'Hero' restaurant owner struggling after recovery from brain surgery
Riza Kasikcioglu is now looking at selling the business he used his life savings to open after a two-month battle with a brain tumour
|Report an Error|
Share via Email
A local restaurant owner who rushed into a burning building to rescue residents is back in business after recovering from brain surgery, but may now be forced to sell his business due to accumulating debt.
Riza Kasikcioglu, owner of Maximo’s Pizza and Donair, was forced to shut down his shop for more than two months after doctors discovered he had a brain tumour in December.
He was able to retain the restaurant thanks to a GoFundMe campaign that raised $14,000 while he was in the hospital recovering from brain surgery. But that money just managed to cover two months of rent and utility bills, and he's now struggling to get back on his feet.
Kasikcioglu said it would have been “impossible” for him to keep the business, which he used his life savings to open, if it weren’t for the $14,000 raised.
“It helped me a lot, otherwise I couldn’t handle these bills and rent,” he said. “Because of this I didn’t close yet, I’m still surviving.”
Members of the Turkish community and local media called Kasikcioglu a hero after he rushed into the Oliver Place building at 118 Street and Jasper Avenue to help residents when the building was on fire in January 2017.
Kasikcioglu knocked on doors, yelled for people to get out and even carried a woman in a wheelchair down seven floors. He says his faith and his military background from when he lived in Turkey is what prompted him to rush into the building without thinking.
"If somebody is burning, I don’t feel well. So I tried to save people as much as I can," he told Metro at the time.
It’s part of why so many people donated money when he was recovering from surgery.
“A lot of my friends came to visit me. A lot of my friends helped me, and also people I didn’t know helped me,” he said.
“But I don’t want people helping me again. I thank everybody, all the Turkish people and all Canadians who donated. I love everybody,” Kasikcioglu said.
But Kasikcioglu has not had an easy return to work. As of Thursday, the gas at his restaurant had been turned off, so he couldn’t serve customers. His phone line had been cut off, and his regular clientele haven’t been back.
“I’ve had no customers. How can I handle it? I’m drowning right now … I have lots of bills and I’m just one person carrying everything on my shoulders,” he said.
If that wasn’t enough that his business is struggling, the brain surgery affected Kasikcioglu’s mental faculties, as well as his vision. He’s also still experiencing pain in his knees and his back from when he rescued people in January 2017.
“I fell down from the stairs many times. I carried many sick people, they were very heavy. Plus there was the woman with the wheelchair,” he said.
All of these factors now mean Kasikcioglu is looking at selling his business. He’s even considering selling a vintage Turkish guitar he has just to cover his bills.
“My doctor didn’t want me to work, but I have to because of the bad economy and bills and my family,” Kasikcioglu said. “I’m struggling.”
Sim Senol, a family friend who organized the GoFundMe, is also organizing a grand reopening on Saturday at 6 p.m. to let people know the business has reopened. There will be Turkish food in addition to the usual pizza and donairs.
“We’re trying to keep it afloat for a while so there’s some income for the family because they’re not getting any supports … We have to find a way for him to increase his sales,” she said.
Whether or not he sells the business, Kasikcioglu is thankful to everyone who has supported him. He’s also open to any offers from someone who wants to buy the business.
“I thank everybody who donated, I felt very special,” he said. “That’s why I got well.”