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Syrian family’s restaurant dream is alive in Australia after closing twice due to war

The Abou family at their Syrian restaurant, Shamiat, in Northcote, North Melbourne. Source: Supplied

On two occasions, the Abou family was forced to close their business and relocate as the war in Syria closed in on them. Now in Australia, they hope that it’s 'third time lucky' as they work to keep their Melbourne restaurant afloat amid crippling coronavirus restrictions.

When coronavirus restrictions began to be enforced across the country in the early months of 2020, the small-business sector took a massive hit. 

Many couldn’t hold on to their employees and for others, the decrease in customers meant long-term closures or even financial ruin.

But for the owners of Shamiat, a Syrian restaurant in the North Melbourne suburb of Northcote, closure was not an option. 

It’s owned and operated by the Abou family whose experiences in business have been somewhat unlucky, but not for a lack of trying. 

Mrs Abou in the "Shamiat" kitchen at Northcot, North Melbourne.
Mrs Abou preparing food at Shamiat, in North Melbourne.

When civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, the family relocated from their hometown of Al-Hasakah, to Beit Al Zour. 

Forced to flee and start afresh, Attalah Abou decided to open a business in the family's new hometown selling clothes, which he says provided a decent income.

But the war and the realities of living in Syria forced them to relocate to safety again, this time to the coastal city of Tartus. 

True to form, they opened another business, which they nurtured and developed until it became just as successful and profitable as their first shop.

However, as the situation in Syria worsened, the family decided that they needed to leave the country altogether - and they had Australia in their sites. 

Mr Abou’s brother, who lives in Australia, decided to sponsor the family and they arrived in 2016. 

It wasn't long before they decided to test the old adage, ‘third time lucky’, by opening another business in 2019 -  this time it was a restaurant selling traditional Syrian cuisine. 

But just as they began to rebuild their base in early 2020, coronavirus restrictions were enforced and the restaurant began to suffer. 

The family was forced to let staff members go because they couldn’t afford to pay their wages. 

Determined not to close another business, the family began to rally by covering shifts and working long hours, and they managed to survive the pandemic's bleakest period.

Mr Abou attributes his family’s resilience, and the support of the Arabic community, for keeping the restaurant afloat. 

“I don’t have the words to thank the Arabic community members who came from quite far to order from us in the middle of everything," he tells SBS Arabic24. “They kept us on our feet.” 

As plans are in motion to ease restrictions in Victoria, Mr Abou says he owes a “debt of gratitude” to the Australian government and the Australian people who “supported since we arrived”. 

“The war took everything away from us and stole even our dreams,” he says. “With hard work and sacrifice, you can keep making your dreams come true.”

The family acknowledges that the pandemic restrictions could change at any moment, but they are confident that they'll be able to survive whatever comes next.

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