There’s a Middle Eastern food takeover going on in Ottawa! Well, not exactly, but there are new openings and happenings, tied together by a single thread: Dr. Hussain Rahal. Rahal is one of the owners of fine-dining establishment Fairouz. He’s also an investor in Bibi’s, the small Beechwood Avenue café, and is the landlord for Le Suq, a new Lebanese market just a stone’s throw from Bibi’s.
Working with business partner Tony Garcia, Rahal saw an opportunity to pivot to a more pandemic-friendly approach, and they moved Fairouz to the former home of the Black Thorn Café on Clarence Street this past October.
“We wanted to do two new things,” explains Rahal. “We wanted to offer more casual dining as well as maintain elegant, evening dining. We’ve expanded to include a large take-out component of Middle Eastern-inspired foods, some of which are inspired by my childhood in Lebanon, that are perfect for family-style sharing.”
Fairouz is now open during the day, operating as a cafe for informal lunches of fresh dips and quick Manakeesh sandwiches made with pita bread fresh from the oven. After 5 p.m., it transforms into a restaurant similar to the former Somerset space for dine-in or take-away dinner. Complete with twinkling lights and gold accents, finely carved arabesque wooden screens, turquoise accents, and a mirrored wall make the front colourful and lively, while the back of the space has the intimate feel of a sophisticated dining spot in Paris or Beruit.
It was at the former Fairouz location that Rahal met Donald Batal, who arrived in Canada in December 2019. Batal has wide experience in the food industry in the Middle East, where he has pizza and burger operations in Lebanon, Cyprus, Kuwait, and Dubai. Now he’s bringing the Middle East to Ottawa with Le Suq.
Fairouz, 15 Clarence St.
Introducing Le Suq
“I was intending to open a restaurant,” says Batal, “but because of the pandemic, that wasn’t a wise thing to do.” Instead, he’s opened two locations of a Levantine market-café concept called Le Suq; one on Beechwood Avenue and another on Preston Street. At the Beechwood location, the smell of warm spices drifts on the air around the building. Inside there are plenty of Middle Eastern specialities such as olive oils and packaged spices, tabouleh mixes and prepared foods; a fridge is packed with such dips as babaganoush, hummus, garlic sauce, and muhamara, made with Batal’s own recipes. Another displays Middle Eastern-style flatbread pizza with cheese, falafel, za’atar, ground meat, and even one that is dark grey. “This is a new creation, made with activated charcoal,” explains Batal. “It’s very good for your stomach and absorbs toxins.” It’s delicious too.
“I’m continuously trying to come up with new items and new ideas,” says Batal, pointing out a small Arabic coffee cup. “This is a common coffee cup, but now it’s filled with a scented candle made by someone just down the road from here. We are fusing local products with Middle Eastern to make something new,” he says, before moving on to boxes of maple syrup and chocolate flavoured baklava logs. One part of the Beechwood store is packed with the creations of local artisans – scented candles, body scrubs, essential oils, soaps, bath bombs and pottery, lavender products, jewellery, and crystals. Upstairs there’s a small gallery and a space to drink your thick, dark cardamom-flavoured Arabic coffee or fresh minty, ginger lemon-honey tea while playing backgammon.
And if the launch of two stores isn’t enough to keep him busy, Batal has taken over a former Tim Horton’s location at St. Patrick and King Edward Avenue, to transform into a ghost kitchen. In this space Batal will be making food for multiple businesses. There will be burgers under the brand Hush, a salad bar, a Mediterranean menu, a grill, a menu for those counting calories, and desserts.
If Batal has his way, this is just the beginning of a Le Suq empire. “I know things are going to be better after COVID,” Batal says, “and in this city, where I feel a real sense of community, I hope the Le Suq market experience will expand in communities across Ottawa.”
Noor opens in Westboro
Batal is also an investor in Noor, a Middle Eastern market on Richmond Road in Westboro that opened this past summer. Located in the former Kardish space, between The Works and The Savoy, it’s a place to get fresh take-away foods such as flatbreads and dips, as well as upscale non-alcoholic drinks like kombucha, teas, and soda. The focus is on locally-sourced foods, and it’s not all Middle Eastern in nature. Granola made in Westboro and vegan/keto options are highlighted.
Noor Food Market, 332 Richmond Rd.