Local heroes: 'I help Canada now,' says restaurant owner offering free food to struggling Calgarians

Firas Gabbreen is trying to take care of struggling Calgarians, one shawarma at a time.

Local heroes is a series featuring southern Albertans who are making a difference during the pandemic

Local heroes | Shawarma owner feeds those who need it during COVID-10 pandemic

2 years ago
Duration 1:31
Firas Gabbreen, the owner of Mix Grill Shawarma on 17th Avenue S.W, is giving away meals to anyone hungry who has lost their job because of the pandemic.

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Firas Gabbreen is trying to take care of struggling Calgarians, one shawarma at a time.

In the front window of Mix Grill Shawarma, Gabbreen's shop on 17th Avenue S.W., hangs a sign that reads: "Free meals to needy. If you lost your job/can't afford food (free).

"If you are struggling to make ends meet please let us know how we can help."

It's a generous gesture at a time when most small, independent businesses are hurting financially. Gabbreen estimates up to a dozen people a day are taking him up on the offer.

"Canada help me for the last five years, so I help Canada now," he said.

This sign hangs in the window of Mix Grill Shawarma on 17 Avenue S.W. Owner Firas Gabbreen says Canada has been good to him since moving from Jordan five years ago and now he wants to give back to Canadians who are out of work or struggling. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

'Canada … the best country'

Gabbreen came to Canada from Jordan five years ago.

He said Canadians have been so good to him he felt compelled to do something when people began losing their jobs en masse.

"I need [to] help people of Canada … the best country."

Gabbreen's not confident with his English, so he enlisted the help of his close friend Ahmad Dawud to talk about the free food.

Dawud, who used to own the shawarma shop and now runs a business next door, said they don't ask why people need a free meal but sometimes an explanation is offered. 

"They're just basically going from paycheque to paycheque, they're waiting for money to come in, they can't have ends meet, whatever the case might be. We understand people are having a tough time nowadays," Dawud said.

Lucas Murphy is a student who says he doesn't have a job and is struggling financially right now. Murphy shows off his free shawarma from Mix Grill Shawarma. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

'He organized a meal for me'

On Friday afternoon, Lucas Murphy took Gabbreen up on the offer of a free lunch.

Murphy doesn't have a job and said he's struggling financially right now.

"He's very nice," said Murphy, holding his chicken shawarma and cream soda. 

"We met outside, he organized a meal for me … I appreciate it."

Gabbreen said people can order anything off the menu and always insists on giving away a beverage as well. 

Ahmad Dawud, left, stands with Mix Grill Shawarma owner Firas Gabbreen, right. Dawud is the original owner of the shawarma shop and estimated six to 12 people are coming in for free meals each day. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

'What goes around comes around'

Often, people are so shocked with the offer of a free meal, Dawud said they aren't sure it's true until they walk out the door without being chased down.

"They're like, 'Oh my God, this is very sweet,' and they come back and say, 'Thank you so much we appreciate it.'"

Both Dawud and Gabbreen said they understand these are frightening times and are hopeful they can help alleviate the uncertainty that comes from wondering where your next meal is coming from.

"Me and [Gabbreen] come from the same background," said Dawud. 

"At the end of the day this is what we believe in, what goes around comes around."


Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is a justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at or follow her on Twitter.