Starting again after a tragedy can be difficult, but not necessarily so.
Co Co Di restaurant, recently re-opened on Jasper Avenue is bathed in the warmth of its red-and-gold décor; the street-lamp lights reminding me of sitting in an outdoor café. Owned by Ghada Ghazal and her husband, Riad, Co Co Di was previously in the Kelly-Ramsey Block on Rice Howard Way.
Due to water damage from the fire that ravaged that building, the restaurant in the original location closed.
Uncertain about the historic building's future, but still wanting to continue with the business, the Ghazals searched for a new space for their restaurant. And on June 18, Co Co Di opened up again on Jasper Avenue.
Ghazal says that beginning again hasn't been too difficult, at least not compared to starting the business originally. She notes that many regulars from the previous location are now coming to the new place.
"At lunch, I had a couple of tables that surprised me, because lunch people have certain hours for lunch. I had more than three tables from that location—they came here to have lunch," she says.
Ghazal also observes that being on Jasper Avenue, surrounded by businesses and residential areas, has also helped with the transition to a new space.
"I never give up. When we started over there, nobody knew about the food that we were serving. It took maybe one year or two years for us to run it really right, the way it should be. Right now, it's easier—we already have our customers. Most of them, when they know that we are here, they come, and we're going to get [some] from the neighbourhood, too."
Regardless, losing the restaurant in the original location has presented some challenges for the Ghazals.
"It affected us a lot. We were there for almost 10 years," she continues. "Rice Howard Way is one of the best locations in downtown. It's the centre. It's the heart of the city."
For the seven or eight staff members who worked with the Ghazals, the sudden unemployment wasn't easy, either, especially not in a recession.
"They had no job for many months 'til they found a new job," she explains, adding that some of the original staff returned to work in the new location.
As for the restaurant itself, moving has not meant massive changes, either. The menu is still the same, except for a few new items. And the belly-dancing entertainment nights and the shisha haven't disappeared, either.
Co Co Di offers Mediterranean and Canadian food, but specializes in Lebanese fare. The Ghazals themselves arrived in Canada from Lebanon 10 years ago; even back in Lebanon, Riad had owned a restaurant.
The Ghazals offered me a few dishes—I immediately dug into the hummus with my pita bread. Made with chickpeas, tahini, lemon and garlic and topped with olive oil, the hummus is one of the most popular dishes on the menu, Ghada explains. And I can see why—I cannot stop eating it as she talks. Then I dig into the chicken shawarma, another popular menu item. Both of these dishes satisfy the garlic-lover in me.
Ghazal notes that other cultures near Lebanon have the same, or similar, food. Syria and Lebanon are neighbours, and eat pretty much the same things, she explains. The Greeks also have many of the same items, but with different names and spices, she continues.
But this situation, of course, has led to inter-country discussions about which country invented which food, Ghazal chuckles.
"The Greeks have hummus, the Turkish have hummus, most of the Middle East has hummus. But we say hummus is Lebanese!" she laughs.
Ghazal recalls that arguments about hummus' origins even spurred a friendly contest between Lebanon and Israel.
"In the Guinness Book [of World Records] there was a competition between Lebanon and Israel, because Israel says hummus is from them, and we say, 'No, it's ours.' They did a competition, and we won! We made the biggest hummus plate in the world, and we're in the Guinness Book [of World Records] now!" she laughs. "Hummus, falafel and tabouleh!"
"This is funny, but this is nice—at least we compete in a safe way, peaceful way, not with fighting. I don't mind competing like that all the time," she laughs. "Not with bombs." V
Co Co Di
11454 Jasper Ave, 780.425.1717