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PHOTO GALLERY: Ontario grocer Ammar’s Market celebrates anniversary

Canadian-Syrian family marks food store milestone
Anmars market
The business employs some two dozen people, most of them family members. Photography courtesy Ammar’s Market

As ribbon-cutting ceremonies go, there was the usual hoopla with prominent people and giant scissors to mark the 20th anniversary of Ammar’s Market in Kitchener, Ont.

But for the Canadian-Syrian family that owns and operates the popular halal meat and grocery store, there was nothing ordinary about the milestone event at their shop on Monday morning.

“So many people came – the store was packed,” said owner Bashar Al-hendi.  

He and his brother Ammar, a butcher, opened the store in the middle of a small commercial strip mall near downtown Kitchener in 2004.  

From two employees and sluggish sales in its first few years of operation, the business is now booming with some two dozen employees, most of them Al-hendi family members.

The Al-hendis have also become known for their sponsorship of local community events and groups, including refugees.

“We like to give back to our customers and the community,” said Bashar.  “That’s what we’re all about.”

READ: Halal food industry growing to meet demand as Muslim population continues rising

He credits the store’s success to the decision he and his brother made from the get-go to both target and cater to fellow Muslims in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, an hour’s drive west of Toronto.

But they also consciously expanded their grocery offerings and custom-cut meat selections to attract food shoppers from all walks of life.

“The Muslim community was too small then to build our business on,” said Bashar.  “So, we took a much wider view.”

In addition to offering many conventional Canadian meat, dairy and produce items, the Al-hendis began importing popular foods and snacks like Turkish Delight and Halva from across the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Mediterranean regions. 

They also offer halal meat cuts of all size and stripe for various ethnic groups, from thick beef steaks to thin cuts for schnitzel.  

READ: How brands can better connect with multicultural consumers

They also make prepared meat items like barbecue-ready kofta balls from ground lamb.

“Our meat prices are also much lower than the biggest stores,” said Bashar.  “We don’t do packaged meat – we make everything here  – so some of our cuts can be half the price.”

He said the store’s halal meats, which are produced by a halal-certified slaughtering facility in the nearby town of Elmira, home to the largest Mennonite population in Canada, are popular with Muslims and Jews alike.

“We have many Jewish customers,” said Bashar.  “We don’t talk politics here.”

He also credits the store’s location near the city centre and Highway 85, a short connector freeway that connects Kitchener and Waterloo, for its success. In 2015, the Al-hendis expanded into a vacated unit next door in 2015.

They knocked out the walls and renovated the entire 7,000-sq.-ft. space with new floors, ceilings and counters and added new display and walk-in coolers, as well as a big walk-in freezer.

The Al-hendis have also developed an online weekly flyer through their website and use social media to advertise store specials and various community events.

Ammar’s Market is also known for its sponsorship of community groups and events and regular donations of food and money to local causes like Food for Kids, which provides daily meals for public school students. They’ve also worked to help the many refugees from their native Syria settle into the Kitchener-Waterloo region over the past decade.

READ: As consumers embrace global foods, grocers look to diversify their offerings

“We know how hard it can be,” said Bashar, who was studying law in his hometown of Damascus when he emigrated to Canada with his family in 1992. After working in several jobs in the Toronto area, he and a cousin bought a convenience store in Kitchener in 2000. Bashar and Ammar later decided to strike out on their own with a halal food store.

In addition to their wives, respectively Ramia and Raghdaa, who have worked part time in the store since it opened, Bashar and Ammar now also employ their brother Mohammad, sister Maisa, as well several of their own children and nieces, nephews and in-laws.

They were joined at the store by many friends, customers and local politicians and charity workers for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which began at 8 a.m. Monday, an hour before the store’s regular daily opening hour (except Sundays, when it opens at 10 a.m.). “It was a pleasure and a privilege for us to celebrate with the many friends we’ve made in the community,” said Bashar.

See photos from the event in the gallery below. Photography courtesy Ammar’s Market.

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