Syrian immigrant brothers who 'started from scratch' ready to open Kamloops restaurant - InfoNews

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Syrian immigrant brothers who 'started from scratch' ready to open Kamloops restaurant

Papa G's Cafe owner Gerald Thiessen, left, has sold his Seymour Street location in Kamloops to brothers Rojeh, middle, and Robert Labbad who will be opening a new Arabic restaurant in the upcoming weeks.
September 14, 2019 - 1:30 PM

KAMLOOPS - A new restaurant is set to open in downtown Kamloops in the next few weeks and its owners are inviting the public to come and try some authentic Syrian flavours.

Co-owner Rojeh Labbad, 29, came to Kamloops nearly four years ago through Canada’s Syrian refugee program.

The entrepreneur will be running the restaurant with his older brother, Robert, who came to Canada through a sponsorship program. The siblings reunited in Kamloops after fleeing from the civil war in their home country.

The brothers purchased the restaurant space of Papa G’s Cafe located at 561 Seymour St. They hope to keep a similar food menu to Papa G’s while also incorporating their own Middle Eastern dishes.

“We plan to use the name ‘Shawarma Time’ and we will serve traditional Arabic food,” Robert says.

The new owners have been receiving help setting up their new restaurant from Papa G’s Cafe owner, Gerald Thiessen, who will be moving his restaurant to a bigger location on Victoria Street.

The two men say they look forward to opening and hearing feedback from the public on their dishes. The brothers say the rest of their family will be moving to Canada from Lebanon in late October to help them run the business as well.

The restaurant is not only a new business venture but will also serve to reunite the men with their parents who they haven’t seen in nearly a decade due to the war in Syria,

Rojeh will also be meeting his youngest sister in person for the first time as well.

“That first reunion is going to be hard,” he says.

Before coming to Canada, Rojeh had been studying in Jordan and completed his aircraft mechanic degree when the uprisings began in Syria. When he realized he couldn’t go back, he applied through the Canadian government’s refugee program and when he was accepted, he found out he would be living in Kamloops.

He still remembers his first few days in the city including flying in on a cold January day three and a half years ago.

“I arrived here at 7:30 p.m. and I walked out from the airport and it was very cold, minus 20 or something,” he says. “People were in jackets and I was in a T-shirt.”

Rojeh says he immediately started playing with the snow when he saw it.

“I got sick for a week after that, it was not a good idea,” he says.

Rojeh says he remembers coming to the city with very little money and not speaking any English. Two weeks later, he got a job at Hasty Market as a cashier and started to learn English during his interactions with customers.

“The guy there helped me a lot, he pushed me to speak and he put me in front of people and told me ‘Go, just speak’,” he says.

He’s also been working as a tire mechanic and a delivery driver to support himself and his family.

When Rojeh and Robert found out their family would be joining them in Canada, they needed a business that would help support them as they settle into Canada and decided purchasing a restaurant would be the best option.

“I want our life to be good. We came here and we started from scratch,” Rojeh says. “It was a very tough time for us but we made it here now.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Karen Edwards or call (250) 819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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