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New ice cream shop offers taste of Syria in Bedford

Samer Aljokhadar has opened Booza Emessa, Canada’s first Syrian ice cream shop, in Bedford. - Maan Alhmidi
Samer Aljokhadar has opened Booza Emessa, Canada’s first Syrian ice cream shop, in Bedford. - Maan Alhmidi

The first Syrian ice cream shop in Canada is now open in Bedford.

You may have tried many kinds of ice cream, but this one is different.

Syrian-style ice cream maker Samer Aljokhadar opened his Booza Emessa store this past week, selling the unique ice-cream pistachio rolls with a wide variety of ice cream flavours.

“It’s natural, tasty and healthy,” Aljokhadar said in describing his ice cream. “We use 100 per cent Nova Scotia dairy products and California pistachios.”

Some ingredients come from overseas. “I’m bringing (mastic) gum from Greece, and trying to bring Aleppo pistachios,” he said.

The shop is not equipped with payment machines yet, but that wasn’t a problem for those who didn’t have cash on them, because Aljokhadar offered them the ice cream on the house.

The first customer was one of those, but he went back a few hours later with a $20 bill to pay and followed the first sale tradition by signing it.

“I’m going to keep it as a souvenir,” Aljokhadar said Friday.

The Syrian community is still new in Halifax, but its members are integrating and contributing to the culture and the economy, he said.

“I was looking for the opportunity to pay Canada back,” said Aljokhadar.

The newcomer brought with him decades of ice cream-making traditions. He started in the 1990s, and by the year 2000, he owned three ice cream shops in Homs, the third-largest city in Syria. From there, he shipped his products to different cities and tourist sites in the country.

After the Syrian regime’s military forces started their attack on Homs in 2011 following anti-regime demonstrations, Aljokhadar lost 14 of his relatives in the Karm el-Zaytoun massacre. Then he decided to flee the country with the kids for Amman, Jordan.

“We lost everything there,” he said of Homs.

In Jordan, he worked in an ice cream factory for four years.

Since landing in Halifax three years ago, he has been looking for a way to pursue his career.

“A few weeks after landing here, I went to a (workshop) to develop small business ideas at Dalhousie University. There were $1,000 prizes for the best three ideas, and I got first place,” Aljokhadar said.

“I showed my work to Marble Slab Creamery. They liked the samples," he said. "The local owner, Trevor Gaal, helped me to get my paper work done with the city's health inspectors."

“I had to make my own path and open my own store.”

Later in 2016, he found his current location on Bedford Highway and signed a five-year lease.

“The store didn’t have a kitchen. We tried to make the kitchen in a different location. After doing a lot of paper work we had to cancel that plan because a problem with that property.”

But he didn’t give up. “We started all over again,” he said. “We rented additional part of the building and we attached it to the store and made it the kitchen.”

Then he had to bring his equipment from Jordan and Turkey and complete the licensing process. “It took one year and four months to do all of that,” he said. “I have been paying rent since 2016.

“It was very complicated. The machines have different voltage and I had to buy expensive transformers. I still have to buy one that costs almost $8,000.”

The shop is decorated to look like a traditional house in Homs, with white and black stone shapes on the floor and traditional Arabic art on the walls and the ceiling. The tables are also unique, with hand drawings that reflect the authentic art of his hometown of Homs.

The name of the store is the ancient name for the city of Homs.

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