The Bright Side of Business bimonthly column is presented by Star Motors.
For five years, Mohamed Ali Abdo has been a staple of the Sandy Hill community – first running Safi Meats and later, Safi Fine Foods.
Now he's back in business.
Abdo started Safi Meats as an online shop for halal meat with his cousin and longtime mentor, Rashid Ahmed Ali. An entrepreneur at heart, Abdo spearheaded the business’s move into wholesaling, and one of his clients was a store on the corner of Somerset Street and Blackburn Avenue.
When the owners of that store wanted to sell their business in 2016, Abdo was first in line.
“To be honest, I wasn’t (financially) ready to buy everything from them,” he says. But after working out a monthly payment plan with the owners, Abdo was able to seal the deal.
“I never took a loan from the bank, I never took a loan from any association – I saved my own money,” he says.
In 2018, Abdo brought his friend from university, Ali Zeddou, into the business. Together, the pair turned Safi Meats into Safi Fine Foods, a convenience store that would sell food essentials as well as grab-and-go meals.
"Even if I don't make a lot of profit, if I cover my rent, I pay my staff and I pay all the suppliers, (I’m) happy."
“Even if I don't make a lot of profit, if I cover my rent, I pay my staff and I pay all the suppliers, (I’m) happy,” Abdo says.
But after three successful years, Safi Fine Foods was forced to close in January 2020 – just two months before the pandemic. Abdo explains that the building was sold, and its new owner wanted to open up a restaurant where the food store had been.
“It wasn’t easy,” Abdo says. “It's like someone comes and takes your baby from you. Safi used to be the baby of the community.”
After hosting a closing party – but not a goodbye party, Abdo emphasizes – he travelled to Turkey shortly before widespread travel restrictions were imposed, joining his wife on a vacation they’d planned before COVID-19 hit. Determined to relaunch the business, Abdo began searching online for another Sandy Hill property.
Before long, he heard of a new property being built on the corner of Russell Avenue. By April 2020, he had signed a pre-contract with the developer, with the lease starting last October.
However, there was a long way to go before the store’s grand reopening: from last October to February this year, the building was under construction, and Abdo had to go through the process of applying for commercial zoning. The new location was also about 1,500 square feet smaller than the previous one, meaning every inch of space had to be used wisely.
“But you know what?” Abdo says. “I'm already in the battle, so I have to go to the end.”
And that’s exactly what he did, reopening Safi Fine Foods at the new location this month. Just as he did before, Abdo has continued to support the Sandy Hill neighbourhood, sponsoring events like park cleanups.
“Without my community, my business (wouldn’t) be successful,” he says. “You have to give and take at the same time.”
The store continues to sell its popular North African and Middle Eastern foods, and it now has a café area with seating and a grocery store section with local produce as well as a commercial kitchen.
Abdo explains that this is all part of his vision for a Safi Fine Foods franchise.
“We’re planning for the second, the third, the fourth (store),” he says. “That's why we’re working on our brand.”
The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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