Published: May 12, 2019 at 8:21 p.m.
Less than four years after coming to Halifax as a refugee, Mohammad Al Habash is running a pizza restaurant.
“Canada gave us more than Syria. We have to pay this country back by hard work,” Al Habash says.
“This way I make money and pay tax.”
The Syrian man owns the Pizzadelic restaurant in Lower Sackville. He spent a month training himself there before he took over at the start of May.
Al Habash was a young successful businessman in Syria before the uprising started in 2011. In 2012, he fled with the family to Lebanon.
The 40-year-old entrepreneur eventually arrived in Halifax with his wife Almasa, his daughter Nada and his son Taim. They knew nobody in the city then, but the fact their private sponsor, Saint Benedict Parish, is in Halifax drew them to the East Coast.
The family landed in Toronto on Dec. 15, 2015. The next day, they flew to Halifax Stanfield International Airport, where dozens of government officials, social activists and journalists were waiting for the first Syrian refugees to come to the Maritimes.
A few months after moving to Canada, Al Habash worked preparing pizza in a restaurant. Later, he spent six months installing cabinets and counters in kitchens with Living Stone, a construction company. More recently, he worked for Skip the Dishes, a service that delivers food to homes.
“I can’t imagine a life without work,” Al Habash says.
“What would I do at home? I don’t watch TV. I can’t see myself sitting at home.”
The less hectic lifestyle in Nova Scotia initially discouraged Al Habash. During his first few weeks in Halifax, he thought there wouldn’t be any opportunities and, until recently, he was considering moving to Ottawa to start a business.
“Now I love it here,” he says.
“It’s quiet and nice. And, more importantly, you don’t need to worry about the traffic.”
Wednesdays and Fridays are the busiest of his seven-day work week. He shows up at the restaurant at 8:30 a.m. to start preparing 44 extra-large pizzas for three area schools.
“At 11 a.m., the pizza has to be at school. Otherwise, the kids won’t find anything to eat,” Al Habash says.
The restaurant’s doors open around noon and, most days, he keeps working until midnight. On Fridays and Saturdays, he goes home at 2 a.m.
“I want to make sure that everything is fine. Later, I will hire someone to fill in for me on the weekends.”
Pizzas, donairs and fried fish are the most popular items on the menu.
“I can’t add other meals because it’s a franchise,” says Al Habash.
“I will focus on the quality. People should enjoy the food they eat.”
For him, the restaurant’s reputation is more important than the profit.
“A small loss now will bring a lot of profit in the long term,” he says, after giving a free Coke to a customer who had to wait five minutes for an order.
He hasn’t been able to spend much time with his kids since he bought the restaurant. His wife drives Nada and Taim to the restaurant to enjoy a dinner and see their father. He drives the kids to school, but they are already asleep when he goes home after work.
Al Habash has no plans to go back to Syria — he’s still worried about his parents there — and he feels at home in Nova Scotia.
“When we landed at the airport, we received a warm welcome here,” Al Habash says.
“It made me forget about the cold weather.”
His wife and children have submitted applications for Canadian citizenship. Al Habash didn’t because he needs to improve his English skills to satisfy the language requirements.
“I’ll take online courses, and the interaction with people in the restaurant will help me to improve my English.”