King of Donair in Halifax exploring western expansion with Alberta trip
Pop-up shop to be set up in Calgary on March 4, Sunshine Village on March 5
For two days only, Albertans will have a chance to try out a genuine Halifax donair.
Haligonians have long-touted their city as the birthplace of the donair, and late last year the meaty pita sandwich was named its official food.
The city's iconic chain King of Donair will be setting up a pop-up shop here in Calgary on March 4, and at Sunshine Village on March 5 for the ski hill's East Coast Lifestyle Rail Jam.
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King of Donair has been in Norman Nahas' family since the late 1980s. The restaurant was created in 1973 when a Greek immigrant invented the donair, Nahas said.
"He brought the gyro to Halifax and it didn't go over very well because the flavour of the lamb profile was not really in tune with the profile of American tastebuds and the tzatziki sauce on it didn't have as much of a kick," Nahas explained.
"He ended up switching all the protein to beef and enhanced the spice and created the donair sauce, and lo and behold, it became the donair."
Testing the waters
Nahas said the donair is the "perfect combination of sweet and spice."
"The proper ratio makes for a delicious meal."
So he's bringing it to Calgary and Sunshine Village — unofficially "testing the waters" for the possibility of expansion.
The chain has partnered with East Coast Lifestyle to host a snowboard rail jam across the country.
"We always get a lot of love from people out west and always hear the great stories of the ex-pats that leave here and want to replicate that taste," Nahas said.
And Calgarians are excited. Even Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed his excitement on Twitter.
"Forget all else. THIS is the big news of the day. #halifax #shutupandtakemymoney," he tweeted.
'Nothing even close'
Jeff Townsend, a born and raised Haligonian, has lived in Calgary for eight years.
"Halifax is donair," Townsend said simply.
He estimated he's probably had a few hundred donairs in his lifetime. He recalled travelling to other parts of the country and being unable to find truly authentic donair sauce — instead, Townsend would be given tzatziki.
"It would make me almost throw up in my mouth, expecting the most delicious sweet sauce ever invented," Townsend said.
He says there's "nothing even close" to a Halifax donair — and its unparalleled sauce — here in Alberta.
"I don't understand why it hasn't been repeated elsewhere," he said. "I don't understand why it hasn't swept the world by now."