Five things you should know about Moe Atallah: restauranteur, philanthropist

How much do you know about Moe Attallah? Photo by Al Goyette.

“I never knew I was getting older. I kept on going. People would ask me how long have you been in Canada. I’d say 20 years. They’d say, you told us that 5 years ago. I’ve been here at least 36 years. I’ve worked in the restaurant business every day and never kept track of the days or years – whether it was weekdays, Saturdays or Sundays.” 

Moe Atallah retired a year ago. Two years ago, close friend and journalist Earl McRae, passed away.

“We started the Elvis Sighting Society together,” says Atallah. “He was my age. I never thought Earl would die or pass away. It was a big shock for me; I could go next. I started thinking, what’s going to happen?”

Atallah closed the Newport Restaurant at the corner of Richmond and Churchill and operates his business together with his wife and daughter at the smaller venue (formerly Donna’s Restaurant) at Churchill and Scott.

“It’s easier to run this place,” says Atallah. “After months and years of perfecting what we do, we do a good job. Staff moved with me. Some of our staff have been working with me for over 20 years. We keep our staff, even if they’re old; we know they will arrive on time. I feel they are not staff, but family.”

Atallah has slowed down, a little.

“One of Earl MacRae’s wishes was to go to Graceland, something we were never able to do. Last year our kids and in-laws wanted to treat us but we weren’t able to go. This year we did it. We drove to Nashville and Memphis to see Graceland and had a wonderful time but it was sad without Earl. It breaks my heart. We had so much fun together. We were like twin brothers. We had the same feeling about Elvis, about politics. I think of him every day.”

1. He has his own entry in Wikipedia

Do a Google search for Moe Atallah and up comes an entry in Wikipedia about the Newport Restaurant, Atallah’s philanthropic endeavours, his involvement in creating a smoke-free restaurant environment in Ottawa.

2. He came to Canada as a refugee

Moe Atallah came to Canada as a 32-year-old refugee from Lebanon in 1976. His only brother was a journalist and columnist in Montreal at the time, and Atallah, a Christian who owned 3 restaurants in the Muslim section of Lebanon, left during the civil war. He found a job at a restaurant on his first day.

“The owner said ‘will you do dishes’. I said, I’ll do anything. I was lucky, he didn’t want a dishwasher, he wanted a manager,” says Atallah. “I spoke English, Italian, French and Lebanese. I ran restaurants; I did dishes; I still do dishes now.”

Atallah started at $1 an hour and worked a 40-hour week in his first job here in Canada because he “didn’t want to be a burden on his brother.”

3. He truly believes the customer is always right

Atallah opened the Newport Restaurant in 1988. Reflecting back on a long career in the restaurant business he advises new entrepreneurs “to be successful in business – and the restaurant business is 7 days a week – you have to love your job, work hard at it.”

“You have to love people, to care about every single person whether they just buy a cup of coffee or spend $100. You have to treat them the same… I always believed that the customer is always always right,” he adds.

Atallah can’t sleep at night if he can’t find a solution to a nagging problem.

“You need to be present,” says Atallah. “Your staff give 90%, but I give 100%. Sometimes they forget the bread. As soon as I know there is no bread, I go and get the bread,” he says.

A typical day for Atallah starts at 6:00 a.m. and often finishes at midnight.

Guess what he would do if he won the lottery?

“I would buy another restaurant,” says Atallah.

4. He trained as an interior designer

Atallah trained in his native country as an interior designer, but his father had just bought a restaurant and didn’t want to run it himself.

5. He’s all about giving.

Every Christmas morning, for many years now, Atallah has invited the less fortunate for a free breakfast and lunch at the Newport. Hundreds of gifts are also donated from the public to the Newport for this special occasion.

“I remember the first time at the Newport for Christmas. You can’t describe the joy it gives when you can make people happy. There are people who came who never eat in a restaurant,” says Attalah.

Christmas this year will be a little different. We are “Doing ‘Meals on Wheels’ because of the location. We’ll feed 120 people; volunteers will deliver meals on Christmas day.”

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