Community Connections Vital to Donair Express
Written by Shirley Serviss
Photo by Edmonton Shutterbugs Photography Group
When customers who came to Donair Express as teens return with their children or grandchildren, it makes the hard work of running a restaurant worthwhile.
Samir Bleibel and his brothers bought the business at 8523 118 Avenue from a relative in 1989. The four brothers had followed another brother to Edmonton from Lebanon in 1987. Samir had been working on his PhD in administration and political science in Paris and planned to complete it here, but found work with Allstate as an insurance agent and financial broker.
Although French is the second language of Lebanon, the brothers had attended an English school so language wasn’t a problem in their new country. “It gave us an advantage,” Samir says. “However, it was a totally new style of living. You have to build your connections and get used to a different political system.”
The brothers worked together in the shop for three or four years. Younger brother Radwan took on the management until 2010, when he moved on to other pursuits. Now Samir is cutting down on the import business he started in 1993 to put more of his energy into Donair Express. He’s grateful they have been blessed with long-term employees. Edel Kilson has worked there for nearly seven years and is more like family, Samir says.
Donair Express has the distinction of being one of the few shops in the city to make their own donairs. They offer both beef and chicken and mix the meat with spices and build it on the spit based on their own recipes. “We have high standards of quality in the meat,” Samir says. “We also offer shawarma, which is more Lebanese than donairs. “
Samir has noticed demographic changes with more professionals and families moving in. The friendliness and support of the community has always been important and continues to be, particularly as he sees the third generation of customers in the shop.
“It’s not a customer-business relationship; it’s more of a friendship or family,” he says. “I’m staying here because of the people.”
This special community project became reality through the creative efforts of:
Justin Brunelle | Moving Artistry Productions
Weyme Teeter | Video Editor
David Baron | Cinematographer
Shirley Serviss | Writer
The Edmonton Shutterbugs Photography Group
Christy Morin | Project Producer
Allison Argy-Burgess | Project Coordinator