By Charlie Senack
Canadian businesses have had to adapt to COVID-19 and, for those in industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic, they are looking for new opportunities to make ends meet.
That’s how one of Westboro’s newest businesses was born.
Noor Food Market, located at 332 Richmond Rd., was launched by a group of people who all had their respective careers torn apart because of the global pandemic.
Donald Batal, who recently moved to Ottawa after operating successful restaurants in Dubai and Lebanon, and Abbis Mahmoud, president of Dreammind Group (and main owner of Noor Food Market), had plans of opening a fine dining Lebanese restaurant in the space where Noor Food Market now stands. But those plans were quashed when the provincial government started closing down bars and restaurants during the first wave of the virus.
Nadin Kara, a managing partner at Noor Food Market, said that’s when plans had to change and the idea of a grocery store came to light.
“As businessmen, we have to think very fast,” he said. “We decided we would then go into food security because that will be very, very important going into the future. And it also provided quick employment to lots of people whose entire industry could be obsolete for the next few years.”
Kara, who has worked in the hospitality business and operated successful nightclubs in Toronto, said the idea was first founded back in March, when the government urged seniors to leave the house only for necessary outings.
Multiple business owners saw this as a perfect opportunity to create a group which would cater to seniors’ needs — and so Operation Ramzieh was born.
It saw such success, the group decided to start helping anyone who was struggling through the pandemic.
Sharon Bosley House, owner of Avant-Garde Designs, a local events company which puts on many of the city’s top parties every year, saw her business take a hit in March with all events being cancelled.
After she closed her doors, the popular local event planner joined Operation Ramzieh and, before long, there was talk of opening a grocery store: Noor Food Market.
“I was excited about this because it definitely is good therapy to get you through everything that has been happening,” she said. “For me, this has been my pivot, leaving special events and going to a grocery store, when I [had] only had experience with one when I was 16 years old as a cashier.”
Having the store to fall back on also helped cover the bills — Bosley House still had to pay for her events business, which is $15,000 a month alone for two warehouses. She admits the future is uncertain, but her priority right now is solely on the store. At Noor Food Market, she is now the main purchaser for the store.
“I am in limbo land right now and I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my events business,” Bosley House said. “Some people say hold onto it, things will come back; and then another part of me says to shut it all down. Even to sell it, I would lose a lot of money right now. It’s just not the right time.”
The business is a ‘Middle Eastern-inspired food for health grocery store,’ its Facebook page states. Noor Food Market is a modern-day grocery store which fits perfectly into a trendy community like Westboro, say the owners, who pride themselves in carrying items customers want.
“What’s going to stand out at our store, as opposed to going to a big box store, is our love for the community and the care we put into our products,” said Kara. “We specialize in gluten-free items, sugar-free items; we always try to cater to the needs of everyone.”
“We have really gotten to know the customers and we are listening to what they want and what they need,” echoed Bosley House. “There are a lot of people here who are organic, a lot [vegans] and a lot on the keto diet, so we are trying to have a bit of everything. The comments we are getting constantly are about how much love goes into our products.”
The store is going back to a format which has not been seen in decades, focusing on love and community. Bosley House says the arrival of big box stores took away from that atmosphere, but it’s something customers still enjoy.
One of Noor Food Market’s mandates is to carry localized products as a way to support other small businesses that are struggling to put food on their families’ tables. Some of those products include milk, which is carried in bottles, and ready-made meals.
As the cooler weather arrives and fewer people will be walking the streets, Kara admits that the business model will have to change.
“We do need to pivot. Snow is going to be coming soon and a lot of people in the Westboro neighborhood don’t drive and walk everywhere,” he said. “We want to provide a service to all customers, especially our senior customers who might be afraid to leave the house because of COVID.”
Prices are also reasonable, even with Westboro being a wealthy neighbourhood.
“They can [get] things here for the same prices as you would at the Walmarts of the world,” said Kara. “We actually price check.”
The business will soon be offering delivery and curbside pickup services for those who are unable to make it to the store.
As people’s anxiety increases during the second wave of the pandemic, Bosley House said they will be carrying special products, such as candles with positive expressions on them and hush blankets that offer comfort to those with anxiety or mental health issues.
To find out more about the store and the products they carry, you can visit their Facebook Page at Noor Food Market. For those who live in the area, many of their products can be purchased through Uber Eats.