Terry Deane didn't know what to expect when he entered the space he wanted to transform into a pizzeria.
One of the first things he noticed was a blood-splattered tablecloth.
He knew the location's history: Five years earlier, eight people were shot at a table in what was then a Chinese eatery, the scene of one of Vancouver's worst gang shootings.
"If it was me, I would have thrown it out," Mr. Deane said of the tablecloth, adding he also discovered what he believed to be a bullet hole in a wall.
The 40-year-old ex-jazz saxophonist went ahead and signed for the former Fortune Happiness Restaurant on East Broadway. He is now operating Pizza Barbarella out of the 2,000-square-foot space, nestled among neighbouring businesses that include a convenience store, a computer outlet and an Eritrean restaurant.
Mr. Deane, who previously ran a pizza restaurant in his native Abbotsford, B.C., stripped his new location to its concrete walls, which he painted grey and decorated with 11 photos of his late mother Barbara – nicknamed Barbarella by his father.
It is likely the most dramatic example of the rebound several Vancouver restaurants have experienced after being the scene of gang-war flare-ups that have rocked the region.
As recently as March, two men were shot and wounded leaving the chic Italian Kitchen in downtown Vancouver, across the street from the venerable Fairmont Vancouver hotel.
Sgt. Bill Whalen, spokesman for the provincial anti-gang Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, said restaurants are an occasional scene of gang hits because gunmen follow their targets there, or they learn where they'll be.
"People looking for particular groups of people will find them at restaurants, eating together," he added. "It's really unfortunate, obviously, because they are never the sole patrons of the restaurants. We've been very lucky over the past couple of years in terms of innocent bystanders not being hit."
It's a horrifying experience for customers, of course, and a major complication for restaurant owners. "You don't want to be known as 'the restaurant that had the shooting.' That's not how you want to brand yourself," said Ian Tostenson, head of the B.C. Food and Restaurant Association.
But restaurants in Vancouver tend to recover, he added, partly because the community accepts that they have little to do with the incidents.
Mr. Deane is mindful of the past of his current space, but he's not preoccupied by it. "It was pretty messy when I got in. It was pretty rough. It had really bad carpeting," he recalled.
The landlord told him the story in advance. "It didn't bother me at all."
Some customers ask about the location's past. "I always tell them the story," Mr. Deane said.
At about 4:30 a.m., on Aug. 9, 2007, two masked men walked into Fortune Happiness and opened fire on the occupants at a table. Four men and four women were shot before the gunmen fled through the back door.
Two men who were known to police were killed. Six others were wounded. Police quickly dubbed the targeted hit one of the worst in the city's history. The case remains unsolved. A spokesman with the Vancouver Police Department said he couldn't divulge much without compromising the investigation.
The restaurant association's Mr. Tostenson said the industry took action after the fatal January, 2008 shooting of two men outside the Gotham Steakhouse and Cocktail bar in the downtown core. It created Restaurant Watch, which trained operators to look for suspicious behaviour that could be linked to gang members and to then call police for a quick response. The suspected clients are asked to leave.
Mr. Tostenson said his association is wary about disclosing screening tactics for reasons of security. "It's just become part of Vancouver's restaurant scene – heads up, being diligent and understanding the Restaurant Watch procedures," he explained. "Four years ago, it would have been, 'What do I do? Who do I call?' Now it's pretty clear within the restaurant industry in Vancouver what the procedures are."
Mr. Tostenson had no statistics on how many times police had been dispatched under the program, and a Vancouver police spokesman did not respond to a request for information. Vancouver also has a Bar Watch program that depends more heavily on police patrols.
Aynealem Abraha, owner of the Red Sea Cafe, a few doors east of Barbarella, said he is no fan of pizza but he was relieved to see Mr. Deane's business fill the long-empty location. He made a point of personally welcoming Mr. Deane to the neighbourhood.
For eight years, the cafe has been serving Eritrean and Ethiopian cuisine. Mr. Abraha said he was there the morning after the Fortune Happiness shooting, when the police tape had gone up. He said all business people on the block benefit from new activity.
"It doesn't look good when you see vacant space."
Violence in posh places
Recent restaurant shootings in Vancouver have taken place in some of the most affluent parts of the city. A rundown, all of which are unsolved:
Aug. 9, 2007: Two masked gunmen enter the Fortune Happiness Restaurant on East Broadway, and open fire on a table full of customers. Two men are killed and six others wounded. The gunmen escape through a back door.
Sept. 8, 2007: Just after 11 p.m., two gunmen step onto the patio of upscale Quattro restaurant in Kitsilano, and fire several shots through the window wounding a 29-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman, who are among 25 people at a birthday dinner. Police described it as a targeted, gang-related hit.
Jan. 20, 2008: As a party arrives at the Gotham Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar downtown, gunmen cross the street near the venerable Hudson's Bay department store and open fire. Two men are killed. Among the patrons in Gotham at the time: Actor Keanu Reeves, in town to film a remake of the 1950s movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Jan. 17, 2012: A man is shot and killed in the Bar One restaurant at the Sheraton Wall Centre, across the street from St. Paul's Hospital, at about 8:45 p.m. The victim – gang member Sandip Duhre – was dining with his assailant, who stood, shot him and fled. At the time, the hotel was playing host to the U.S women's soccer team during the Olympic qualifying tournament.
March 16, 2012: As the Italian Kitchen eatery downtown was closing just after midnight, two men leaving the restaurant were shot by a gunman, who fled on foot. Both men were wounded.
Editor's note: Sgt. Bill Whalen is the spokesman for the provincial anti-gang Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story. This version has been corrected.