OTTAWA -- The Waverley is looking a little different these days.

The restaurant on Elgin Street is usually filled with diners and drinkers. But on Wednesday afternoon, people who used to be servers are now volunteers, packing up boxes with food to be shipped out to those who need it right now because of COVID-19

When owner Abbis Mahmoud voluntarily closed down his five restaurants in Ottawa over the weekend because of the pandemic, he started thinking about the seniors and vulnerable groups who couldn’t leave their homes.

“It didn’t sit well with me,” Mahmoud said. “I got up the next day and mobilized my team who were crazy enough to believe in me. And here we are.”

One of those volunteers is executive chef Andrew Craig, who says it’s the least they could do.

“It’s not been easy, we were all shut down,” said Craig. “So we’re picking ourselves up, showing that support and be a part of the community.”

Calling it Operation Ramzieh, named in honour of Mahmoud’s mother who inspired the work, the staff started to make phone calls to local stores and suppliers, who gave them everything they needed, from boxes to bananas, at discounted cost.

“At first I thought we’d feed a thousand to 1,500 people if we got lucky,” explains Mahmoud. “And today suppliers started showing up with all this food. Trucks and trucks of food, way more than we expected.”

More than expected is right. Mahmoud says they have about 2,000 boxes to give out, and more are expected to arrive.

The boxes are filled with everything a person would need, from pastas to rice, a bit of dairy and even fresh fruit.

Mahmoud says the goal is to feed a senior for 10 to 12 days.

And demand is high, with unexpected shipments requested by the hour. Halfway through the day, a seniors group requested 200 boxes. An hour later, 500 boxes were shipped to a local mosque.

Mahmoud says there’s no definitive timeline for how long this will last, or even the exact number they’ll help.

They’re taking it one box at a time, for as long as they can.

For more information on Operation Ramzieh, visit