Despite an exodus of businesses from Kelowna's Leon Avenue over issues around the city's street population, one entrepreneur is bucking the trend by starting up a vegan restaurant on the notorious street.
Chef Shaun Sanders has opened the Renegade Kitchen & Craft Bar with a partner in the 400 block of Leon Avenue just two buildings down from one of Kelowna's biggest homeless shelters in an area known for its open drug use and vandalism.
"There is a lot of fire and brimstone in the media with this whole situation down here right now and as somebody who works on the front lines of it every day, honestly it hasn't been that bad," said Sanders.
Sanders admits that they chose the location because it was inexpensive and it situated them downtown.
He's betting the customer base he's built, from running his Renegade Kitchen food truck, will still come into the area despite its bad reputation.
"For the most part, our core clientele are millennials. Millennials don't seem to be too scared off by that." said Sanders.
"We figured if we made the place hip enough, people would come."
A restaurant opening in this block of Leon Avenue is a bright moment in what has been a bleak couple of years of companies closing their doors or relocating to other parts of the city.
The city's homeless population has surged over the past several years.
In November 2017, the province opened a temporary winter shelter on Leon Avenue — the second homeless shelter on the street.
The shelter has remained open every since, much to the frustration of the Downtown Kelowna Association (DKA) which has spoken out repeatedly about the impact the street population has had on local businesses.
Over this time frame, several businesses have either left or announced their intention to relocate, citing issues of crime, vandalism and vagrancy.
Consequently, Sander's decision to open his doors in the area is a welcome sign for the DKA.
"I think that it's a wonderful thing that they have taken this bet," said DKA president Yarden Gershony.
"We believe that if one or two successful businesses can make a go of it in that area, it will lead to other business people realizing that there is an opportunity and follow suit and that can have a snowball effect and lead to the revitalization of the entire area."
Sanders said he's trying to be respectful of the street population in his dealings with them and has a practice of leaving out his empty bottles in the back alley and taking the occasional meal out to people on the street.
"We are certainly not on some crusade to gentrify Leon. If we can help in any way to enhance this neighbourhood or make it a better place, we are happy to do so," he said.