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'A place where people know each other's names': Fundraiser launched for beloved Vancouver restaurant after fire

"I didn't need to know the table numbers I just wrote their names."

It's known as a place where, not unlike the popular sitcom Cheers, everybody knows your name, as well as your order. 

When news broke that a suspected arson had forced the Ovaltine Cafe to temporarily close, a former employee decided to launch a fundraiser to help get the beloved Downtown Eastside diner back up and running. 

Kristen Larson worked at the Ovaltine for five-and-a-half years, describing her role as a "jack of all trades" that included serving tables, washing dishes, managerial roles, and more. 

She worked closely with the owners, mother-and-daughter team Grace and Rachel Chen, and reached out immediately after she heard about the fire. 

"They had some reluctance to ask the community outright for help but they were alright with me creating the fundraiser," she told V.I.A. 

The GoFundMe notes that the restaurant's exterior is badly damaged and "parts of the kitchen were affected by the flames," leaving the business inoperable for six to eight weeks.

"It's a spot that is one of the last affordable [dining options] in the neighbourhood," Larson added, noting that there used to be plenty of place students, seniors, and families in the area.

But the former staff member notes that its reasonable prices are only a small part of what makes the Ovaltime such a gem. 

"It's a place where people know each other's names."

"It represents a time that's kind of gone and there's a lot of people left from that time," she said. "I'd unlock the door at 6:30 a.m. and I'd have a lineup and [everyone would say] 'good morning the usual," she described.

"There were so many regulars. I didn't need to know the table numbers I just wrote their names.

"It's a place where people know each other's names. It's kind of a community centre."

The GoFundMe goal is set at $20,000 to "help expedite repairs, cover the costs of utilities while they are forced to close their doors, and help the employees impacted by this unexpected event." 

Steps from Main Street on Hastings, the Ovaltine - known by many for its striking neon signage, if nothing else - opened in 1942, and has remained a stalwart in the neighbourhood through decades of evolution.

A classic greasy spoon - all-day breakfast, burgers and fries, pots of coffee sizzling on the burner - Ovaltine Cafe was granted a new lease on life in 2014 when the mother-daughter duo took over ownership of the space. 

With files from Lindsay William-Ross.