Shopping Local

Saj House is an amazing Lebanese restaurant located at 19 Alma Crescent, off Dutch Village Rd in Fairview, Halifax. I would recommend it to anyone. I found it by chance, a friend took me there for lunch. He wanted me to try something different than my usual choices and he knew it was close to the church. As we arrived I met the owner, a very outgoing young woman. She told me that her restaurant used to go by a different name, owned and operated then by her late father. She told me that after her father died she took the business over and gave it “a woman’s touch”. I assumed that had something to do with the small vase of fresh flowers on every table.

The prices were reasonable but the fact that this young owner told me that all the ingredients and suppliers were local was a draw. The only item on the menu from “away” were the chocolates made by the Syrian family who reside in Antigonish, a story well known to many Haligonians today. As I looked over the menu and the lay-out of the restaurant it felt like an organic part of the community, a place you would not find in all its components anywhere else. This was not a “paint by numbers” business, there was a sense that what happened in the community was a part of what happened inside the restaurant. Locals came and went, a dog waited patiently outside the front door for his human to get his order. I noticed the dog looked exactly like my dog and struck up a conversation.

Another thing I liked was that the owner was able to suggest a meal that conformed to my tastes (nothing spicy) and yet stretch me to try something new. I liked that. The food was fresh and tasty and the atmosphere was friendly, open and full of pictures of her beloved Lebanon, it once again reminded me of the conversations I have had with people who tell me how beautiful that country is. I also liked that she had a blackboard for customers to record their impressions of their experience at her restaurant.

Eating local is a “thing” now, the primary objective being that if you shop local you are supporting your neighbours, who in turn are creating local employment. The other selling point we hear about is food sustainability, that if we don’t support local producers there could come a time when transportation systems shut down, for many different reasons, and we run out of food in a matter of days, maybe weeks. But from a community-living point of view shopping local is also vital. With the exception of a Tim’s or a Starbucks most international businesses do not attract people from the community to stay and mingle. The shopping mentality is such that if it is a “name store” we tend to come and go, the most important part of the experience being that we have the name of the store on the bag we walk around with.

What is so helpful to building community about shopping local is the name and face recognition of the owner who acts as a magnet for locals to come and connect with one another. Good community business owners understand this and from both a self-interested perspective and a public good perspective they bring people together, “hey Phil have you met David, you two have a lot in common.” These kind of connections build community and reinforce ties that make a place more than somewhere we happen to live. And now I have taken friends, family and church folks to this restaurant. Word of mouth is the way we share our love of community. And so it goes…