Businessman jumps back into donair scene

A recent trip to Lebanon convinced a Red Deer businessman and his family that Canada is home.

Sam Abdulgany slices a piece of beef off the Donair rotisserie in his new restaurant at 5020 Ross Street in Red Deer.

Sam Abdulgany slices a piece of beef off the Donair rotisserie in his new restaurant at 5020 Ross Street in Red Deer.

A recent trip to Lebanon convinced a Red Deer businessman and his family that Canada is home.

And the local donair scene is richer as a result.

Sam Abdulgany opened Sam’s Donair at 5020 Ross St. on June 15. But the downtown lunch crowd might still associate his name with King Donair and Shawarma, which Abdulgany operated a block to the east from 2006 until last fall.

The Lebanese-born man sold King Donair and returned with his family to his childhood home, eager to expose his two young daughters to another culture and language. But that planned fizzled after eight months, with his children homesick and even Abdulgany pining for his adopted country.

“The kids weren’t very happy,” he said. “They were begging me everyday, ‘I want to go back to Canada.’

“It was even hard for me. I know everything about life in this country — I came when I was 17.”

That was in 1971, when Abdulgany’s sister, who had married a Canadian, arranged for her brother to join her in Edmonton.

“I’d never heard of Canada before,” he remembered, pointing out that the North American country wasn’t much older than some of the old-timers in his community.

Abdulgany wasn’t even sure what language people spoke in Canada, and recalls being dismayed to learn it was English — a subject he’d shunned in school.

Snow was nothing new, he said, because the white stuff is common in the mountains of Lebanon. And as for the Canadian cold . . . .

“When you’re young, you don’t feel nothing.”

Abdulgany worked in his brother-in-law’s Edmonton shoe store for number of years. He also operated a drive-in restaurant in Grande Prairie and lived in other places before opening Medicine Hat’s first donair shop in 1999.

He’d pondered a submarine sandwich shop in Red Deer instead.

“I had Red Deer in mind since 1980,” said Abdulgany, explaining that he liked the community and felt it was ideally located between Edmonton and Calgary.

Eventually, he sold his Medicine Hat business and moved back to Edmonton for three years, before starting King Donair in Red Deer. The people here proved friendly, he said, and the community was safe and had lots of recreational opportunities.

When the recent decision was made to return with his family to Canada, Red Deer was the automatic choice. And Abdulgany was also quick to jump back into the donair business, and has been rewarded by the return of many of his former customers.

In addition to donairs, he serves other Lebanese dishes, as well as Western food.

Reflecting on his recent stay in Lebanon, Abdulgany believes the people there are now less caring and more interested in money than was the case when he was a youth.

He may return to visit in five years or so, he added, but there’s now no doubt that Canada is home.

“It’s the best country in the world.”

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com