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Resto Pop looks at poverty in Montreal

by Archives October 22, 2003

They toiled together, they fought together, they laughed and they cried together. Together, they braced their efforts in a struggle against poverty in the city’s east end.

They are the staff of the Chic Resto Pop, a communitarian restaurant in the quarter of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Their efforts have been immortalized in a musical film entitled Au Chic Resto Pop. The movie, filmed in 1990 was directed by Tahani Rached and produced by the National Film Board. It was screened last Friday at Concordia’s J.A. de Seve cinema as part of the Montreal Matters program and was followed by a panel discussion.

“We recycle food and human energy discarded by society,” says Annie Vidal, manager of the Resto Pop, in the movie.

The main characters are workers of the Resto Pop, young and previously unemployed for the most part. They go around butcheries, bakeries and grocery stores to collect cast off food. Back at the Resto Pop the food is prepared and then served at a minimum cost to the poor and hungry ones. Besides feeding a deprived clientele, the Resto Pop also helps young people caught in the vicious circle of unemployment by providing them with jobs.

The characters unveil their previous problems through rock-and-roll and blues songs that they perform in such unusual settings as the restaurant’s kitchen. Some of them fled their homes, others saw theirs destroyed while others still were never given a chance by society.

Working for the restaurant, however, they manage to unite into a tightly knit community and overcome the hardships of their lives.

The concept of the Resto Pop inspired other communities in the grips of poverty.

“It served as a model throughout Quebec,” said James Nelson, coordinator of the restaurant, during the panel discussion that followed the movie.

The movie even reached audiences in France and, according to Nelson, French people were delighted by it. In fact, said Nelson, they even visited the Resto Pop when they came to Montreal.

The Resto Pop evolved greatly since the filming of the movie. With the help of federal, provincial and municipal subsidies, the restaurant has recently acquired a church in the city’s east end. The social have programs expanded as well.

“Since then, the Resto Pop got bigger,” said Nelson. “We go into schools now and we serve meals.”

The restaurant now serves 400 meals per day and serves an additional 500 meals to children in nearby primary schools. It is now located at 1550 Joliette St. in Montreal.

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