A Torontonian who helps high-potential start-ups scale to world-class businesses shows us his favourite haunts—from fusion pizza to shipping container pop-ups to the best kunafa in town.
When Abdullah Snobar joined the DMZ in 2014, the idea was to help students at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) turn their ideas into viable businesses. Fast-forward to now, this idea has evolved into a global incubator, “supporting entrepreneurs from literally every part of the globe that want to come to Canada and make Toronto a new home.”
Through a model that provides coaching, capital, customers and community, DMZ and its for-profit arm DMZ Ventures have helped more than 800 start-ups raise over $2.5 billion in capital to date. While the incubator has expanded to 10 countries, DMZ’s headquarters remain at Yonge and Dundas, and Abdullah is a staunch advocate for Toronto—not just because it’s the largest tech hub in Canada, but because of the diversity that makes it a great place to work and live.
People come to Canada for opportunities in the tech industry and naturally choose Toronto as their home, says Abdullah. “There’s the appeal of the city itself—it’s a phenomenal spot from a sports perspective, from a music perspective, from a culture perspective. And we’re seeing so many new tech giants making Toronto an extended home or an HQ.”
From the waterfront where he lived for 12 years, to the Distillery District where he got married, to "The Rock” in Yorkville where he likes to kick back and smoke a cigar, Abdullah has several favourite haunts worth revisiting—but he’s always on the lookout for something new. Here are some of his favourite ways to spend a perfect day in Canada’s biggest tech hub:
Start the day at Rooms Coffee | 915 Dupont … if you can find it.
Abdullah is a “huge coffee guy,” so on weekends he likes to seek out his next great cup of coffee. He usually orders an espresso or Americano without cream or sugar so he can taste the profile. Rooms Coffee | 915 Dupont is one of his latest discoveries, a coffee shop and listening bar serving Japanese whisky, kitted out in vintage furniture and Japanese paper lamps. It’s hidden away inside a building, but Abdullah says it’s worth the time to find this hidden gem: “I was super wowed by it.”
Also see: Coffee, Your Way
Head to Oti’s Barber Shop for a shave—or just to hang out.
For some ‘me’ time, Abdullah heads to Oti’s, his neighbourhood barbershop. It’s a “really cool" barbershop run by two brothers and, over the years, it’s become part of the fabric of the community, attracting a clientele that ranges from kids in the neighbourhood to the Toronto Raptors. He likes that he can just drop in, no appointment required. “It’s like I go there to hang out, not to get a haircut really.”
Grab a Middle Eastern–inspired slice at Levant.
Toronto is known for its fusion of cultures, and perhaps that’s most obvious in the cuisine. Levant, a pizzeria at Bloor West and Ossington, is “one of my favourite hidden gems in the city,” says Abdullah. “It’s a fusion of Levant Middle Eastern food and Sicilian food coming together—the beauty of Toronto.” Using a traditional Sicilian focaccia base, Levant’s pizza is topped with ingredients inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine, like lamb shawarma.
Also see: Local Picks: Toronto’s Best Pizza
Get inspired by art, culture and food at Stackt Market.
As a champion for entrepreneurs, Abdullah appreciates the concept behind Stackt Market, North America’s largest shipping container market. “It’s cool for me as a guy that supports small businesses to be out there, seeing them hustle.” The marketplace—designed entirely out of shipping containers—takes up an entire city block in downtown Toronto, with shops, pop-ups, food stalls and craft beer, as well as community programming. And, like DMZ itself, it’s built on inspiration and connection.
Grab a seat at Bar Isabel for Michelin-recommended Spanish tapas.
One of Abdullah’s favourite restaurants is Bar Isabel for its “phenomenal Spanish tapas.” Chef Grant van Gameren focuses on Catalan cuisine, with dishes like jamón croquetas, sobrasada and grilled octopus served family style in the dimly-lit dining room reminiscent of an old-world tavern in Barcelona. It’s easy to see why this late-night hot spot is on rotation for Abdullah: it regularly makes the cut on Canada’s 100 Best list and was recently recommended by Michelin.
Get swept away at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
While it’s harder to find the time now that he’s a new dad, Abdullah enjoys taking in a show at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts—and by ‘show,’ he means ‘opera.’ He admits it’s sometimes hard to find a theatre companion, “because not many people my age like the opera.” But with the centre’s diverse offerings, from classic baroque to contemporary works—in a European horseshoe-shaped auditorium custom-built for opera and ballet with state-of-the-art acoustics—he just might be able to convert some first-timers into opera aficionados.
Indulge in a late-night dessert at Kunafa’s.
“My favourite dessert in the world is called kunafa—it’s a melted cheese pastry with a ton of sugar on top and it is insanely unhealthy for you,” says Abdullah, who frequents a Middle Eastern pastry shop in Scarborough that serves it the traditional way, with the same type of cheese and dough found in Nablus, Palestine and Amman, Jordan “It is just out of this world.” The aptly-named Kunafa’s has quickly gained a loyal following, so be prepared for a queue when you go (new locations in Mississauga and Ajax have just opened up, too).
Taking inspiration from Toronto’s diversity.
Abdullah designed DMZ to be community-oriented. “It’s all about drawing people into an environment where they can be inspired, and trying to create serendipity to get people to interconnect.” Part of that inspiration comes from the city itself—its diversity and richness of culture. “You walk around and you see people with different lived experiences from different places,” he says. “You’ll always feel at home.”