Slave Lake lands first non-festival showing of documentary

Albert and Tamam Mouallem opened the Burger Baron restaurant in March 1987 in High Prairie. Left-right are Ali, Albert, Taman, baby Omar and Janine Mouallem.

Pearl Lorentzen
For South Peace News

The Rex Theatre in Slave Lake will have the first non-festival showing of The Lebanese Burger Mafia.

Omar Mouallem wrote, directed, and produced the documentary. He was born in Slave Lake and moved to High Prairie when he was very young. His cousin owns the Rex Theatre.

The Lebanese Burger Mafia is a documentary about the history of the Burger Baron res- taurants in Alberta, many of which were (or are) owned by Lebanese immigrants and their descendants.

Mouallem has a personal connection with the story. Mouallem’s uncle Moe opened the Slave Lake Burgar Baron in the 1970s. Another uncle trained there, he opened Carlos in Slave Lake. His son now owns Carlos. When Mouallem was very young, his father moved the family to High Prairie to open a Burger Baron in High Prairie. Mouallem’s brother now owns that restaurant, and changed the name to The Boondocks Grill. There is also a family connection to Wabasca Burger Baron.

These are not the only restaurant owners in Mouallem’s family. In Slave Lake, Donair on Main and Alimo’s Pizzaria are also owned by close relatives.

“This is where it kind of comes full circle,” says Mouallem.

He went to film school to escape the family restaurant business, but has ended up making a film about the family restaurant.

Burger Baron is like a chain restaurant, says Mouallem, but the food isn’t consistent.

“They remain completely independent,” he adds.

This inconsistency was part of what drew Mouallem to the franchise’s history. Mouallem has been working with this history for quite a while. It started with a magazine article in 2013. After film school, Mouallem went into journalism.

“As a journalist,” he says, “I was looking for interesting stories.”

Mouallem wrote Will the Real Burger Baron Please Stand Up? for Swerve Magazine. The story was a silver finalist for Best Alberta Story in the 2013 AMP Showcase Awards and a finalist gold story for the Alberta, NWT, Western Magazine Awards (2014).

“It was a really popular article that kind of followed me around,” says Mouallem.

This is Mouallem’s second film. His first one was about the mental health crisis in the Fort McMurray oilsands. After it was finished, he and his collaborator were looking for their next project. They made a short film called The Last Baron, based on the Burger Baron article. The Lebanese Burger Mafia is an extension of that film.

“We were able to go a lot deeper,” says Mouallem, about The Lebanese Burger Mafia.

Some of the depth is the full story of the Riad ‘Rudy’ Kemaldean, Burger Baron ‘godfather,’ who was the first Lebanese immigrant to buy a Burger Baron.

Another addition is sociocultural. In interviewing people for the documentary, Mouallem learned many of the Burger Baron owners immigrated to Canada because of the Lebanese civil war from 1975 to 1990.

The Lebanese Burger Mafia will be shown in Rex Theatre in Slave Lake on May 26-28. The shows start at 8 p.m. Mouallem will be there at the Saturday, May 27 show.

On April 18, The Lebanese Burger Mafia made its worldwide debut in Toronto at Hot Docs, the largest documentary film festival in North America. It sold out both screenings.

On May 14, The Lebanese Burger Mafia was part of Northwest Fest documentary film festival in Edmonton, the oldest documentary film festival in Canada. It won Audience Choice and Best Alberta Documentary. It will be shown at the Toronto Arab Film Festival in June.

A sign, photo likely taken in 1986, announces the coming of the Burger Baron in High Prairie.

Share this post