TORONTO — Owners of a popular Toronto Syrian restaurant run by recent arrivals to Canada say they’ve had to close after staff began fielding hateful messages and death threats.
The owners of Soufi’s in the downtown core did not state what is behind the hateful messages, but the restaurant was recently in the national spotlight after a member of the family reportedly attended an event protesting against People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier.
Media reports say a now-deleted Facebook post indicated the owner’s son attended last month’s event in Hamilton and regrets not stepping aside or intervening when an elderly woman was blocked from entering and verbally harassed.
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.
Toronto police say a member of the restaurant’s staff previously reached out to file a criminal complaint, but no report was completed.
Members of the Alsoufi family did not respond to a request for comment from The Canadian Press but issued a social media post spelling out the reasons for the closure.
“As a result of numerous hate messages & death threats we’ve received over the past week, we’ve decided to permanently close our shop,” reads a post on the restaurant’s Instagram account.
“Our decision is made with a heavy heart in effort to maintain our family and staff’s safety.”
The post said the family hopes to share more details once they feel safe enough.
Const. Rob Reid said the force received a call from a family member on Oct. 2 who indicated he wished to file a formal report about hate speech and threats.
Reid said no one was at the restaurant when officers went to the scene and they have not been able to reconnect since.
“We’d really like him to call back so we can . . . make this report,” Reid said. “When these things live in the dark, we can’t shine any light on them.”
According to the New York Times profile, which hailed the restaurant’s menu designed around traditional Syrian street food, the business was operated by a mother, father and two children in their 20s. The oldest of those children was the one owners claim attended the Bernier event as a protester, according to media reports.
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.
The post announcing the closure of Soufi’s praised what had until recently been a warm reception for the restaurant and its owners.
“Since we opened up Soufi’s in 2017, we have been met with nothing but curiosity, respect, acceptance and love from the people of Toronto, and for that we are eternally grateful,” the post reads.
“We will cherish the countless memories of us sharing stories, food, music and laughter.”
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press