We know that often, the more things change, the more they stay the same. But when it comes to food, traditions move around.
Canada and the rest of North America may never have known the joy of biting into a juicy, flavourful Osmow’s shawarma if it were not for a Streetsville, Mississauga submarine sandwich shop customer who swooned at the fragrance of the founder’s homemade lunch. Completely bowled over by this new and exotic taste sensation, the customer started bringing his friends around for shawarma made from Egyptian recipes adapted to suit local tastes.
After polishing off a generous spread of free samples at the Streetsville Founders’ Bread & Honey Festival, other locals soon started queuing up for more of the good stuff. Sam Osmow, who was never one for doing things in half measures, turned his shop into a shawarma spot. This grew into a thriving franchise that will soon grace over 100 locations.
With a flair for healthy, well-made food, the Osmow family’s quick-service restaurants offer mouth-watering meals packed with fresh flavours, dressed with a range of its signature sauces. Osmow’s is about good food, family, and good times. And the fact that the company goes all out to serve the best shawarmas this side of the North Atlantic is evident from the lines that still form outside its stores.
For those with a love of Middle Eastern food, its selection is a delight. The baba ganoush (eggplant spread), hummus (chickpea spread), tzatziki (cucumber in yogurt), and tahini (sesame paste) are all made from fresh ingredients. These are served alongside generous helpings of fresh tomatoes, olives, lettuce, and chicken, beef, or lamb slow-cooked on a rotisserie and finished off on the grill to add just a touch of crispness and a smoky flavour people love. There is also vegetarian falafel (spiced ground chickpea balls) and side orders of rice or fries.
And there is more than finely carved meat, vegetables, pita bread, and sauce. Clients also feast on other delicious traditional menu items like kofta (small ground beef logs), tabouleh (a traditional salad of herbs and bulgur wheat), shish taouk (marinated, skewered chicken), kebab platters, and even Philly steak or chicken wraps.
Osmow’s is delicious fast food that is as genuine and wholesome as the people who created the legacy. In sharing a few family favourites, the company is presenting people with a new way of enjoying delicious, nourishing food on the go or at home. The brand is even a firm favourite of two big names in Canadian basketball: Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell. These Toronto Raptors’ stars are enraptured with Osmow’s shawarmas.
The Osmow family arrived in Canada in 1998 and immediately set about finding their way in their new country. With his characteristic determination, a love of food, and qualifications in business administration and accountancy, Sam Osmow had all it took to set up his first Canadian business. When he decided to change his offering from submarine sandwiches to shawarmas, the whole family helped, and his daughter Bernadette Osmow, chief marketing and human resources president, and his son Ben Osmow, chief executive officer and head of franchise operations, are now actively involved in the business. Today, nearly twenty years later, every franchisee and employee is like family, too.
The company’s success took hard work. “When [we came to Canada], we saw a void in the marketplace for Middle Eastern cuisine, but we didn’t know how consumers would react to tastes that they weren’t familiar with,” says Sam. Now, the company is believed to be the largest Middle Eastern food franchise in Canada with branches stretching from Ontario to Calgary, Alberta. But growth for its own sake is not its goal.
Instead, this is a team that relishes taking care of the people and the environment while giving back to its communities. In a bid to mitigate its carbon footprint, it recently took on the monumental task of changing its packaging. Now, the company presents food and beverages with paper straws and a new range of completely eco-friendly packaging that has allowed it to bump Styrofoam off its shopping list for good. Soon, it will also get rid of all plastic packaging and has provided all franchises with specialized recycling bins. “We will be making sure that our franchisees keep up with recycling standards,” Ben says.
In addition to reducing its carbon footprint, the company recently established the Osmow’s Hope Fund. As helping the less fortunate has always been a high priority for the founder, the fund’s objective is to do good by helping people in need. That includes giving funds to food banks and homeless shelters throughout the Greater Toronto Area and further afield. Sam Osmow has also spearheaded several charity initiatives in Egypt. “Canada is built on immigration, and we hope to give money contributed here to a different third-world country every year with a different goal to help people in [such] countries get to a better place,” Ben adds.
This year, the company joined forces with Hope for Haiti, an organization that will use the Osmow’s Hope funds to teach children how to grow and harvest their own food in gardens at three elementary schools. These gardens will also provide food for each school’s cafeteria. Moreover, the company will be providing five hundred water filtration systems for homes on the island.
The company provides tremendous backing for its franchisees and prides itself on its diverse team of owners. “Everyone in this company has a voice. We like to hire ambitious people,” Ben says. Several franchisees operate multiple outlets, with some as many as eight or more. Osmow’s main strength appears to be that its business partners are people who are comfortable with and experienced at looking at life and business laterally.
Its staff and its franchisees share close working relationships and a team spirit, which makes it both possible and preferable to promote from within. Alongside its rapid expansion, the company is delighted by all its new members who recently joined the company, bringing new expertise that will help drive its continued development. In light of this carefully mapped expansion, it comes as no surprise that the company received the Mississauga and Brampton Readers’ Choice Awards for a number of years for its great Middle Eastern food.
Considering the current state of the post-COVID restaurant market, Osmow’s is confident that its share will continue growing through take-out and delivery while bigger, sit-down restaurants may take more time to recover. Part of the strength of the typical quick-serve business model, Ben believes, is its comparatively smaller footprint and higher profitability due to lower overheads. “The convenience factor of [home deliveries] will drive delivery sales up much more,” he says.
With this comes an estimated projection of a thirteen to fourteen percent increase in delivery sales for the franchise over the coming year. To support these changes, it will soon be launching a new application that comes complete with a loyalty program as well as an online ordering function.
Everything this team touches involves dedication to its communities and attention to detail. Like when it was one of the first to offer local medical staff discounts on their meals as a way of thanking them for their selfless service and civic loyalty during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place period.
Just as in ancient Egypt where food was plentiful and rich, North America is assured of delicious Mediterranean cuisine as long as there is an Osmow’s team around the corner.