The founders of The Haifa Room — a beloved Middle Eastern restaurant/bar located in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood — have opened their new elevated West Coast concept, Bar Haifa, in Vancouver.
The port city of Haifa, Israel, has been home to Arabs and Jews living and working alongside each other for centuries. In this spirit of co-existence, close friends and seasoned restaurateurs from both Palestinian-Muslim and Israeli-Jewish backgrounds Waseem Dabdoub, Fadi Hakim, Yossi Misrahi Eastwood, Daniel Suss, and Mark Kupfert came together to open their Toronto take-away window in June 2021 during the pandemic and felt the name captured the essence of their endeavour.
Soon, The Haifa Room grew beyond mouth-watering take-out falafel and sabich pita sandwiches. Later that year, with the addition of Chef Jason Hemi (formerly of Fat Pasha and Rose and Sons), it became a hyper-casual 28-seat restaurant, with accolades and a loyal following for its Fennel and Apricot Labneh, Kofta, Boneless Lamb Shoulder, and Signature Fresh-made Hummus.
“We all have different gigs but we all came together for this project and Waseem connected us all. And it’s been like a really special project. It kind of got us through COVID. It was a dark time,” Kupfert said. “For all of us, I think it’s a breath of fresh air compared to our regular (work). We all have different things.
“During COVID I was approached to open up another location of my current business. I have a bunch of vegetarian restaurants and I was in COVID and just kind of feeling closed in and the idea of doing something very far-placed, full of nature, beauty, a beautiful new building. And I thought ya this is what I should be doing. I took the leap. Then COVID just continued, continued and continued. There were delays, and delays and delays. By the time I got our building permit and we were ready for construction, I lost my passion for that use whereas I was still very passionate about the Haifa Room and what it was doing just in terms of the narrative, the food, the experience. It just seemed a lot more exciting.
“So I approached my partners and told them we have this opportunity. We already have a lease, we already have a building permit. We just have to redesign it and I think it would be a really good location because it has good lunch and dinner trade and it’s in a super cool building and there’s a patio and doors that open.”
The Vancouver restaurant was originally scheduled to open in July of this year, but because of construction delays it was pushed to mid-November, placing the opening in the midst of the tragic conflict in Gaza and Israel.
“At first, words failed us. We’re devastated. We all have family members living in Palestine and Israel,” said Hakim. “As we grapple with the situation, we grieve for all the civilians, our helplessness. For now, our focus is connecting people through shared experience and finding a commonality between people through food.”
Located in the heart of downtown Vancouver on the ground floor of the Deloitte Summit building on Georgia at Homer, Bar Haifa contains 55 indoor seats, including a cocktail bar, chef’s table, banquette seating and an open kitchen, along with a spacious outdoor patio that will double its seating during the summer.
The Vancouver eatery features an expanded menu that showcases the terroir of its new location, with lots of fresh seafood and local ingredients, along with a dedicated take-out only street-food menu. Bar Haifa will have a bigger focus on service than in the Toronto location, and an extensive wine and cocktail list.
The partners believe the concept could be successful in other Canadian cities.
“Right now we’re just relieved that this one opened because it’s been so delayed,” said Kupfert.