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A couple of Cape Bretoners bring authentic donair to Alberta

Colin Abbass and his partner Kayla Burke, both of Sydney, stand outside the King of Donair franchise they have opened on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, Alta. It’s the first permanent foray for the Halifax-based donair and pizza chain into Western Canada.
Colin Abbass and his partner Kayla Burke, both of Sydney, stand outside the King of Donair franchise they have opened on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, Alta. It’s the first permanent foray for the Halifax-based donair and pizza chain into Western Canada. - Submitted

SYDNEY, N.S. — Alberta is clearly donair-deprived.

The first restaurant in the King of Donair chain outside the Halifax area opened in Edmonton on Friday to long lineups, and it’s two Cape Bretoners who are running the show.

Kayla Burke and Colin Abbass, both from Sydney, bought into the franchise after inquiring about taking on the business opportunity about 10 months ago.

The couple have lived and worked in the Fort McMurray oilsands for the past six years.

“When we got a hold of them, they showed interest in partnering with us,” Burke, 26, said from her home in Edmonton on Friday. “We both wanted to get out of the oil industry.”

The noontime opening had been anticipated for a while, built up by a social media buzz.

There was an orderly queue forming outside the donair specialist’s front door by 10 a.m., said Norman Nahas, president of King of Donair.

It was a scene of pandemonium two years ago when the company set up a pop-up donair stand in Calgary for a day.

King of Donair served hundreds of hungry customers – some waiting for as long as five hours – in March 2016, many of whom were salivating at the thought of getting their mouths around the thinly sliced spicy meat served with sweet donair sauce on pita bread.

Although it proved too popular, forcing a second pop-up donair shop planned for the next day in a different location to be cancelled.

“Seeing is believing. We’ve always heard of the demand out in Alberta and we’re used to a lot of people taking back a lot of product from Halifax when they return home,” said Nahas, who, along with his brother Nicholas, assisted Burke and her 15 employees open the eat-in and takeout restaurant on Friday.

Burke’s boyfriend wasn’t available for opening day because Abbass, 29, is still working as a crane operator in Fort McMurray.

She said he’ll consider his options once they can properly gauge the success of their franchise, which sits in the main bar and retail shopping district in the city.

It’s expected to be a challenge in juggling responsibilities for a while as they raise their 18-month-old daughter, Jorja. Up until she started her maternity leave, Burke was a labourer working different contracts in the oilsands.

“The real reason why we wanted to start working with King of Donair was so we could have a life,” she said.

“We wanted to get into business so he can spend more time at home with the baby. It’s about creating a better quality of life for ourselves.”

Tradespeople and white-collar professionals alike have opined the lack of a quality donair and pizza, as well as the absence of garlic fingers, from the Western Canadian diet for years.

Burke described the type of donair that’s off-putting to most Nova Scotian sensibilities this way:

“They’re brutal. They put lettuce on it and they don’t even use donair sauce, they use a thing called sweet sauce.

“…In Halifax, before they put the pita on the grill, they make it moist. And when they put the meat on, it’s 100 per cent beef with spices. Out here in Edmonton, the donair meat has a lot of fillers in it and sometimes they put tzatziki sauce on it. Also, the sweet sauce they use has a completely different texture and it’s quite watery.”

King of Donair created the sometimes-messy comfort food back in 1973. In 2016, Halifax officially proclaimed the donair the official food of the city to great fanfare.

With the chain’s five donair shops in Halifax, and the addition of its restaurant in Edmonton, Nahas said the western rollout will continue with the opening of a King of Donair franchise in Grand Prairie, Alta. this summer.

There’s also the imminent signing of a “large Calgary deal” at a later date, he added.

“Myself and my brothers have a lot of energy and a lot of motivation to make this thing happen. We’re hunkering down and putting our shoulders to the grindstone.”

chris.shannon@cbpost.com

Twitter: @cbpost_chris

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