turn this accident into a tremendous PR moment for them.

Photos from the accident can be viewed on Flickr and a video tour of the wreckage can be seen on YouTube.


3 Responses to “Discoveries and Destruction in East Van”

  1. Posted on January 25th, 2010

    I grew up in the early 1980s. We used to trade hockey cards in the schoolyard, and the most undervalued currency was always any Pittsburgh Penguins player. This experience has stuck with me to such an extent that a headline like ‘Penguins Win the Stanley Cup’ is enough to send my brain into a topspin. I *know* that Pittsburgh is a good team, but it just doesn’t compute.

    I had the same reaction when I read Alexandra Gill’s article. Divino? Good? It just didn’t make sense.

    It sure makes sense now. Rarely have I had as good of a meal in Vancouver as I had at Divino – almost everything was on point. My only gripe was with the sticky toffee pudding which, in my opinion, is the wrong dessert to go avant garde with. I still hold all STPs to the Parkside standard, which is a hard one to beat.

    Of course I am saddened by the news about South China Seas, but I can’t say I’m surprised. That location has been surrounded by the bizarre since the 1990’s. In the 10 years that I lived two blocks away, it was a 50s style coffee shop, a thrift store, a yoga studio, a tattoo shop, a hari krishna meeting centre, and a burlesque theatre – all failed. Let’s hope this car crash is enough to shake out the bad luck.

    Finally, I think your advice about supporting small business can’t be repeated enough. Businesses like Divino and South China Seas so indeed make neighbourhoods – let’s keep them in, and keep the Wendy’s and Tim Horton’s of the world squarely out.

  2. Posted on January 26th, 2010

    Still not convinced about Divino myself. Four of us went there about 2 months ago for dessert and I have to say no one was impressed. I mean really not impressed. The desserts were all “just okay”. The one I did like was the creme caramel, until the chef said “ya, I put foie gras in it”. What the heck is that about? For all of the vegetarians out there, I was horrified that that was not clearly stated before I ate my dessert. Something like that should absolutely be made clear when you order. I mean it wasn’t like I was ordering a steak, it was dessert, you don’t expect there to be goose liver in your dessert. The chef also seemed more concerned about us thinking he was great, rather than actually just being great. No one seemed to care that we weren’t really that happy.

    I’d say I would give it another try, but I might be telling a lie. We did go La Brasserie the other night though and it was really great – as were the humble and very talented chefs.


    Okay – I am not a negative person, I just want to say that before you read on :-) because as I am reading this I am imagining people saying “gosh this lady is a bee-atch”.


    Now for South China Seas…I have always been a fan. I do shop there on an almost weekly bases…but I have to say, that I was a little bit shocked at how “devastating” the story of the car crash was protrayed. I guess it was also the timing of the random email that we received that told us of the “devastating” news. It was around the same time as the earthquakes in Haiti – now that was and still is devastating.

    I totally understand that this will greatly affect their business and it will be a bit of a rebuild and clean up, but it sounded like they were totally wiped out. Like I said, maybe it was the timing or something but something just didn’t sit right with me about the story or how it was told. Sorry…just my opinion and I am sure I am one of the only ones.

    It made me think of the guy from Slickity Jim’s Chat n’ Chews. Recently his entire restaurant burned down and he was interviewed on TV, he said something like “it’s just stuff and I am glad no one was hurt”….no poor me or anything.

    Anyways like I said, I am really not a negative person, it just so happens that I had an opinion about both of these subjects and you caught me in a feisty mood :-)

    Please don’t hate me because I mean no disrespect. I am sure I will regret saying anything as soon as I hit the “submit comment” button (well not the stuff about the foie gras).

    To Divino, I wish you good luck and to South China Seas as well – may this be a prosperous year for us all. Cheers and here’s to free speech :-)

  3. Posted on January 26th, 2010

    Hi Dawn,

    Thanks for your honesty—it’s appreciated.

    Re: Divino, well, what can I say. Even Jer mentioned above that the dessert was the weak link in our experience. Go back and order the wine and tasting menu with wine pairing. Make sure to try the Wuxi pork—you won’t be disappointed.

    Re: South China Seas, what “devastating” story are you referring to? Your comments make it sound like I have exaggerated the scenario that I witnessed first hand, so I’m confused. I believe this is the email you refer to for context. I agree that it’s time for the owners to clean up, fix the wall, and re-open as quickly as possible, but I know them and understand how shook up they were about this situation and it’s hard for us to judge, having not walked in their shoes or knowing all the details.

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