In the opening scene of the short documentary "The Sandwich Nazi," deli owner Salam Kahil tells "the candle story."
The tale involves Kahil (then a male escort), a female client, and a long candle.
"She had a candle in her hand," he says, "And I was wondering: 'What for?'" (We'll, uh, let you fill in the sordid details—but let's just say extracting it involved a trip to St. Paul's hospital.)
This is, apparently, the nature of small talk at Kahil's deli, whose customers can't help but laugh as he points out the remains of said candle, preserved in all its glory in a Ziploc bag pinned to the wall.
And tales like this are not uncommon at La Charcuterie Delicatessen, the Surrey establishment that Kahil owns and operates. In fact, his customers have come to expect this kind of narrative when they enter his shop (and his sandwiches aren't half bad, either).
"I have a dirty mouth sometimes," Kahil tells The Huffington Post B.C. with a smile. "[All my customers] know. I talk about it openly. I'm not embarrassed about it. It's made me who I am now."
Kahil's colourful past is the focal point of short film "The Sandwich Nazi," which local filmmaker Lewis Bennett is in the midst of turning into a full-length film.
But there's more to this Lebanese immigrant, who moved to Canada in 1979, than sex stories and sandwiches. While his path is a peculiar one, it's ultimately led him to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside—the place where he lives, and the place where he gives.
"I love people with a passion," Kahil, known affectionately by friends and customers as "Uncle Sal", says. "We all have to give, without any questions. Just give back."
For Kahil, that means rallying his deli customers and friends and making hundreds of sandwiches for DTES residents once a month.
"Since I came to British Columbia, I was shocked at how rich people are and how much misery we have at the same time," he says. "That broke my heart."
After first studying in Montreal, Kahil settled in Vancouver, attended BCIT, and became a mechanical engineer. It wasn't a good fit for him, so he opened his first deli with just $1,264. That was 26 years ago. The same month he opened up shop, he began making sandwiches and delivering them to those in need.
"I will never stop helping the homeless," says Kahil, who lived in Lebanon during the civil war and remembers having to wait three hours every day just to buy pita bread from the local bakery. "I cannot believe how comfortable life in Canada is. It seems like people become so indifferent to people in need. When you're comfortable, you don't feel the pain of others." He says he had tears in his eyes when he first saw the vast bread selection in Canadian grocery stores.
And while he has long been helping those in the DTES, Kahil credits one woman from 15 years ago with his realization that people need to give without judgement. About once a week, Kahil would invite a woman named Michelle up to his apartment, where he would offer her a sandwich, a glass of milk, and $20. He learned that she had turned to cocaine after her boyfriend was killed in a car accident. "One night she came to my place and I said, 'Michelle, I would love to see you off the drugs,'" says Kahil. "And Michelle said to me, 'Do I complain about it?' I said, 'No.' She said I shouldn't tell her what to do. I never saw her after this.
"After this I learned not to be judgmental," he continues. "I have to help with my heart. No religion involved, no morality involved, no lecture involved."
Check out photos of Salam Kahil in his deli, in his youth, and more: