Escaping Syria: refugee family settles, opens food business in Kingston

Abdulwahab Farwati and his wife Bushra Sbahi came to Kingston in November 2016 and have opened a catering business called Syrian Food in Kingston. Photo by Yona Harvey.

As Bushra Sbahi, 55, recounted how her family escaped Syria, she didn’t want the details known, just that it was “dangerous,” with “houses flattened,” and that she still fears for the safety of her three adult children left behind.

“We were afraid. A lot,” Sbahi said. “I’m very happy and lucky to be here in Canada.”

Sbahi and her husband, Abdulwahab Farwati, 58, have four children ranging from 23 to 35 years of age. Their youngest child, Omar, lives with them in an end-unit townhouse in Kingston. As avid gardeners, their front and back yards are covered with ripe tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, flowers, and herbs. 

A framed collage of photographs and brochures about their hometown, Aleppo, hangs proudly in their living room, a reminder of their past. 

“Within one day, it was all destroyed. Everything built in 50 years was destroyed,” Sbahi said of their homeland.

I find all Canadians (to be) such wonderful, nice people. They help all immigrants, and open arms and hearts to all refugees.”

Bushra Sbahi

Sbahi couldn’t say enough about how good Canada has been to her family. She said that after their harrowing escape from Syria, bordering countries were less than welcoming to her as a refugee. The treatment she received was atrocious. It was only through a government-sponsored program that Sbahi and her husband were able to come to Canada.

When the couple arrived in Canada on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, Sbahi said it was like “a honeymoon.”

“I arrived at [the] airport, I find people just waiting for me—with signs—and they take my hand, they gave me [a] winter jacket and boots,” she recollected.

“They hired people to rent a car for us. The taxi driver waited for us, and took us directly to [Kingston’s] Confederation [Place] Hotel.”

Their son, Omar, came two years later. The government’s rules changed just in time for them to able to sponsor their youngest child. The rules prior to that time prohibited sponsorship of children over 18 years; that limit was then raised to 21 years.

Farwati, a former business owner who managed two businesses buying and selling cars in Syria, received his Canadian citizenship on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. He playfully chides his wife that he’s Canadian now, and she’s not, even though they both applied for their citizenship at the same time.

“I’m proud to be Canadian,” said Farwati. 

Sbahi said one of the advantages of having a Canadian citizenship is the ease of travel, especially when visiting other countries. She tried to visit her other children a few years ago, with no success. They are currently outside of Syria, but she cannot disclose where they are for safety reasons.

“We struggle every moment with [the] visa to visit our children. If I am Canadian, I can just go. It’s a big difference in treatment if you’re Canadian,” Sbahi said.

“I am very happy and lucky to be here in Canada. I find all Canadians such wonderful, nice people. They help all immigrants, and open [their] arms and hearts to all refugees.”

After settling in Canada, the couple were invited to a few multicultural events, to which Sbahi brought Syrian dishes. People asked her to open a restaurant or a catering business, but at the time, the couple worked at Homestead Land Holdings as superintendents.

After Sbahi fell down a flight of stairs, was injured, and couldn’t go back to work, she decided to open that business three months ago.

Syrian Food in Kingston is a catering business where the couple both cook and prepare Syrian dishes. Farwati has extensive experience as a former restaurant owner in Kuwait. They prepare falafel, kababs, shawarma, maqluba, and many other dishes, as well as vegetarian options and desserts, such as baklava, harissa, muhallebi, and creme caramel.

Sbahi also took the ‘Your Way: Women’s Entrepreneurship’ program, an initiative delivered by KEYS in partnership with St. Lawrence College and the City of Kingston, and which is also part of the WE-CAN project at Queen’s University.

Some of the couple’s challenges include having to go to Ottawa for supplies, such as spices and halal meat, something they claim is difficult to find in Kingston.

Sbahi and Farwati are also volunteers at the Jalal Community Garden. Former Kingston and the Islands MPP Sophie Kiwala, the couple’s friend and mentor, said that Farwati is “famous for his work” at the garden and for volunteering so much of his time there.

“[I would like] my family to give back to Canada. I want to work very hard to give back to Canada,” Sbahi said. “Every single day I thank God for being in a beautiful, nice country [with] nice people all around me.”

She added that her greatest desire is “to find a way to bring my other children and grandchildren to complete my family, to have a successful future here, to settle here. I miss my children. Hopefully, [they] will come soon.”

For more information on Syrian Food in Kingston, call 613-449-7326 or visit their Facebook page.

One thought on “Escaping Syria: refugee family settles, opens food business in Kingston

  • What a great story! I’m so glad this family were able to join our community. I hope their other children will come as well. We can’t wait to order food from “Syrian Food in Kingston”! – Jerri Jerreat & Walt Sepic

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