By Andrew Macdonald
The King of Donair chain based in Halifax, now branded as KOD, has concluded a deal that will see the popular food item being sold in locations across North America.
The Bassam Nahas family has recently reached a master franchise agreement with an undisclosed Canadian firm, meaning KOD will pop up across Canada and into the United States.“We’re excited to expand across Canada,” Bassam tells The Macdonald Notebook.
“We have teamed up with a professional group who want to take King of Donair throughout North America. We have also entered into agreements with federally inspected manufacturers so we will be able to distribute the donair across Canada.”
As for a time frame, the North American roll out is predicated on a belief “you have to crawl before you run, so we are not rushing it. We want to do it right. We are establishing the footing and foundation and that takes time,” he adds.
“Western Canada is our main focus at the present time.”
KOD is the indisputable home of the original donair, a concoction of beef on a spit, diced tomatoes, wrapped in Lebanese-style pita bread, and topped with a secret yogurt-based sauce.
The company still operates at its original location on Quinpool Road where it was founded in the early 1970s by a Greek immigrant.
This week, I was invited into the palatial 17-year-old Northwest Arm mansion of KOD owner Bassam Nahas, who has owned the five store Metro Halifax chain since 1989.
I met Bassam, who also goes by ‘Sam’, as part of my new column feature The Halifax Developers.
We chatted for an hour and half in his well appointed parlour, replete with artwork depicting tall ships of yesteryear in Halifax Harbour.
While he owns KOD, and also runs the watering hole institution Oasis Tavern, which packs university students in by the dozens and dozens for its signature cheap wing nights, Nahas main business is as a housing subdivision developer.
We chatted about the development company, founded in the early 1980s, and that part of my chat with Nahas on the residential development business line will run next weekend in The Macdonald Notebook.
For today’s Macdonald Notebook column stemming from our chat, I am focussing on KOD, which is now building Alberta stores in Edmonton and Grand Prairie, which are expected to begin serving donairs within the next six months.Bassam is modest and says he does not consider himself the modern day dean of the Halifax donair, but says his family “is proud to play a part” in making the donair a top food fare in the province.
“King of Donair was the first shop which brought the donair to Canada,” he says. It had its origins in Lebanon.
“We’re happy and honoured to have Nova Scotia recognized and the donair is married with that recognition,” which also includes retailing donair labelled hats and t-shirts for tourists who learn about the city’s famed food.
“A lot of people take and interest and pay an interest in our first Quinpool location.”
These days, machinery moulds the donair meat for KOD using cylindrical cones, while originally it has hand rolled.
“We now have a packer’s company make the moulds at provincial and federal registered plants, with provincial manufacturing plants now in Timberlea and Dartmouth.”
KOD is also wholesaling donairs to other restaurants around Halifax.
“We sell a ton to folk who go back home on airplanes,” says Norman Nahas, Bassam’s eldest son.
“King of Donair is a minor income generator compared to our other revenue from development. We’re more into real estate than we are the food industry,” says Bassam.
“The credit for KOD’s success goes to my three boys. Since 2009, I have basically retired and I am just the spare tire right now,” Bassam tells The Macdonald Notebook.
He eschews job titles and says of his tight-knit family business empire, “We are all for one and one for all.”
His sons include industrial engineer Norman Nahas, who at 36 is general manager of the family business. His younger brothers include lawyer Andrew, who recently left the McInnes Cooper law firm to join the family business.Youngest son Nicholas also works with the family business.
“We work as one unit and we work as one team,” Bassam tells The Macdonald Notebook.
Once a main staple university students, the donair is now the ‘official food’ of Halifax, beating out Nova Scotia choice lobsters for the title.
So ubiquitous is the donair in Halifax that even the 20-year-old Loblaw store on Barrington Street serves donairs.
Bassam Nahas won’t talk about his KOD retail sales — he says that only for the taxman to know — but does say returns are slim compared to the 1,000-acre subdivision company he has owned since the early 1980s when he took on his first house development at Cedarwoods in Hammonds Plain.
Nahas is an immigrant, who with his parents and seven siblings passed through Pier 21 in 1967, now more than 50 years ago.
Pier 21’s national museum recently honoured Nahas with a framed photo of the ocean liner Columbus that his family arrived aboard when it docked in Halifax Harbour.
At the time, he was just 14, with no command of the English language. Armed with an English-Arabic dictionary, he took a job at Sobeys, earning 80 cents an hour stocking shelves, and bagging orders for customers. He thought he had died and went to heaven when he soon got a pay raise to 90 cents an hour.
Later he enrolled at Dalhousie University, initially planning to become a dentist to please his father, a middle class Lebanese businessman who dabbled in jewellery retail sales in Tripoli.
Bassam soon decided that a dentist career would not interest him and considered going into law, but joined older brother Norman, and helped build the original single corner store into a five chain metro Halifax food retailer, Norman’s.
After the stores were sold, he joined in the early 1980s with Besim Halef and began a career as a developer, building the Cedarwoods subdivision in Hammonds Plains.
At one time, Nahas owned a chain of eight pizza shops, and during that time, he made the pizzas, and at KOD he also made donairs for customers.
He is also trained as a civil pilot, but does not currently own a private jet, unlike another Lebanese businessman, Fred George, the gold miner, who flies his own Challenger jet out of Halifax Stanfield International Airport.
Part two of my chat with Bassam Nahas will run next week, when we talk about his successful business career, he life’s motto and his strong family roots, as well as talk about the residential development empire he built from scratch.
He also talks about why he thinks the residential development scene in modern Halifax is now dominated by 55 residential developers from the tight-knit Lebanese community.