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Syrian restaurant to reopen in Toronto days after closing over threats

TORONTO — A Syrian restaurant in downtown Toronto that closed after its owners said they received hate messages and death threats is set to reopen Friday following an outpouring of support from community members and other businesses.
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TORONTO — A Syrian restaurant in downtown Toronto that closed after its owners said they received hate messages and death threats is set to reopen Friday following an outpouring of support from community members and other businesses.

The Alsoufi family said its initial decision to shut down the popular restaurant Soufi's came from "a place of fear" and a desire to put an end to the controversy surrounding the eatery.

But the family reconsidered after seeing how people responded to the closure, Husam Alsoufi told a news conference Thursday.

"The aftermath and public reaction to our decision was beyond what we imagined. We received hundreds of heartfelt messages from people all over Canada offering their support and solidarity," he said.

"We do not wish to set a tragic example for future immigrants and refugee business owners as the business that gave in to hate. We want to foster hope and resilience in the face of intimidation and hostility."

The Alsoufis will be taking a break from running the restaurant, however, leaving it under new management provided by the Middle Eastern chain Paramount Fine Foods "until our family feels healthy and safe again," he said.

Paramount's CEO said the Alsoufi family will remain the owners and continue to receive all the profits from the restaurant. All of the staff who lost their jobs when the restaurant was abruptly shuttered this week will also be rehired, Mohamad Fakih said.

Fakih said he hoped there would be no more threats, but that police would be called if necessary. He also did not rule out hiring security as a last resort.

Meanwhile, Toronto police are investigating a complaint filed by the Alsoufi family, who said they have turned over hundreds of hate messages to the force.

The family has said the threats stemmed from a September event featuring People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier, which media reports said the family's eldest son had attended.

The event became a lightning rod for criticism when video footage surfaced showing masked protesters blocking an elderly woman with a walker from entering the Sept. 29 event at Hamilton's Mohawk College.

Hamilton police said they are investigating but have not laid any charges.

Alsoufi declined to discuss the details of the rally on Thursday but said his son had participated in demonstrations "trying to support marginalized people" and had made mistakes, for which he learned his lesson "the hard way."

He also said he had spoken to the elderly woman's son and invited the family to the restaurant in an effort to make amends.

Prior to this, Soufi's had become popular and was profiled in the New York Times as a success story related to Canada's acceptance of Syrian refugees.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 10, 2019

Salmaan Farooqui and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press




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