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Guelph's latest shawarma restaurant owned and operated by Syrian refugees (5 photos)

The owners and all the employees at Shawarma.G in the Speedvale Plaza came to Canada as refugees

Seven years ago Walaa Allaf was walking late at night in Downtown Guelph.

Allaf, a refugee from Syria, didn't have a job at the time and was considering moving to another city to try his luck.

But a nasty incident with a stranger on the sidewalk changed his mind.

"He told me 'we don't want your kind here,'" remembers Allaf. "He tried to push me away. But it made me stronger. It motivated me."

Allaf stayed in Guelph and on Tuesday he and his co-owner opened a brand new shawarma restaurant.

Shawarma.G, located in the Speedvale Plaza, is co-owned by Allaf and fellow Syrian refugee Bassam Alkhaledi. All nine employees of the business are also Syrian refugees.

"Some, like me, have been here a few years. Others not so long. One of our cooks has only been here for 32 days," Allaf says.

He says sometimes refugees struggle to find work.

"They want to work, but found it difficult finding jobs," he says. "Our goal was to give refugees a place to work."

Allaf, who has produced YouTube videos aimed at helping Arabic-speaking refugees adjust to their new lives, said he got the idea for the restaurant when he was contacted by a man in Syria who saw one of his videos.

The man, Ahmed Hdia, was coming to Canada as a refugee and had 30 years experience making shawarma back in Syria, wanted to know about jobs. When Allaf found out his background, the idea for Shawarma.G was formed.

That was six months ago, and it became reality this week, serving juicy traditional Middle Eastern shawarma, as well as other tasty treats such as manaesh, a pastry topped with thyme, ground meat, sesame and cheese, and fatayer, a pastry stuffed with spinach and cheese.

Allaf chose the location because there was no shawarma restaurant around and because the plaza, which includes a Tim Horton's, liquor store and Freshco supermarket, was busy.

"Now we just need the local support."

Shawarma.G is located at 328 Speedvale Ave. E. Beginning next week it is open from 7 a.m. to midnight.

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Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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