After a two-week period that saw the restaurant close its doors due to persistent harassment and death threats, Syrian cafe Soufi’s (676 Queen West) is reopening for business this Friday.
“We do not wish to set a tragic example for future immigrant and refugee businesses [as] a business that gave in to hate,” co-owner Husam Al-Soufi said at a press conference on Thursday morning.
Mohamad Fakih, the CEO of Middle Eastern restaurant chain Paramount Fine Foods, was also on hand to formally lend his support to the family, announcing that Paramount would temporarily take over management of the restaurant and lend staffing to Soufi’s while the family took some time away.
“I saw all the hate they were receiving – I knew what that felt like,” said Fakih, who won a hate speech lawsuit earlier this year against a former Mississauga mayoral candidate.
“What happened was completely wrong. I don’t think the business should be closed. It’s a thriving, celebrated business… I told them I want them to feel like they’re not alone in this. I want to show them that I will stand beside them, and we will all stand beside them.”
Fakih confirms that the Al-Soufi family will retain ownership of the restaurant, as well as its profits: “I did not want anything from this other than ensuring the restaurant stays open.” Those who lost their jobs due to the restaurant’s closure will also be reinstated.
The firestorm began after Al-Soufi’s son Alaa was filmed taking part in an Antifa protest at a fundraiser for Maxime Bernier. Video was circulated of protesters halting an elderly woman as she attempted to enter the building.
Alaa was doxxed via a number of tweets that were amplified by various right-wing Twitter personalities, and the restaurant was soon inundated with harassing messages, including death threats.
By closing the restaurant, Al-Soufi said, he and his family hoped that the messages would subside. “We just want to live in peace again,” he said.
But the wave of support in the wake of the closing, he added, was beyond anything he and his family could have imagined: “We received hundreds of heartfelt messages from people all over Canada.”
Al-Soufi said Alaa would be taking some time away from the restaurant. “We hope the best for our son,” he said. “Kids do mistakes, and our job is to correct their mistakes, not kill them. He doesn’t need [my] discouragement – he learned this the hard way.”
Al-Soufi also said he had been in touch with the “wonderful” son of the woman featured in the protest video, Dorothy Marston, via phone, and that he hoped they would all be able to stop by soon for a meal.
When asked about the hatred they had faced over the past week, Al-Soufi confirmed that those messages had been turned over police, but that he’d “like to talk more about the love letters that we’re receiving,” he said.
“We’d love to hang all the love letters all over the restaurant.”