Shiraz Market opens in new Chinatown spot 6 months after fire

Six months after a fire destroyed businesses and apartments on the corner of Somerset Street West and Percy Street, Shiraz Market has found a new home a few blocks away.

Several businesses and apartments destroyed in massive October 2015 fire on Somerset St. W

Vali Shahheydari puts a price tag on a bag of Iranian rice on the day he reopens Shiraz Market, six months after a fire destroyed its former home a few blocks away. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)

Vali Shahheydari sees life as a series of ups and downs — watching his business burn down six months ago among the downs, and reopening just a few blocks away among the ups.

"It's hard but I think life is going forward," he said as Shiraz Market, known for its wide selection of nuts, opened its doors to customers at 725 Somerset Street West for the first time on Sunday morning.

"I was going down but now again I am going up. That is life."

The two-storey brick building on the corner of Somerset St. W. and Percy Street that housed Shiraz Market and the Middle East Bakery on the main floor, as well as apartments upstairs, was destroyed in a massive fire on Oct. 21. 

The Daily Grind cafe, located in a two-storey house connected to the brick building on the east side, was also destroyed, as was A Dark Cloud tattoo parlour at 121 Percy Street, which was attached on the north side.

The accidental fire was sparked by roofing work. A cat died in the fire but there were no other injuries.

'My store is back'

Loyal customer Margos Zakarian walked into the new Shiraz Market clapping on Sunday morning, then made a beeline to Shahheydari and shook his hands.

"I'm very, very excited and I'm very happy — for them and for myself, because my store is back," Zakarian said. 

He said he was "jubilant like there was no tomorrow" when he found out the store was reopening on May 1 and shared the news with as many people as possible.

"Love their nuts. Best nuts in town. And as far as Mediterranean goods, you can't get anything better," Zakarian said. 

More than 40 varieties of spiced nuts — including salted lemon almonds, saffron pistachios and pepper cashews — are arranged in bins on a long shelf running through the centre of the store.

Salted lemon almonds are one of more than 40 varieties of spiced nuts available at Shiraz Market. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)

There are also shelves stacked with Iranian rice, boxes of Turkish delight, and varieties of beans, oil, honey and dried fruits. 

Returning customer Andre Pant said he was looking forward to "tasty snacks," including Iranian baklava.

'I missed my customers'

Originally from Iran, Shahheydari came to Canada eight years ago via Romania. He took over Shiraz Market from its original owner four years ago.

In the six months since the fire, he's been dealing with paperwork, lawyers, and insurance — and eventually found a new spot to relaunch his business.

"I missed my customers," he said. "They encouraged me to work again."

Mohammad Safa, the original owner, was also there to greet customers on Sunday, after helping Shahheydari set up.

Safa opened Shiraz Market at 607 Somerset St. West with his brother in 1993 after immigrating to Canada from Iran.

Back then, he said, the business was focused on meat. Safa decided to sell the store as he approached 70 years old, but hasn't let go.

"A lot people around here, they know me because 20 years I was over there," he said, adding that he wanted to help Shahheydari, who is a "very good guy."

Shahheydari said he was grateful for the help — both from Safa, and from the community at large.

"I should thank all of my customers and people who support me everyday, every moment, I think."

Owners 'anxious to rebuild' at former site

A blue fence surrounds the pit left behind after the fire that destroyed Shiraz Market and three other businesses, as well as apartments. (Chloé Fedio/CBC)
Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, whose ward includes Chinatown, said she was "thrilled" that Shiraz Market reopened.

"We don't have a lot of food sources in that part of the ward so this is one of them," she said. "Just happy to see them back."

Nothing but a pit remains at the site of the fire, but the owners of the property are "anxious to rebuild," McKenney said.

"Whether they can pull back in the same merchants and the same small businesses, it's hard to say if people can hold on and wait for that time," she said. "But to see Shiraz reopen is pretty exciting."

with files from Andrew Foote