Fatima Sidaoui, The Circle

Pita Hut is a local Lebanese-cuisine restaurant best known for its authentic Shawarma and Falafel. The restaurant, located on the busy road of Hespeler in Cambridge, is owned by Amne Alaeddine and her husband Sheikh Saleh Younes. In this article I share with you the success story of Pita Hut and the inspiring experience of one strong-willed woman in our community.

As soon as you walk into the place, a delicious aroma fills the air as the owners greet you with a smile that makes you feel immediately at home.

When I got there to interview the owner, it was lunch hour and the couple worked hard to serve the long line-up of customers. As I was sitting at one of the tables waiting for Alaeddine to finish a few orders so we could start our chat, I couldn’t help but notice the friendly conversations that took place between the owners and the customers. It was clear that both parties knew each other well.

When it finally quieted down, Alaeddine and I chatted about many topics including how Pita Hut came to be, the challenges she and her family face along the way, and her experience as a working mom as well as a Muslim Canadian.

Alaeddine, a Palestinian lady and a former resident of Lebanon, moved to Cambridge 22 years ago. At first she was a stay-at-home mom, but as soon as her youngest daughter became of school age, Alaeddine joined the workforce. She had worked a number of jobs before finally launching the family business.

It never occurred to her at the time that a few years down the road she would become the owner of the first restaurant of its kind in Cambridge.

When I asked about her motivation for starting the business, Alaeddine indicated that this has always been a dream of her husband’s. She was a good cook and used to receive compliments for her delicious food. Her friends kept suggesting that she had just the right skills to open a restaurant.

But it was not until 2009 when Pita Hut finally saw the light.

“It was a huge risk”, Alaeddine commented. The initial phase was enveloped with uncertainties and challenges. With Sheikh Younes working full time in the automotive industry, the responsibility of the restaurant fell on the shoulders of Alaeddine. She worked long hours in order to ensure the success of the business.

The most difficult part, according to Alaeddine, was “time away from home and kids”, she said. “When you work from 9 to 9, your relationship with your children suffers, and it becomes difficult to preserve our cultural values”; “success comes not without cost,” she added.

Yet the Younes family found ways to bond and still spend time together. “Everyday, my husband would pick up our kids at the Islamic School of Cambridge and bring them to Pita Hut. We would have dinner together, and the kids would do their homework. At 6 pm, the kids would go home and my husband to work,” Alaeddine told me.

Despite the challenges and risks involved, Alaeddine does not regret the step and believes the merits outweigh the cons. In addition to financial autonomy, “you get to be your own boss!” Alaeddine remarked. She added: “The experience has changed me as a person. I am a much stronger and more confident, experienced woman.”

Alaeddine believes that the restaurant has allowed for more interaction with the community: “You get to know the people who live close to you and develop genuine relationships you wouldn’t have otherwise. We get to know our customers and learn about their lives and families. This is wonderful.”

I then asked Alaeddine about the factors she thought contributed to the success of Pita Hut. “Duaa – prayer – first and foremost” Alaeddine answered. “On those days when customers were scarce, all I could do was pray to God.”

Alaeddine also emphasized the importance of professionalism, integrity, and high ethical standards. “Quality is a priority for us. We only choose high quality, fresh produce. I would never serve customers what I would not want to feed my family.” The meals served are homemade and, most importantly, prepared with care.

I was curious to know what the most popular dish is, and was not surprised to find out that Shawarma and Falafel were the customers’ favourites. “I have had customers tell me that the Falafel they had at Pita Hut was the best in the Kitchener-Waterloo region. One even commented that he could find no better Falafel elsewhere, not even in Toronto” said Alaeddine.

When asked about her experience as a Muslim in Canada, Alaeddine stated that it has been positive for the most part, except for those rare occasions when her Muslim identity seemed to be troubling for some. For instance, Alaeddine recounted a few incidents where customers felt discomfort as soon as they walked into the restaurant and found out that the lady owner wore a headscarf. “They would fluster and back off,” said Alaeddine.

Aside from those few mishaps, Alaeddine expressed how comfortable and happy she is in Canada. “People are friendly and accepting”, said Alaeddine, adding that “Canada is full of opportunities that do not exist elsewhere. Above all, there is equality and justice.”

As Alaeddine reflected back on her journey, her eyes showed deep satisfaction. “I am very proud of the achievement, and grateful to God for all the success.”

The experience of Alaeddine and her supportive family sends an inspiring message to women:

Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Dream big. Work hard. And take risks.