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Ottawa bakery mixing east and west, one sweet at a time

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Like many small business owners, Aziz Sharkh is admittedly a risk-taker.

The 25-year-old decided to go all-in last summer to open Talluza Desserts in south-end Ottawa, looking to do baking a little differently than what he has seen around the rest of the city, mixing middle-eastern and western culture to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth.

“What happens is every group of people will just open their own store and do their own thing,” Sharkh said in a sit-down interview with OttawaMatters.com.

“What we are trying to do here is actually break the wall between all the cultures and ethnicities and mix them all together,” he added, seemingly missing his own baking pun.

Talluza is the name of a small Palestinian village in the northern part of the West Bank, that dates back to the Iron Age, so the idea Sharkh said is stick to his family’s roots but being someone who grew up in Ottawa, also added in a little western spice.

From the traditional kunafa, or arabic cheesecake, to western cheesecake, crepes and waffles, Sharkh hopes the variety means everyone will get what they’re looking for and even branch out to try a new dish.

The kunafa, a mix of phyllo dough and syrup topped with cheese and served warm, has so far been the most popular offering, followed by Taluzza’s pistachio ice cream, a variety of traditional cheesecakes and tiramisu.

He feels many Ottawa restaurants and bakeries tend to be franchises with standard menus, so he and his cousin set out to add what they felt was missing.

“It took us a lot of time to think about it and take the step,” Sharkh said, but “it’s been a great experience…and something I wanted to do.”

On top of the storefront, the business does custom orders and also caters events and parties.

Sharkh is also busy completing his masters degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Ottawa, which keeps him busy, but also means he’s been able to be his own repairman when things go down.

“You could spend all day waiting for an expensive service call, or you can figure out how to fix it on your own,” he said.

But how does a guy who loves math with a mechanical engineering degree becoming a baker?

“It’s just a passion. My mother used to always let us help her in the kitchen and by the time you get the grasp of it, you just love the food and you love the happiness on people’s faces when they actually like food.”

Business has been steadily growing as Talluza approaches its one year anniversary, but attention to detail has been the biggest lesson he’s learned so far it terms of running a business.

Marketing has also been something he’s still been trying to nail down in a finicky Ottawa market, where millennials tend to be more reachable on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media, while those slightly older are a little bit more difficult to reach.

“But you have others who don’t use any media, I have some friends that don’t have phones. Those people who don’t use technology, when you try to reach them with flyers it’s a 50-50 chance,” he said.

“The marketing on that end is challenging, but the popularity is getting better and we’re pushing hard.”

When asked what he would recommend for a new customer just coming through the door, he laughed and asked “are you on a diet?”

He said most customers who come in are on a diet but end up taste-tasting their way through the ever-changing menu of the day.

“I feel bad for a bit that I ruined their diet, but I made their day,” he laughed.

“Happiness is not weighed in calories.”

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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