charcoal grill toronto

How the pandemic squashed a Toronto restaurant owner's dream before it officially began

Partners in a Toronto restaurant were forced to abandon their plans when the pandemic hit and now they're struggling to stay afloat long enough to keep their dream alive. 

Before April, co-owners Asim Fayaz and Zubair Dar, were in the midst of purchasing and designing a restaurant in Kensington Market.  

As immigrants from Pakistan and Kashmir, Fayaz and Dar planned to create a restaurant that could introduce Canadians to the culture and food of their homelands.  

"I was really excited. We had six different consultants helping us put our place together. But I guess [I was] a little too excited," said Dar. 

A month into the lockdown it became apparent that there was no other choice than to abandon their ambitions. On top of that, the lack of cash flow also meant they also had to permanently close their takeout kiosk.  

"I went into a bout of depression. I struggled a lot thinking about the amount of hard work I put in," said Dar.

Dar started The Charcoal Grill in 2017 and poured his heart and soul into his work to build up the business. Fayaz joined the team in 2020.

"We closed [the kiosk] feeling disappointed but [also] like this was temporary. But [as the lockdown dragged on] it became more and more grey," he told blogTO, equating the experience to the grief of losing a loved one. 

"[But] even in all of this I'm an optimist. You find a silver lining and then you start chasing that silver lining," explained Fayaz. 

That silver lining at the moment is their online orders and building up a new business. Right now they're selling Pakistani and Kashmiri prepared meals and DIY meal kits out of a rental kitchen once a week on Tuesdays. 

"It's so hard coming up with a new model of engaging people but we're trying to find what our place is in this new normal," said Fayaz, who is drawing on his previous experience in the tech industry to help navigate this novel environment.  

"[Online orders] has somehow become a stepping stone that can maybe lead into a new direction in business, but we're not ready to give up on the sit down restaurant."  

Both Fayaz and Dar are adamant that one day they will open a proper dine-in restaurant where customers can experience Kashmiri and Pakistani cuisine. 

"Kashmir has a very unique cuisine and it has a place in Toronto. To me it would be sad if Toronto doesn't experience Kashmiri food. If I can help that happen I'll feel successful in contributing to the multicultural landscape and feel like I've done a service to my people and giving it a new home," said Dar. 

"What drives us is the delight of someone new coming to the place, having an incredible time and they tell their friends about it. It makes them happy and it makes [us] happy," said Fayaz. 

Until then they hold onto their dream tightly and are trying to make the best of a difficult situation. 

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