DO ANYTHING: Haitham El-Khatib
We are excited to launch the Do Anything spotlight series. Each spotlight shares the story of individuals in our community that embody the idea that with passion and determination, you can Do Anything you set your mind to.
Meet Haitham, the founder of Aleph Eatery in Vancouver, Canada.
The story for Haitham El Khatib started in Dubai, where the self-made entrepreneur & chef was born. In his youth, Haitham was forced to move to Lebanon as a result of the Gulf War. He spent much of his youth in the world's largest refugee camp.
During his formative years, he called cities all over the Middle East "home". In Beirut, he completed undergraduate studies in Business, then moved to Dubai, where he entered the corporate world, working in both Marketing and Risk Management consulting. It wasn't until later when he moved to Iran that he had his 'Eureka' moment, finding his WHY through a love for cooking.
His wife was originally from Vancouver, and when they made the decision to move to Canada, the inception of Aleph began. In Canada, Haitham was once again a student; this time focusing on the Culinary Arts.
In 2018, he opened Aleph in Vancouver, Canada. A vegan & vegetarian restaurant inspired by the traditions of Middle Eastern cuisine. Haitham wanted to offer a dichotomy with his food: home-grown comfort food to those familiar, while introducing the same flavours and aromas to those less accustomed.
In Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish and Persian, “Aleph” is the first letter of the alphabet— and here at their restaurant on Powell Street, people can find a sense of commonality, no matter where they originate from. Aleph is (and will always be) a place of connection, unity, and possibility.
We met Haitham at the Casca store, and we were fascinated by his story. So we asked him some questions so we could share it with others.
Tell us about Aleph and what inspired the concept?
I am passionate about possibilities. When I get an idea, I love pushing it to its edge of possibility and lean into the voice that tells me "yes you can" more than the one that tells me I can't. I grew up in the biggest refugee camp in the world. Through amazing parenting, luck, education, hard work and people who showed me support and love, I ended up in Vancouver after 10 years of working in the corporate world. I got here and went to culinary school. I finished school and immediately started working on Aleph Eatery, our Middle Eastern restaurant in East Van.
I was and still am inspired by the millions of people who decided to follow their ideas to the end. When I see other people doing their thing, it tells me I can too. I also wanted to push the Middle Eastern cuisine outside of its norm and create a place where people feel like they've travelled to the Middle East through every detail. Lastly, I was motivated by wanting to create a working culture that is respectful and enabling to the people, something I've noticed needs addressing within restaurant culture.
How did a "Do Anything" mindset help you find success?
March 14: Best conversation with our accountant. “This is the year!” We nailed the business model and reached the tipping point. 2020 is going to be the best year for us.
March 15: Close the business due to the spread of Covid-19, laying off the whole team.
By March 23: I reopened the restaurant for take out and delivery with a new menu to cater for the times: One person meal boxes for a cause. My wife Fiona and I set up our website for online orders, and I worked by myself in the restaurant for a whole week from 8 am to 10 pm. It was the most fulfilling week of my life...I felt the most present and the most purposeful. “Keep going. One day at a time.” In one week, I re-hired 3 of our staff and it's been amazing since. Not quite the 2020 we expected but considering the circumstances, we did great.
I always worked with a ‘say yes first’ mindset. If I work with anyone who starts with a ‘no’, I immediately know this is not a fit.
Haitham wearing the Avro Knit in Space Black
One book that changed your life...
Start with Why - Simon Sinek
Your three style essentials...
I hate clothing with writing and images. The same plain t-shirt in black, grey and white.
One accomplishment you are working towards this year...
Exploring other business opportunities, growth of the existing business and beyond.
One way you have maintained feeling good this year...
Psilocybin therapy. It has helped me find myself again, settle in Vancouver more, connect with my loved ones and overcome many "stucks".
What are three of your favourite local spots...
Three things you never go on a trip without...
My water shoes (I have sensitive feet lol)
Juices & fruits
Now my Casca Shoes (actually)
One person who inspires you and why...
My father! He has been through a lot in his life but he never lets it get to him. He has a depth of wisdom that I am only recently getting to understand and appreciate. He has been my most consistent supporter. He does anything for us that we ask of him. I model that with my two year old daughter, Olive.