He’d always planned to launch his new brunch menu this weekend. After a massive explosion rocked Beirut, the owner of Aleph Eatery in Vancouver decided to make it a fundraiser for the city where he grew up in a refugee camp.

“We felt a call to do something to help,” said Haitham El Khatib. “Our family is there, our friends are there … so we thought, how about we give all the proceeds from this brunch and donate it to people on the ground who are helping with cleaning, rebuilding and finding homes for people who are homeless?”

He also started collecting donations on the restaurant’s website.

“Honestly, the response from the community in Vancouver has been amazing,” El Khatib said. “Literally yesterday someone just came to the door when we were closed, he pulled me out and said, ‘Here’s $100.’”

He’s sending money raised at his restaurant to Beit El Baraja and Impact Lebanon, aid organizations working on the ground that are not affiliated with the Lebanese government.

Lebanese restaurant Nuba is also holding a fundraiser this weekend at its four Vancouver locations, offering two-for-one pints of beer with all proceeds going to Beirut relief efforts.

“All the community here in Vancouver are helping a lot. We have a lot of people coming yesterday to try to help, to buy the beer,” said Nuba Yaletown manager Silvia Mejia.

The federal government is matching private donations to several humanitarian organizations in Lebanon. That money will help hundreds of thousands of people re-build, including El Khatib’s family.

“I have a sister. Her house was pretty destroyed. Not fully, but really damaged. Her husband got injured and her kids really got traumatized in the experience,” he said. “Thankfully, they are alive.”

The tragedy has put the challenges of running a restaurant during COVID-19 in perspective. Despite his financial struggles, El Khabib says donating proceeds from a lucrative, sold-out weekend brunch was the least he could do.

“When we were planning this weekend, I just asked myself, what do I care about right now? Do I care about making money this weekend? I do not,” he said. “We are doing OK, so if I have anything left to give, I’m going to give it all.”