Pop-up restaurant in Dude Chilling Park promotes social togetherness

Photo by Christina Jewell

Community event serves up pancakes in Dude Chilling Park.

Imagine your favourite hole-in-the-wall restaurant—the one that fits only a few tables, each warmed by candlelight, and where the food served is nourishing and comforting. Now imagine it outside at a pop-up restaurant in Dude Chilling Park.

Short Winter is just one of the many events throughout the city promoting Winteraction, a collaborative initiative designed to bring isolated people together in the coldest months which includes a dance party in Robson Square and a pop-up ping-pong court under the Cambie bridge.

Christina Jewell, the organizer behind Short Winter, applied for Frank&Frida’s Cure(eos)city grant with winter depression and social isolation in mind. Inspired by the Nuit Blanche art installation event in her native Toronto, Jewell wants to create something unexpected in a familiar place—something she finds missing in Vancouver.

“I want to show that it’s a special creation to not predict your environment,” said Jewell.

Restaurant in the Forest moves to the park

Jewell is no stranger to event coordinating. According to Yael Boyd, a childhood friend of Jewell’s, this is her fifth Restaurant in the Forest, the name lovingly dubbed to her pop-up dinners, and the first made fully public.

“At first I thought it would be a secret event,” said Jewell, who is also a fourth-year student at the University of British Columbia. But when the grant organizers pushed her to make the event public on Facebook, she embraced the idea. The event quickly drew 1,800 interested people.

Having secured only a modest $75 for the event, Jewell had no choice but to change her original pop-up restaurant idea into a bring-your-own picnic, in order to accommodate the hundreds of potential event goers. Preceding the event would be a pancake dinner for the lucky 48 people who reserved first, followed with vegan hot chocolate for those who stayed for the picnic.  

Connecting in the wintertime

Part of the allure of installing a pop-up restaurant outdoors was “being able to create a room, that was like a dining room, and contains all the things that a dining room should, but without walls,” said Jewell. “It’s very casual and ordinary, and yet special.”

In the middle of Dude Chilling Park, just in front of the tennis courts, Jewell and some friends had laid down towels and thick blankets on the soggy ground and had constructed makeshift tables from plank boards and milk crates. By sundown, tea lights had been scattered here and there, illuminating the faces of the dozen or so diners, who had heard of the event through Facebook or word-of-mouth.

After listening to CBC’s “On the Coast” interview with Jewell the previous day, Danny Mason decided to stop by with his two young kids. As a regular user of Dude Chilling Park, Mason said he’d gladly happen upon more events like this one, especially in the wintertime when there is no farmers market to gather members of the Mount Pleasant community.

Christine Lawson echoed this sentiment. As a single mother of a 10-year-old, she finds it difficult to participate as much as she’d like to in her community. She’s made time in the past to volunteer with her son at the food bank on Raymur Ave, but as a college student finishing her bachelor’s degree, she wishes community events were better advertised so that she didn’t have to search through Facebook to find something to do.

Against expectations

Throughout the night people came and went, bringing with them boxes of cookies and leaving with the names of people they would later friend on social media.

The willingness of these event goers to do something new—to “embrace unpredictability” as Jewell says—defies Vancouver’s reputation of being an emotionally cold city. Whether or not that’s an accurate description, the city’s denizens can attest to its dreary winters that feel never-ending.

This “colder culture of people,” as Vancouver-native Banafsheh Derayat put it, inhibits Vancouverites from meeting outside of their social circles. For her, Short Winter represents a necessary opportunity to make new friends, while eating good food in one of the city’s many green spaces.