Safi, farewell!

Betsy Mann


It was a dark, cold and snowy evening outside, but the crowded inside of Safi’s Fine Foods promised warmth and welcome on Saturday, January 25. Mohammed Ali Abdo was throwing a good-bye party for the neighbourhood on his last day of business. As the impromptu addition to Safi’s Fine Foods’ sign says, Mo was a real “friend and neighbour.” His generosity continued even when he had to close his business: as a parting gift, he chose to donate his leftover stock to St. Joe’s Supper Table.
Photo Sabrina Mathews
Neighbours and other regular customers were invited to fill their plates with the delicious foods that they had come to enjoy from Safi’s. After almost three years at the corner of Blackburn and Somerset East, the small grocery was closing because the building has been sold and the new owners have other plans for the space.
Photo Betsy Mann
After the savoury dishes came the sweet treats. Mo served up the cake while others chose from a tray of Middle Eastern pastries. Note the framed canvas thank you “card” where the dozens of guests wrote messages of appreciation and good wishes for the future.
Some of Safi’s young neighbours from Blackburn Avenue made their own card for Mo. Friida Lotan, Bryn Evans, Sam Northcott and Simoona Lotan were happy to be at the party with Mo, but Norah Evans’ face shows how sad she was to see him leave. As they wrote, Mo and Safi’s will be missed.
Photo Betsy Mann


Concerned by the closure of Safi’s Fine Foods, a long-time Sandy Hill resident Gwynneth Evans sets this recent event in the larger context of “disturbing developments” in our neighbourhood over several years.

Not only has the University of Ottawa grown substantially in every aspect of its physical presence, the housing and eating facilities have changed the nature of this neighbourhood, especially along major thoroughfares like Mann Avenue, Somerset East and Rideau Street. The result has been to open restaurants and eateries and living spaces where grocery stores have been for decades.
The most recent and disturbing example is Safi’s on Somerset. The shop with fresh food of many kinds and supplies for the whole house is closing because the building has been sold and one of the new facilities, we hear, is to be a Chinese restaurant. This is by no means the only closure of a multi-purpose store in this neighbourhood. In their place have come many restaurants, cafes, pizzerias and places selling take-out or on-the-premise meals. Metro on Rideau is another example, but it is the popping-up of commercial cafes and eateries in the place of grocery stores that is outrageous.
I thought we Ottawans were worried about obesity; that we promoted the new Canada Food Guide and the preparation of healthy, balanced meals with fresh ingredients; and that we were proud that volunteers were teaching kids in our neighbourhood schools how to prepare and cook vegetables, fruits, soups, etc. so they can have breakfast and a healthy lunch.
The recent developments make mockery of these assumptions in Sandy Hill. A few Quickies do not provide wholesome, accessible grocery shopping.

— Gwynneth Evans