It was a waiter’s rudeness that prompted a Lebanese immigrant to donate more than 128,000 sandwiches to hungry residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Salam Kahil, who lives in the poverty-stricken neighbourhood and owns La Charcuterie Delicatessen in Surrey, has brought sandwiches to his hungriest neighbours every month since making a promise to feed them in 1986, but now he’s helping more than ever and celebrating Thanksgiving by donating 500 brown bag lunches.
Kahil moved to Montreal from Lebanon in 1979, when a violent, escalating civil war spurred a mass exodus from the country.
Broke and hungry, he came to Vancouver six years later and took a job at a restaurant where the head waiter treated him so cruelly during a shift, he resolved to quit, but only after earning his free daily meal.
“I was crying all the way to my home,” Kahil told The Province. “And I made a promise to myself: I would never be poor and I would always help the poor people.”
Kahil estimates he has donated more than 128,000 sandwiches since that day.
“In 1986, I opened my first store and it was 50 sandwiches every month. Three years ago it was 300 meals, now it’s 500 meals. It just keeps going higher and higher.”
Kahil doesn’t accept donations and pays out-of-pocket for everything.
He said it feels “incredible” to feed the hungry and he looks forward to spending Thanksgiving contemplating all the good that came to him after making his promise.
“There’s lots to be thankful for — unlimited, really. I’m thankful I can bring joy and happiness to 500 people today.”
Kahil became infamous in recent years for his unique brand of customer service — if a customer uses their cellphone or forgets to say ‘please’ while inside his deli, they’ll be refused a sandwich.
For that, he’s been labelled the “Sandwich Nazi” by customers and media.
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