‘Enough’s enough,’ Foodfare owner says after family’s vehicles set ablaze outside Portage Avenue store

A string of troubles for a Winnipeg grocer escalated last week, after vehicles belonging to the store’s co-owner and his cousin were set on fire in a daylight arson.

Surveillance video appears to show two people setting the two vehicles — a black SUV owned by store co-owner Tarik Zeid and his cousin’s white sedan — on fire in the parking lot of the Foodfare grocery store on Portage Avenue at Burnell Street around 3 p.m. Friday.

That store has faced scrutiny over the last month over how it handles suspected shoplifters, after an Indigenous woman accused of stealing was allegedly punched in the face by an employee in late April.

Munther Zeid, who owns the local grocery chain and is Tarik Zeid’s brother, showed CBC the surveillance video showing the arson on Tuesday.

Two people are seen smashing the sedan’s window and pouring what appears to be a liquid inside, before attempting to break a window on the SUV, parked next to the sedan.

As one of them repeatedly tries to smash the SUV’s window, flames can be seen on the ground at their feet before a fireball shoots out from inside the sedan. The two perpetrators then flee the parking lot.

“I guess the bottle of gasoline must have exploded in their hands, and they ran off, so it didn’t really burn too much of the [SUV],” said Munther Zeid.

“Nobody was hurt, which is the main thing, but it’s very sad and disappointing that we’re at this point.”

He said the same two people tried to set the vehicles on fire a night earlier, by slipping a piece of gasoline-soaked cardboard through a cracked-open window of Tarik’s SUV. That attempt failed.

He alleges the arsonists were shoplifters, and that the Portage Avenue store is being targeted more because of how it has confronted suspected shoplifters.

“We’ve seemed to have a lot of people upset with us because we’re stopping shoplifting,” he said. “The people that are coming back, being upset, are the shoplifters.

“I don’t know if this is intimidation … but it’s not going to work.”

‘Not acceptable’

Munther Zeid said he thinks people “have received the wrong message” about the April incident involving the alleged shoplifter at the Portage Avenue store.

“Yes, we did have a shoplifting situation. Yes, a lady was hit, but that’s not the full story,” he said.

Security footage shows a “tug of war” between the employee and the woman for her purse, and she attempted to hit the employee before she was struck, he said.

About two weeks after that incident, three employees were hospitalized after they were attacked at the store. Munther alleges the 17-year-old accused in the assault had been caught shoplifting earlier in the day and returned wearing brass knuckles.

The outside of a Foodfare grocery store is pictured.
Foodfare has faced scrutiny over the last month for how it handles suspected shoplifters, after an Indigenous woman accused of stealing was allegedly punched in the face by an employee at the Portage Avenue store in late April. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs — which cut business ties with the store after the April incident — originally planned a news conference with Foodfare about the attack by the teen, but it was later cancelled without a given reason.

“Enough’s enough” for both sides of the conflict, Munther Zeid said, but allowing people to steal from the store “would destroy us.”

“What is the proper way of dealing with a shoplifter? I mean, I would love for somebody to tell me,” he said.

“There’s no safe way of dealing with a shoplifter…. Every time we approach a shoplifter, we’re putting everyone around us at risk.”

He said insurance claims were filed for the vehicles set ablaze Friday, and his family was told both cars could be writeoffs.

Police are investigating, he said.

“The leadership needs to step up and do something, and send a message that this is not acceptable,” he said.

“We all lose when shoplifting happens.”