UPDATE: Oct. 10 — The Al-Soufi family announced during a press conference Thursday that they are reopening their restaurant, despite receiving death threats.
Soufi’s owner, Husam Al-Soufi, said he is working with Paramount Fine Foods founder and CEO Mohamad Fakih to get the popular Syrian eatery up and running by Friday morning.
“We’re going to work together to re-open the door of this business,” Fakih told local reporters Wednesday evening. “This family should not lose their profitable, thriving business because of intimidation and hate.”
A popular Syrian restaurant in Toronto once featured in The New York Times is closing its doors following a wave of “hate messages” and death threats, the owners announced Tuesday.
The Al-Soufi family, who opened Soufi’s in 2017 after immigrating as refugees to Canada a few years earlier, said in a statement that the decision to shutter the eatery was made “with a heavy heart.”
“As a result of numerous hate messages & death threats we’ve received over the past week, we’ve decided to permanently close our shop,” the family wrote in the statement posted to the restaurant’s Instagram account. “Our decision is made with a heavy heart in [an] effort to maintain our family and staff’s safety.”
Soufi’s made local headlines last week when the owners apologized on Facebook for their son Alaa’s participation in a protest of a Maxime Bernier fundraiser. Bernier, a former top Conservative Party politician, last year founded the right-wing, anti-immigration People’s Party of Canada.
The protest drew scrutiny when a video surfaced showing some attendees verbally harassing and blocking an elderly woman from entering the fundraiser. The Al-Soufi family wrote that their son was indeed at the protest but was not part of the group that interacted with the woman.
“Alaa regrets that he did not step aside and/ or stand up against the act of verbal abuse that occurred against her, and would love the opportunity to personally extend his apologies to her,” the family wrote.
“Our family and business do not condone acts of hate, violence or harassment in any shape or form, and advocate for peace, equality and free speech for all human beings,” their statement continued. “We are extremely lucky and grateful to be here and are in awe of the kindness and warmth of the Canadian people.”
A few days later, the family announced Soufi’s permanent closure.
“Since we opened ... we have been met with nothing but curiosity, respect, acceptance and love from the people of Toronto, and for that we are eternally grateful,” they wrote in their statement Tuesday. “We will cherish the countless memories of us sharing stories, food, music and laughter.”
The Al-Soufi family did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
David Sax, who wrote about Soufi’s in a New York Times story on Toronto’s blossoming Syrian food scene, tweeted that he was “shocked and saddened” to hear of the restaurant’s sudden closure.
“They deserved far better,” he wrote.
Shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden closure of Toronto's pioneering Syrian restaurant Soufi's, amid death threats. I wrote about them for @nytimes soon after they opened and included the family's story in my new book. They deserved far better. https://t.co/zCd44grU4Z— David Sax (@saxdavid) October 8, 2019
Restaurant patrons and community members also expressed support for the family on Twitter:
Soufis is a Toronto based immigrant run business which is closing due to receiving racist threats of violence. Very sad. pic.twitter.com/GYB12bM3PY— Sarp Kizir (@RoughChopOttawa) October 8, 2019
this is awful and disgusting. I visited Soufi's last time I was in Toronto and it was an amazingly vibrant, bustling, cozy restaurant with delicious food. Fuck people and attitudes like @MaximeBernier and his followers. https://t.co/lrTun0RE1S— meh-tt (@mattinwpg) October 8, 2019
Soufi’s was integral to my community. They created a welcoming space for me to feed my newborn son - bringing me water, cutting my food when hands were full, and keeping me company. I felt comfortable venturing out knowing Soufi’s was there. This is appalling. Toronto, do better. https://t.co/uZJ6PnopkG— Alex Fidler-Wener (@afidlerwener) October 8, 2019
Saying that my heart hurts to see Soufis’s forced to close over such virulent hate is really really really really an understatement. https://t.co/jmoLaEd17c— rebecca hume (@rebshume) October 8, 2019
Nick Robins-Early contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.