The story of Mohamad Ali’srestaurant starts with a war in Iraq and ends in Newfoundland hospitality.
While quite young, Ali and his brother started a small food table at an outdoor food market in Iraq, selling hummus and pastries and pizzas. And then the bombs fell. Their business was quashed as quickly as it began during the invasion of Iraq by American military forces. Baghdad, where Ali’s operation was set up, was facing full-on air strikes. Ali spent the next four years of his life in a refugee camp, enduring sandstorms more vicious than our snowstorms.
Eventually, Canada took him in, and at twenty-five years of age, Ali enrolled in English classes in St. John’s, all while working three part-time jobs to support himself. He noticed the lack of Middle Eastern food here, as well as the demand for healthy alternatives to fast food. But the bank rejected his plan to open a restaurant. They cited the volatile nature of establishing a new restaurant.
Instead of giving up, he made plans for a food truck downtown, from which he’d save up money to launch his restaurant. In 2010, he bought a food truck; one that even a city inspector said was so top-quality, he wished the other trucks in town would come by and see.
Yet, after acquiring his insurance and certifications, and after investing $25,000, the city repeatedly shot down every plan he made. Initially, the trouble was that Ali needed refridgeration (and therefore electricity) whereas all the other food trucks downtown used propane tanks to deepfry fries their food. The city objected to the Ali’s truck simply metering off a pole on the sidewalk, out of a fear his truck would interfere with snowclearing.
Ali said he’d shovel around his truck himself, but they said no. He offered to use a generator, but council denied him, worried the noise pollution wouldn’t be okay, despite the fact they’d be on George Street, where you can’t hear a thing over the booming music and druken banter.
It was then that the owner of The Sprout Restaurant stepped in to help. At this time, that was Julia Bloomquist, who offered to run an extension cord out to the truck from her restaurant. There was a loading zone he could park in after hours. But again, the city called it a tripping hazard, even though Ali offered to suspend the cord.
At this point, a considerable number of late-night patrons of the town petitioned the city, asking for access to healthier food, liek what Ali was trying to offer, but it was futile. COuncil wasn’t goign to bend on somethign as unprecedented as a healthy food truck that required electricity.
Ali once again found himself slinging reputably good foods at a farmer’s market. This tim,e the St. John’s Farmer’s Market, where his falafels in particular were a hit. He knew he had regulars, supporters, and Ali’s spirit – truly unbreakable – took flight again, with the help of The Sprout.
The Sprout closes for the day around 8pm, and Julia decided to let Ali use her kitchen to sling his “Mohamad Ali’s” food to the late night crowd, from 10pm to 3am, as a regular pop-up restaurant, and a St.John’s legend was born. He saved up enough to start his own spot in May of 2014, beside the war memorial on Duckworth Street.