Lebanese-born Ali Dbouk first opened Ghadir Meat Market in 1992, shortly after arriving in Canada.
Dbouk and his family, like most immigrants from the Levant, first settled in Scarborough.
With a family background in the meat industry, Dbouk found a location on Lawrence Avenue East to open his shop, which was tucked at the end of a strip mall next to an auto mechanic shop.
I first came across the store while having lunch at Shawarma Empire next door, a long-standing Palestinian takeout spot with a cult-like following. I remember one afternoon, standing in line outside Shawarma Empire, and noticing how busy Ghadir was: a rush of people grabbing meat products and groceries and Dbouk always seemed to be around to greet people. Slowly, a community was being built on Lawrence Avenue East.
Fast forward over two decades, the Lawrence Avenue East strip is one of the best streets in North America for food from the Levant. (In fact, it's one of my most popular walking food tours.)
'Everyone is welcome on Lawrence.' - Ali Dbouk, Ghadir Meat and Restaurant owner
Drive to Victoria Park and Lawrence avenues, park your car, and as you walk east toward Warden Avenue, you will hit a variety of Middle Eastern restaurants that specialize in everything from charcoal grilled fish to Syrian spinach pies and every variation of shawarma you could want (Lebanese-style to Iraqi.)
"This area has changed so much. It's now a strong and beautiful community. Everyone is welcome on Lawrence," Dbouk said.
He played a vital role in the early days — building the neighbourhood as a community hub for newcomers, and establishing industry camaraderie that has cemented the Wexford neighbourhood as the hotspot for Middle Eastern foodstuffs.
Seeing that he needed a bigger space, he moved his shop across the street after learning about a vacancy earlier this year and opened Ghadir Meat and Restaurant.
"With the new location, I was able to achieve my dream. We can have the butcher shop, a charcoal counter, groceries, and shawarma — Lebanese-style shawarma."
The bigger location also allowed Dbouk to play hosting duties to his regulars who pop in sometimes three to four times a week.
"It's an even tighter community now. People come here for shawarma, then they sit and hang out. They get to know each other, and they can also get some groceries on the way out."
Dbouk continues to be a community builder. He mentioned that with the influx of Syrian newcomers moving into Scarborough, he has started to employ many of them at the new shop.
"We're neighbours back home. We don't see Lebanon and Syria as separate countries. We are like neighbouring towns. We will be neighbours here."
Now with more space and seating, the new Ghadir Meat and Restaurant has quickly become a hub for the local community, and they have great food.
I personally think the manakeesh is excellent. Dough is topped with a healthy spread of za'atar (ground dried thyme, oregano and sesame seeds) and cheese, if you wish, then baked in a stone oven. It's one of the best breakfast items you can have: pillowy bread with a mix of tang, salty and earthy flavours.
The shawarma is also great. Since Dbouk runs his own butcher counter, he said he is able to maintain a high standard for halal meat. The meat is marinated in a house blend of spices, stacked up in a cone and slow cooked on a spit.
"We do our shawarma as we do it back home," Dbouk said.
It's then sandwiched with vegetables and house-made spreads or you can have it with rice, which I highly recommend. Buttery rice is covered in a dome of crispy, tender pieces of beef or chicken shawarma, then a slathering of any of the house sauces and a dollop of hot sauce.
Ghadir Meat & Restaurant is at 1848 Lawrence Ave. E.
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
Do you know a GTA restaurant that Doss should visit? Tweet us @metromorning or send us a message on Facebook. And if you try any of the places he features, we want to see photos!