Beloved Montreal restaurant to close after being listed for rent without notice
Landlord says he gave family plenty of opportunities to sign long-term lease
Nilufar Al-Shourbaji says she's still in disbelief that the restaurant she's called home for nearly 30 years will be closing its doors this month.
"I think it hasn't really hit me yet totally that I won't be coming here every day and this won't be the number one place on my GPS," said the manager of Restaurant Nilufar, named after her.
Last month, Al-Shourbaji says she was blindsided when her landlord listed her family's restaurant — a mainstay on Montreal's Ste-Catherine Street — as available for rent online without telling them.
"There was no closing of the restaurant in mind, we had no intention to close at any point," said Al-Shourbaji.
The restaurant was advertised at an asking price notably higher than what her family pays each month, she says — a rent hike she claims her landlord never spoke to her or her family about before posting the ads.
Al-Shourbaji says the situation has forced her family to close up shop, as they're not interested in negotiating a new deal with a landlord in which they've lost trust.
"As soon as that happened, I felt like there's no future there," she said.
"When someone goes behind your back and does something like that, it's not somebody I want to be in business with."
The restaurant will be closing its doors for good on Dec. 16. It first opened in 1994.
Family given many chances to sign new lease: landlord
The decision to close wasn't easy for Al-Shourbaji.
"It's not just a restaurant — it's part of our family, it's part of the community, it's a landmark, it's everything," she said.
Vivi Amsis has worked in the kitchen at Nilufar for seven years. She says she's seen how important the restaurant is to the community, as some customers have come in crying about its closure.
Emotions are also running high for the 65-year-old herself, as she worries it will be tough to find another job.
When reached for comment about the restaurant's end, Nilufar's long-time landlord Ziki Zaffir, the president of Amcor Holdings, says the family was given multiple chances to sign a new lease before it was listed online, but at a substantially higher rent.
In a phone interview, Zaffir said the restaurant has been on a month-by-month lease and was paying below market rates for the space.
"We want a fair market rent, but just as much, we want a long-term lease," said Zaffir.
Zaffir said his company has offered Al-Shourbaji's father a long-term lease, but he's refused time and time again.
"These people don't want … they're not interested in any of those [options]," said Zaffir.
When asked about this, Al-Shourbaji said her family was never approached about a long-term lease.
Less affordable options
The restaurant is located in a neighbourhood that has become a major target for developers — and more expensive in recent years.
"It's really unfortunate, it's been a place that students can eat for cheap," said Enbal Singer, a former McGill University student.
She says the area is developing quickly, and she fears other affordable restaurants will soon be squeezed out.
"There are going to be less affordable options for students and it's going to make it a less welcome place for students," she said.
Al-Shourbaji says she's not considering reopening a storefront elsewhere, but will continue to cater work events and sell some of her family's products at local grocery stores.
Despite how hard it will be to say goodbye to a place she's always considered home, Al-Shourbaji says she knows she's making the right decision.
"This happens to a lot of people and people get away with it," she said. "I'm not going to contribute to people who do stuff like that."
Based on reporting by Rowan Kennedy
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