Run by bakers Neil and Thos Sorenson, the original White Lunch Cafeteria opened in 1913 across the street from Woodward’s Department Store on Hastings Street. A series of other restaurant locations followed. The Granville White Lunch nestled in the company of numerous other diner-style cafes and restaurants that catered to local workers, shoppers, and patrons of nearby Theatre Row.
The White Lunch neon sign was spectacular, bearing a three-dimensional coffee cup with steam rising off the top. Down below on the saucer, the silhouettes of a chef, a child, a dog, and a couple moved around the cup.
While it was a popular meeting place for gay, lesbian, and transgendered youth in the 1960s and ‘70s, the White Lunch also carries a darker history of exclusion. In the 2007 book The West Beyond the West: A History of British Columbia, author Jean Barman wrote the following:
“Attitudes [towards BC Chinatowns] nevertheless remained ambivalent. Some of Vancouver’s 200 Chinese families operated small neighbourhood stores, whose lower prices, longer hours, and fresh produce made them suspect.
When W.H. Malkin, a leading wholesale grocer with deep roots in Vancouver, ran for mayor in 1929, one of his campaign planks was that ‘Oriental shops should be confined to fixed Oriental areas.’
While Malkin was unsuccessful in gaining the restriction, Vancouver’s White Lunch restaurants lived up to their name, it being common knowledge that they ‘didn’t allow Orientals to eat there.'”CLOSE FULL STORY