On the pedestal as “Immigrant of the Month” for August 2021, The Immigrant Life is celebrating multiple award-winning and community-minded Mohamad Fakih, the Lebanese Canadian with the Midas touch, whose rise to prominence continues to inspire immigrants and everyone who has come across his story.
Name: Mohamad Fakih
Title: President & CEO, Paramount Fine Foods
Country of Origin: Lebanon
Moved to Canada: 1999
Journey in one word: Philanthropy
Mohamad Fakih fled war-torn Lebanon when he was just 16 years old! He came to Canada in 1999 with only $1,200 at hand. Like most immigrants, he lacked Canadian work experience despite being a licensed gemologist and had to work for free at a jewelry store, work nightshifts at Coffee Time, as well as teach his landlord’s daughter the French language. With both jobs, he was able to afford paying rent for a shared basement apartment. He later opened a small but profitable jewelry business in Mississauga.
In 2006, just 7 years after moving to Canada, Mohamad took gingerly steps to acquire a nearly bankrupt Shawarma shop from its owner who initially asked him for a $250,000 loan, during a first encounter. In response, Fakih said, “I’m only here for baklava (a Middle Eastern dessert), I don’t know you.” He however left his card with the gentleman, hoping he would lose it. The unusual request kept Fakih thinking of the business owner and his 16 employees who could all lose their jobs and maybe their visas. He couldn’t help thinking he had to help them. He kept seeing himself in them, after all, he had been an immigrant twice in his life – first to Italy after he left Lebanon at 16, and then to Canada in 1999. The thought of all the help he had received from people up to that point made him offer to help. He gave the owner the requested $250,000 lifeline. Four days later, the owner of Paramount called to tell him the money was gone! As you would guess, Mohamad was distraught. The business owner wanted to leave Canada and so he transferred ownership to Fakih.
Immigrants are known to be resilient and driven people. Fakih had his head bloodied but unbowed. He took over Paramount Foods to at least be the benefactor of the 16 immigrants and to also try and recoup his $250,000. At the end of that year, be had hired 150 people, many of whom were immigrants and refugees. He not only recouped his money but has gone ahead to create a business empire with over 85 outlets, and still counting. “Just don’t sell something, build it. Build a long-term relationship,” he said during The Immigrant Life’s Thrive Conference in October 2020. Added to Paramount Fine Foods are two related ventures – Paramount Lebanese Kitchen and Paramount Butcher Shop, with presence outside Canada – in the United States, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and his home country, Lebanon. For Fakih, the Paramount empire isn’t just a business but a movement. It is a movement that provides succor to immigrants and refugees as he says, “You don’t only help them change their life. It’s actually beneficial to the country entirely.” Presently, he has not less than 2500 employees that he has hired around the world.
“Giving back” has become one of his mantras and personality traits. “I grew up in a community that believed that the more you give, the more you get back.” He has become widely known, not only because he is the President and CEO of the Middle Eastern Halal family style restaurant chain, but because of his philanthropy, charitable work, and community service, long before he established the Fakih Foundation.
Hardly would you see a Canadian immigrant who doesn’t have a story to tell. A common rhetoric is how difficult it is to understand the Canadian culture, adjust to life and then thrive in Canada. Fakih moved from the initial feeling of lack of identity and his obvious lack to becoming one of the most inspiring ambassadors of the immigrant community. Fakih’s success story was shaped in part by all the help that has come his way, and the need to give back the same help to as many people as come his way. He has never forgotten his starting point. “Here I am, someone who came to Pearson International Airport with literally nothing. I take pride in saying that I cried when I put my sign up on Yonge-Dundas Square because I never imagined that one day, I would have a store beside the Mirvish Theatre and across Eaton Center.”
This outstanding immigrant has helped thousands with jobs, shelter, and education. “I know first-hand what it’s like to flee your home in search of safety and a better life… And as a business owner, I also know first-hand that investing in refugees pays off. I have experienced how providing jobs can restore dignity to refugees and their families and give them the opportunity to build better futures.” are the words Fakih. To date, Fakih has employed countless Syrian refugees, paid for the funerals of victims of 2017’s mosque shooting in Quebec and launched a 2020 fundraiser for the family members of Canadians who lost their lives in the Tehran plane crash, tagged “Canada Strong”, a cause which realized over $1million. He has also supported numerous causes including the United Nations Refugee Agency, the Canadian Cancer Society, Islamic Relief Worldwide, Sick Kids Hospital, the Make a Wish Foundation in Toronto and UNHCR. His restaurants often offer discounts to all Emergency Service Workers in Uniform to show appreciation for their service in our communities. The “Food for the LTC Front line” campaign has given hot meals to thousands of frontline health workers every day since its launch. He sees it as “taking care of those taking care of others,” especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.
A story of perseverance, faith and hard work, after one of Fakih’s restaurants located in Mississauga was gutted by a 3-alarm fire on May 30 2021, Mohamad Fakih remains resolute that he will rebuild what was lost.
Mohamad Fakih has been in the news for very good reasons. For instance, the media couldn’t have enough of him when he travelled to Lebanon to visit the Islamic Relief Camps for Syrian refugees and later to fund employment support counsel to help recruit new Syrian Canadians in their job search. In February 2017, Mr. Fakih was given the nod before the Parliament by the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, as an Exemplary Canadian Citizen and Businessman. In 2019, Mr. Fakih came under racist and Islamophobic attacks by persons who thought his business was just a front for jihadists. He was able to secure the biggest defamation award in the history of Canada, when he was awarded $2.5million in damages in the suit against hate crime, hate speech and Islamophobia. Fakih donated the money entirely to charity.
Some inspiring words from Dr. Mohamad Fakih.
- “Many people believe that business success brings happiness, but they are mistaken. Happiness is more than a bank statement, asset, or the bottom line. Immerse your company with a team who you value as a second family. Success is wonderful but, success surrounded by family is Paramount.”
- “Looking back at my journey of where I began, I would say there are a few key things that played a part in my success:
- Know what you don’t know. Understanding what you do not know allows you to seek advice from people who can teach you.
- Open your eyes to new opportunities. Will you be courageous enough to recognize them and step out of your comfort zone to move on them?
- Know your numbers. The bottom line is to have a positive bottom line.
- Give back in everything you do; it will only come back to you.”
- Talking about refugees, Fakih said: “Together, we can help them to succeed and build a prosperous future for us all.”
- “I wanted to change the world one jewelry at a time, and now I’m changing it one plate of Shawarma at a time.”
- “To everyone out there, giving back feels amazing.”
- “I have been in the war; I have lived in bunkers. And I always came out with a smile because I believe there is a light that will come but would only come if we help each other, would only come if we help the most vulnerable…”
- “Satisfy your heart. When your heart is satisfied, that’s when you sleep well at night, and when you can do that, it doesn’t matter where you pay your head.”
- “It’s so moving when we show that whether we are citizens by birth of by choice, whether we’ve been citizens for decades or for days, a Canadian is a Canadian.”
Mohamad Fakih has several awards including being one of the recipients of the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards, presented by Canadian Immigrant Magazine; Business Leader of the Year award by the Toronto Region Board of Trade in 2018; Key to the City of Mississauga, received in 2019, given by Mayor Bonnie Crombie; Most Admired CEO in Canada by Waterstone Human Capital’s Most Admired awards, which is one of the highest awards to a be given to a Canadian business leader.
We hope his list of achievements and accolades that continue to come his way will inspire just one more immigrant, and then another, to the point where we all continue to add our individual sauce to the Canadian broth.
Congratulations to Dr. Mohamad Fakih!