As the year comes to an end, so does King Falafel – a Moroccan restaurant that's been a fixture in Forest Hill, serving falafels, shawarmas and other halal food for 37 years.
Long-time customers got the chance to have one last Middle-Eastern meal at the restaurant on New Year's Eve as the shop prepared to close its doors for the last time.
"It's friendly, it's welcoming, it's delicious," said Sam Maister, who grew up in the neighbourhood. "It still looks the same, it still feels like home."
King Falafel began as a small family business after Abderazzak Rifi and his wife, Jamila, immigrated to Canada from Morocco in the 1970s and opened up the store on the south-west corner of Eglinton and Bathurst.
Rifi, known to his family and customers as King Falafel, passed away some years ago and Jamila took charge.
Hanan Rifi said after her father's death, the restaurant was what kept her mother going.
"She would come here and she had people to talk to," Hanan said. "She was happy to go to work every day."
"[This restaurant] is all memories of him," Jamila said. "That's life, you keep going."
Jamila said she has watched her five daughters and her grandchildren grow up in the restaurant around her. Though she is sad to say goodbye, she is looking forward to the free time she will have now to spend with her family and visit Morocco.
Hanan said the restaurant was so much more than a family business for them. She said she even met her husband there.
"He first moved from Montreal to Toronto and we met at the restaurant," she said with a laugh. "My sisters met their husbands here."
She said the Muslim family has always felt welcome and at home in the mostly Jewish neighbourhood.
"It [was] like friends meeting friends," she said of the people who visited the restaurant. "Everybody went their own way… but they're still customers."
A neighbourhood staple
Farrell Miller and her friends now live in Vancouver, but they all grew up in Forest Hill and made a plan to meet and share one last meal at King Falafel on its last day.
"This has been a neighbourhood staple. There's secret spices – we don't know what they are but, definitely, love is in there," she said.
Miller said she went to Hebrew school down the street when she was younger and that her mother often used to bring her there for falafels when she was little.
"We always say world peace will start over food and shawarma in particular," she said of her social circle.
Alex Krause, who also attended the school nearby, said that when he lived in the neighbourhood he "wouldn't let a week go by without a falafel."
"I definitely appreciate the family, they drive from Mississauga every day," he said. "It's the best, cheapest falafel in town."
Krause even bought one of the pictures of Morocco hanging on the wall in the restaurant.
A local fixture
Long-time customer Rob Barkin said he has been coming to King Falafel since it opened and even remembers one of the Rifi daughters as a little baby.
"The food is good, solid consistent, same always," he said. "It's a local fixture."
The family was kept busy as they said goodbyes to their customers giving away free hugs with the falafels.
A long line-up snaked its way outside the restaurant doors at times throughout the day but, other than a few tears that Jamila quickly wiped away, the overall mood in the restaurant on its last day was happy.
The shop is closing because the entire plaza that it is located in is being demolished. The space is needed for parking and construction for redevelopment in the area for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line.