Power to the people: Vote with your wallet

Photo by Eric Chen

SANTA CRUZ, May 20, 2014 — The world is full of examples of corporate rule and the power of the almighty dollar superseding the will of the people. It happens every day. People endeavor to band together, create protest, beat their collective heads against monetary walls to press their agenda, only to be ignored, marginalized, and dismissed by wealth and privilege.

When a company makes a poor business decision, one which comes as a slap in the face to it’s faithful customers, and that decision backfires, it is worth noting and celebrating as an example that ordinary people can still affect change in our world.

Montreal based vegetarian eatery Le Commensal was well known to locals and visitors for years. For the touring band of vegetarians and vegans, it was an oasis, an idyllic spot and, aside from the great shows bands put on in town, was the primary reason to circle Montreal on the tour calendar the second it was confirmed. It was the type of place every veggie wished they had in their hometown. The food was incredible, with a very Quebec flavor, and the atmosphere was casual and inviting. Dishes were set up cafeteria style and you would pay by the weight of your plate.

Le Commensal became so successful that they opened up restaurants outside of Montreal, in Quebec City and Toronto. Many of their most popular dishes were available in supermarkets and health food stores across Canada, and the crowds at the restaurants reflected how mainstream a meat-free lifestyle had become. There were the punks and hardcore kids, touring bands, families, and metropolitan business elite, all sitting side by side enjoying this eclectic ménage of vegetarian bliss.

Then one day, success was no longer enough for company president Pierre Marc Tremblay, who inexplicably decided to change the restaurant to what he called “flexitarian”, adding chicken and seafood to the menu. The move was designed to increase business, but all it did was completely alienate the restaurant’s loyal (and massive) customer base, and Le Commensal became just another one of a hundred restaurants in Montreal that served dead animals.

The vegetarian and vegan communities boycotted the restaurant immediately, and the sad news filtered out to bands and tourists who once looked forward to visiting on their travels. Nobody knows how much coveted new business Tremblay’s blunder attracted, but the restaurant quickly went from a vibrant, bustling, vegetarian mecca to the verge of bankruptcy.

Today, if you walk past the locations on rue St. Denis or McGill College in downtown Montreal, you will see new signage with the name Resto Vego, but if you venture inside, you will find yourself transported back to the heyday of Le Commensal, with many of the same dishes, and the same vibe and atmosphere of the iconic eatery.

The restaurant has changed it’s name, but returned to it’s vegetarian roots, a reason for Montreal locals and visitors alike to rejoice.

The ill-advised decision to start serving meat at a vegetarian restaurant, the subsequent backlash, and the restaurant’s triumphant rebirth poignantly illustrate that everyday people can still make a difference, and that the progressive adage of one dollar, one vote is a truism.

Where and how we spend our money is the only shred of accountability that profit-driven companies, large or small, have to us, their customers. By pulling the financial rug out from under Tremblay and his flexitarian disaster of a business decision, the public forced Le Commensal to rebrand itself, and in so doing, return to it’s original identity as home base to Montreal’s vegetarian and vegan community, as well as a highly anticipated stop on any touring band’s itinerary.


Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.

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