Chef Karim Rajabally places a roasted hotdog into a bun for construction worker Craig Pehlke during a free lunch served by the Grateful Fed on Wednesday. Thirty workers from a half-dozen contractors and subcontractors are completing the upgrading of the main downtown street from Ellis to St. Paul.
Owner Kamel Abougoush had chef Karim Rajabally roasting hotdogs and his son and business partner, Ryan Abougoush, ladling steaming bowls of soup for 30 construction workers finishing Bernard Avenue improvements.
"I really wanted to commend the workers. They've bent over backwards to make it less painful for us," said Kamel Abougoush.
As one of the workers tried to pay for his lunch, Abougoush told him: "No money. You guys come in for chicken wings on Wednesday night and we're happy with that."
Worker Craig Pehlke commented with a laugh: "You guys are incredible. We'll have to come here for a beer after work."
Moments later, Abougoush noted his restaurant business was "down huge" during two construction periods, first when the $14-million revitalization project focused on St. Paul to Richter and then again for St. Paul to Ellis.
"This is the second three months (of street closures). We're the only block on Bernard that got a double whammy. It was a bit of a challenge to get here. The crying is almost over. And the bleeding."
As he picked up a hotdog, construction superintendent Rob Rietman said he expects the current phase - which was supposed to be the third and final phase - to be completed by the end of the first week in November, weather permitting.
The third phase was to include the Ellis-to-Pandosy block but due to the FortisBC lockout of IBEW members, underground utility work cannot be completed, said Rietman. He now expects that block will take another three months next spring.
"Most of the underground was completed here (Ellis to St. Paul) as part of phase one," he said as he finished his hotdog and grabbed a bowl of soup.
"This is absolutely awesome. They (downtown business owners) have been good to us the whole project," he said.
Chef Rajabally added: "I thought it was a fantastic idea when Kamel came up with it. These guys are doing a wonderful job out here. They're going to be Gratefully Fed today."