Back in business
“I know I lost everything back home. But I found here some people to help me”
Shortly after arriving in Canada, it didn’t take long for Ahmad Abed to reignite his entrepreneurial spirit.
After resettling in Guelph, Ontario, the Syrian refugee spent time exploring the downtown shopping mall and was impressed with what he saw—and envisioned a future there.
“I like it. I like the design,” he recalled. “I said to myself: ‘One day I’m going to open a store here.’”
That dream became a reality with the official opening of Our Sock Shoppe in the fall of 2017, a venture Ahmad launched with wife Roulah and sons Tarek and Eyad.
The family had enjoyed a successful clothing business in Syria before the outbreak of the civil war. They escaped to Lebanon, but still faced their share of challenges.
Thousands of kilometres away in Canada, Jim Estill offered Ahmad and his family a fresh start. They were among 58 refugee families privately sponsored by the Guelph-based businessman and philanthropist.
Jim spent $1.5 million of his own money to help resettle the families in Canada. But for Ahmad, it meant so much more than a new hometown.“Jim, he supported us. He said: ‘Don’t worry, you’re going to be successful here.’”
“You know, everyone thinks Jim is going to help you with the money. But Jim, he has a good system with the work. He teaches you how to fish, and does not not give you fish every day,” he added.
Ahmad divides his time between Our Sock Shoppe with work at Danby, the appliance company where Jim serves as CEO. The lifelong entrepreneur was also able to speak with the mall landlord to negotiate a flexible lease for the Our Sock Shoppe owners.
“I’m an entrepreneur so I love entrepreneurs and love to encourage entrepreneurs,” said Jim.
“But I will say the success of the sock shop is Ahmad and Roulah. That is their business and they are going to be the ones that make it survive and thrive. It’s going to be all their hard work and effort.”
Despite its moniker, Our Sock Shoppe offers more beyond fun accessories for the feet with the owners’ aspirations to one day broaden the business.
“If I’m more successful, I’m going to open more shops,” said Ahmad. “I wish to have big stores that have everything for men and women.”
With so many other Syrian and Arabic-speaking families resettling in the community, Ahmad hopes to be able to offer outreach to help them adjust to their new environment. Heis also keen to share a special taste of his homeland, in creating signature sweets like baklava.
Ahmad has been buoyed by the support and warm welcome received since resettling in Guelph more than two years ago.
“People look at us and smile. That’s very good for us. That gives us the first step to contact with the people,” said Ahmad.
“When I see the people here, someone says ‘Good morning,’ someone says, ‘How are you?’ This is making me feel good. I know I lost everything back home. But I found here some people to help me.”