Decades-old Forest Hill staple gone to make way for LRT station
After almost 38 years as a staple in the Forest Hill community, serving Middle-Eastern cuisine, King Falafel has closed its doors for the last time.
Customers showed up in droves New Year’s Eve to enjoy one more shawarma or falafel before the doors closed for good.
Gary Wheeler, a 35-year customer is convinced he will never find anything as good as the Rifi family recipes he’s been enjoying for decades.
“I didn’t even know what a falafel was the first time I came in here,” Wheeler said. “Nobody else makes falafels as good as hers. I’ll probably never eat another one again.”
Abderazzak Rifi and his wife Jamilia first arrived from Morocco in the 1970s and shortly after the couple opened King Falafel at Bathurst Street and Eglinton Avenue. All five of their children grew up in the restaurant as kids and worked part-time as teens and young adults. Abderazzak passed away 10 years ago and his daughter Noseiva says that makes shutting the doors a little tougher.
“I felt sad when I woke up this morning, because my dad started up this business and he passed away 10 years ago. For us it is like a piece of him is also dying — he kind of lived on through this place.” Noseiva said.
It’s a bittersweet day for Jamilia as well, but seeing all the customers show up to say goodbye put a smile on her face and showed her exactly how the community feels about the work she and her family have done.
“I feel good because people like me. I feel very good. I am happy,” Jamilia said. “The high school students for many, many years have come here and now they’re married with kids and they’re still coming. You feel happy they still come after all these years. They feel like I am a mother to them.”
Jamilia is being forced to close their doors because the plaza they’re in was purchased by Metrolinx and is set to be demolished as part of the construction of the LRT’s Bathurst station.
David Castellan and Cynthia Leung have been customers for 10 years and say they remember will struggle to find an alternative place to get their shwarma and fFalafel.
“We had an attachment to Morocco, so we heard about them first … and then we just became addicted to their falafel and shawarma it’s unlike anything else,” Castellan said.
Leung quickly added, “They are the best in the city — I feel a huge loss,” she laughed. ”She is retiring and I totally get that, but there are a lot of kids in there.”
Another customer Louis Floras started coming for shawarmas as a teen and quickly became a regular.
“Because I lived so close I would always come by. I would have to order two shawarmas every time I came because they were so good — they were the best shawarmas I had ever had,” Floras said. “The spices in the meat were just amazing and it was fairly priced.”
Noseiva says it is nice to hear the customers share their gratitude and praise for the food and the communities attachment to their restaurant.
“We weren’t expecting such a response,” Noseiva said. “You know when somebody dies and they don’t get appreciated until they die, it is kind of like that, but we got to hear it. That’s nice.”
Jamilia says she’s still not sure if she will try to reopen or settle into retirement. She’s going to travel to Morocco for a month or two to see family before making any decisions.
Things got so busy in the final two days, they ran out of food. Even with hours left before closing her doors Jamilia was still thinking about her customers.
“If I knew it was going to be that busy I would have made extra falafel or something, but it surprised me,” Jamilia said.
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