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.
Restaurant patrons and community members also expressed support for the family on Twitter:
With files from Nick Robins-Early