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“27 years in business, 73 billion served” reads the sign outside one of Jarvis Street’s most notable establishments, Mystic Muffin. Over all those years and through all those customers, this small counter-style restaurant has evolved from a simple breakfast joint into a community staple for affordable lunch combos and famous apple cake. But what hasn’t changed, is the store’s committed owner and operator Elias Makhoul, who for almost three decades has dedicated his life to serving the surrounding community.
With the help of his wife Annie, Elias makes everything from scratch in his small kitchen in the back of the store. To do so, he wakes up at 4 a.m. and works for 16 hours every day. Everything is homemade, from the hummus to the banana loaf.
When you first enter the place, you are sure to be greeted with a hearty “hello” from Elias behind the counter. Next, you’ll see the large chalkboard signs hanging across the entire back wall that display the menu. There’s a window facing the street and the counter underneath is filled with toys and books not only for customers but to keep Elias’s two children busy when they come to visit. A collage of photos covers the other wall and features people from all over the world smiling and proudly showing off their Mystic Muffin T-shirts.
This place definitely has some loyal customers.
In fact, Elias knows almost every other person who walks through the door. He immediately strikes up a conversation as if no time has passed at all and gets right to work on their regular order. He only stops the conversation to ask: “would you like spice on that?” as he wraps up a tuna pita, all while discussing the day’s events or his latest take on politics.
“I’ll never forget a face,” he says proudly. “This is my social life, and my customers are my friends."
But don’t be intimidated to enter into this close-knit atmosphere. New customers are greeted with a smile and a free cookie often told to try the world-famous apple cake if they are wondering what to order. And if there is ever a reason someone cannot pay, Elias will simply say “just pay me next time,” not worrying if they ever will.
On a gloomy Thursday afternoon in July just after COVID-19 restrictions lifted and people are allowed to dine inside again, a steady stream of customers keep Elias busy. Someone comes in and asks for their usual and Elias gets started on a pita wrap.
“My partner and I are actually moving, but we asked our landlord if there was any way we could stay in the area, we love it here so much. Elias is the best,” they said.
The effort it takes to run a restaurant is no small feat and for Elias, the past year and a half has taken a toll.
“Business is down and in the past year and a half I could only pay myself three times,” he tells me. “The problem for me now is there is no one is in the office buildings and there is no one in the schools. That was most of my regular customers. And the people now that live around here, they are used to cooking at home. So, what can I do?” he asks.
With one year left on the lease and a plan to renew for one more, Elias hopes to work right up until the 30-year mark. Unsure of what the future holds, he discusses a plan to sell his famous apple cakes as a commercial business. His dream of buying the building and turning the back into a daycare and the front into a café seems unrealistic given the financial state of most businesses, but despite everything, Elias remains optimistic.
Before I leave, I ask Elias how he has stayed enthusiastic and positive throughout every setback, especially within the past year. “I take nothing for granted and I work hard,” he says. “And I always remember, we have a whole lifetime to make money, but only a short time to make friends.”