Munchies

Hustling a Shawarma Machine in the Shawarma Capital of Canada

There’s a long story behind how I came to own this machine. It’s a tale involving thousands of dollars worth of industrial kitchen equipment, a hastily cashed certified cheque, and an amicable breakup that left me with a shawarma machine love child.

by Hilary Duff
Jun 18 2016, 6:00pm

Photo by Dmitri Maruta/Getty Images.

Screech, bump, luuuuuurch.

Wheeling my shawarma machine down Dalhousie Street in downtown Ottawa is a sweaty slog. I'm going only six blocks, but it feels like a lot more. It's a sticky summer afternoon, and I imagine the thoughts of people I pass: Why is this Chinese girl dragging a shawarma machine in a dress?

There's a long story behind how I came to own this machine. It's a tale involving thousands of dollars worth of industrial kitchen equipment, a hastily cashed certified cheque, and an amicable breakup that left me with a shawarma machine love child.

In January 2015 I drove the machine six hours south from my previous home in Sudbury, Ontario, to my current one in Ottawa. The drive was peppered with curious questions from my RideShare passenger, and I'll admit to feeling like a bit of a weirdo. But the machine was an essential car companion, and I was cocky I'd have it sold within a month. After all, Ottawa is the Shawarma Capital of Canada.

I posted the ad on Kijiji and waited for the offers to roll in. Crickets. My brother helped me carry the 70-pound machine into my bedroom. I intended this to be a temporary solution.

The shawarma machine is three feet tall and two feet wide. It sat affectionately behind my bedroom door, slowly gathering dust and draped clothing.

Weeks turned into months. My Kijiji ad, titled "Omcan shawarma/gyros vertical broiler, barely used," became prefaced by two words: "REDUCED PRICE" and then "MUST GO."

I was offered free shawarma out of pity—twice. I don't even like shawarma.

At the start of summer I decided Kijiji was too passive. I needed to start hustling, so I called every shawarma restaurant in Ottawa.

"Hi there!" I chimed. "Can I talk to the owner, please? Why am I calling? Well, I have this shawarma machine for sale, and I'm wondering if they might be looking for one right now…"

My enthusiastic salutation received everything from impatient grunts to one owner who asked in a thick Lebanese accent: "Are you Arabic? What the hell are you doing with a shawarma machine?!"

A few interested buyers insisted they inspect the machine in person, and I spent an agonizing Monday morning loading the machine back into my small car.

Soon I was ushering restaurant owners to the back door. Is this how mobsters do deals? I learned about motor mechanics and the weight of shawarma meat, but failed to find a buyer. I was offered free shawarma out of pity—twice. I don't even like shawarma.

l eventually headed to the heart of Ottawa shawarma territory: Rideau and Dalhousie streets. One restaurant owner, Asaad, came over to the car to assess my metallic bounty.

"This won't do!" he proclaimed. "This machine is propane. I have electric."

Until this point, I had been operating under the pretty certain assumption that this was an electric machine. In fact I had turned down what one could declare to be hordes of prospective buyers, all of whom had expressed disappointment over the machine not being propane.

And now it was. With 30 minutes left on my parking ticket, I marched into the courtiers of shawarma royalty: Castle Shawarma, Shawarma Palace, New Shawarma King. Keeping track of them was as difficult as remembering the name of your favourite pho place in Ottawa's Chinatown.

At 3 Brothers Shawarma there was a tug on the line. The owner was looking for a machine, and if his electrician gave it the thumb's up, he would buy. I was optimistic as we unloaded the machine into his basement.

A few days later, he texted me a photo of tangled internal wiring—the machine was electric after all.

After a brief period in which I considered leaving the machine in 3 Brothers' basement, I remembered Asaad. He said he would have bought the machine, had it been electric.

Asaad looked surprised to see me as I hoisted the machine off the dolly and into his restaurant. He agreed to take a second look. Two days passed and I got the call: shawarma machine rejection.

But wait: Was I really going to carry this machine back to my car in the rain?

He gave me 45 minutes to pick up the machine—or so he thought. Little did he know I had set my mind on hardballing a Lebanese haggler.

By the time I reached downtown, it had started to pour. I was in such a rush that I had forgotten both a rain jacket and an umbrella.

Drenched, I approached Asaad with a squishy conviction and compelled him to reconsider the purchase.

We negotiated for 45 minutes. I had decided I would be happy with $400. Asaad was offering $350, but as far as I was concerned, I was the one who dashed through the rain, wheeled a shawarma machine down Dalhousie, and had already compromised my price.

But wait: Was I really going to carry this machine back to my car in the rain?

I cracked, and Asaad smugly passed $350 across the counter. "I hope you know what a good deal you got," I scowled.

Driving home, I realized this was the most outrageous $350 I had ever earned. While I failed to successfully haggle with a Lebanese businessman, the machine was neither in my car nor in my bedroom. I got free shawarma and have a quintessentially Ottawa story to tell.

In the leagues of useless shawarma machine knowledge, I was blind but now I see.