Authentic Shawarma - ©

Sunday Musings: Humble Shawarma Doubles In Price!

If you move to Ottawa from somewhere else, or even spend more than a few days here, you’re going to discover our famous Shawarmas. Some of the most authentic outside Beirut! I wanted to know why Shawarmas have doubled in price…

Classic Lebanese Rotisserie - © mamaslebanesekitchen.comTraditional Lebanese Shawarma rotisserie: Iconic cornerstone of any
authentic Shawarma joint. The nostalgia is overwhelming!

The Shawarma is a Middle Eastern staple, of course. But we have such a strong, colourful Middle Eastern community here in Canada’s capital that you can find authentic Shawarmas in almost any neighbourhood you choose. Or you could until recently. I was shocked to learn, this past week, that rising food costs are literally pricing the Shawarma out of existence!

A recent CBC investigative piece revealed that a number of Ottawa Shawarma restaurants are in imminent danger of closing their doors, as rising costs for everything have forced them to almost double their menu prices over the past few months.

Say it ain’t so!

Sorry, it is. I just is. Especially since winter descended on us, and everything fresh we want on a Shawarma has been coming from the U.S. southwest and California’s bountiful Central Valley. Except that climate change, Pineapple Express high-level winds blowing east-to-west over the Pacific Ocean and other extreme weather events (first fires and drought; now, torrential rains and flooding) have just about wiped out current harvests of most of the fresh fruits and veggies we normally take for granted from that part of the world.

Just browse the supplier price lists…

CBC’s Dan Taekema was recently taken for a tour of a typical produce warehouse wholesale price list by one of Ottawa’s biggest and most famous names in Shawarma: Adel Azzi, affectionately known as The Garlic King:

Core Shawarma veggies have essentially doubled in price:

  • Iceberg lettuce: $175 per case during the pandemic, but has since dropped to about $50 – still far more than the $30 he paid before, Azzi lamented.
  • Garlic: went from $25 to $45 per case.
  • Tomatoes: went from $25 to $40 per case.
  • Turnips: went from $17 to $36 per bag.
  • Pickles: went from $27 to $45 per pail.

It’s virtually the identical story for Shawarma meats:

  • Donair Meat: Traditionally Lamb; went from $109 to $198 for two cones (Those big skewers that roast for hours on the iconic Middle Eastern vertical rotisseries…)
  • Chicken: went from $7 to $11 per kilogram.
  • Beef: went from $11 to $17 per kilogram.

Not only that, but…

Utility prices, rent, staffing costs – even takeout containers – have rocketed in the past couple of years, Tracy Macgregor, vice-president of Ontario for Restaurants Canada, told CBC.

“Fifty per cent of restaurants right now are operating at a loss or just breaking even,” Macgregor reported. Something, she said, has to give soon, and that’s going to be the restos. And the beloved little, neighbourhood-based, one-off, family eateries will be first to go.

And not only Shawarma…

Your fave mom-and-pop, one-off pizza joint is facing all the same pressures the Shawarma makers are. And they’re facing the same imminent reality: They may have to close their doors, some after multiple generations of owner/operator success. And that’s going to leave our neighbourhoods looking like Swiss Cheese, culturally.

Where will that leave customers?

Looks like we’ll have to fall back on the big chains, as much as we may despise the notion of being forced to do that.

I guess some folks would say we’re spoiled, here in Ottawa. But why not? As the national capital, it’s our official crossroads with the world. Alas, that also means that the international foods – which includes Asian, Central and Eastern European, and the Hispanic sphere – are facing potentially deadly danger as a result of rising food costs.

I consider myself lucky that to have lived much of my life in times when food was plentiful and relatively cheap. And in places where almost any global delicacy I might crave was no more than abut 10 minutes away from my front door step.

That day is clearly fading. I’ll forego the expected ‘Twilight Zone’ jokes. This whole situation is just too important to my psychological well being, and far too nostalgic, for me to handle all in one massive dose. How are you handling it?

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.