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The magic of Middle Eastern food


Damascus Cafe & Bakery celebrates one year in Sudbury



BY Ella Jane Myers


As Damascus Cafe & Bakery approaches its first birthday, its owners are celebrating by making things official: pursuing Canadian citizenship and expanding their small business.

Hussein Qarquoz and his wife, Sawsan, arrived with their three sons in Sudbury as Syrian refugees in late 2015. They’ve come to love the city.

Judging by the constant flow of smiling customers through the modest downtown café,  it seems the feeling is mutual as Sudburians are discovering the magical flavours of Middle Eastern food.

“In Sudbury, it’s been very good,” said Qarquoz. “People support me all the time. When I leave here now, I miss Sudbury.”

He doesn’t have much time to leave, though. With the café open six days a week, he works hard to keep up with the city’s ravenous appetite for steaming shawarma sandwiches, crunchy falafels, herbed pastries, and delicately floral sweets and cookies.

On one chilly February afternoon, it’s hard to find time to talk as a regular stops in for pastries, two young professionals dig into bowls of Syrian chicken and potato soup, and the owners’ toddler, Omar, runs about causing mischief and enjoying a piece of pastry.

The oldest son, Mohamed, is in high school, and works at the bakery along with a couple students hired to keep up with the hectic pace. When the two middle sons, Ousama and Nabil, are old enough, they will also learn the family business.

When Qarquoz has a moment to spare, he runs outside to feed a multi-coloured cluster of pigeons some stale bits of bread − beaming the whole time − then tunes into a video chat with three cousins.

Opening Damascus was a triumphant moment for his family, a new beginning after being forced to abandon the bakery he’d started in Syria.

But while Sudbury may feel like home now, that doesn’t mean the family doesn’t miss Syria.

“I miss my city,” said Qarquoz, gesturing at a mural of his hometown of Al-Qusayr − red brick buildings and a flowing river surrounded by greenery − painted on one of the restaurant walls.

“I had a good life in Syria before the war because it’s a beautiful country. But when the war started, it changed everything. Everything is broken.”

He said he hopes they’ll go back to visit one day when it’s safe, but doesn’t know if or when that will happen.

Qarquoz hasn’t seen most of his family in eight years and wishes he could be closer. His father, sister-in-law and her children moved to Sudbury about a year ago. Sawsan hopes some of her siblings, who are in Lebanon, will get sponsorship to move to Sudbury/

Qarquoz said he’d love a bigger shop, maybe in the South End or in New Sudbury. For now, he wants to keep building on the momentum  generated over the past year, and start giving back to the community by connecting with local food banks.

“When I came with my family to Sudbury, so many people supported me,” said Qarquoz. “Now I want to support them.”


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