A Syrian restaurant that closed this week after receiving xenophobic death threats will reopen Friday to make a statement that Toronto is a safe place for immigrants.
Soufi’s, a Queen West eatery opened by Syrian immigrants in 2017, abruptly closed after the owner’s son was identified as a masked protester in a viral video from a People’s Party of Canada Fundraiser in Hamilton, in which an elderly woman in a walker and her husband were blocked from entering by a group of protesters.
Vigilantes distributed information about the man, Alaa Al-Soufi, and his parents’ restaurant, inciting others to send hateful messages and make harassing phone calls to the business, including gruesome threats of violence. On Sunday, the owner’s son was physically assaulted, the family said, and they announced they were permanently closed Tuesday due to concerns for their family and staff’s safety.
The next day Mohamad Fakih, the CEO of Middle Eastern restaurant chain Paramount Foods, reached out to the Al-Soufi family and asked them to reconsider. He offered to temporarily take over management so they could have time to deal with the attacks they received, which are being investigated by Toronto Police.
“We do not want to set an example for future immigrants and refugee business owners as the business that gave in to hate,” Husam Al-Soufi, the restaurant’s owner said at a press conference Thursday morning. He said he was overwhelmed by the supportive messages that poured in this week. The exterior windows of Soufi’s were plastered with notes of empathy and gratitude from customers and neighbouring businesses.
The Al-Soufis will retain ownership of the restaurant and all nine staff members who were laid off this week will be rehired. If police presence or private security are needed when the restaurant reopens, Mr. Fakih said he will arrange for it.
Mr. Al-Soufi said his son is still recovering from the digital, verbal and physical attacks he received but did not want to discuss details of Sunday’s assault. His son will not be working at the restaurant for the time being, he said.
Before the press conference, Mr. Al-Soufi spoke to David Turkoski, the son of the elderly woman who was blocked from entering the People’s Party fundraiser, and invited him to bring his mother and her husband to Soufi’s when it reopens.
Earlier this week, Mr. Turkoski told the Globe and Mail he was horrified to hear of the attacks on the Al-Soufis.
“Anybody that would ever threaten that poor gentleman (the elder Mr. Al-Soufi) is a disgrace to Canada,” he said. “We should never penalize a hardworking immigrant family because he has a son … I’m not going to back everything my children have done.”
Mr. Fakih said he reached out to the Al-Soufis because of his own experience battling hate. In 2018, he won a multi-millionaire dollar settlement after a Mississauga man was found guilty of posting hate speech about him online. In a series of videos, the man made many defamatory allegations about Mr. Fakih and Paramount having ties to terrorism.
“When I went and dealt with hate, people thought, ‘It’s okay, Mohamad has business and has money,'” Mr. Fakih said. “Money and business does not help when you’re dealing with hate, especially when it involves your family and your staff.”
Follow Dakshana Bascaramurty on Twitter @DakGlobe