It’s a Saturday afternoon, and John Amyoony is working his magic on a large pepperoni pizza. This is one of many he’ll make today. As he divvies up the slices, he raises his voice from across the counter and says, “First, we have good location. Second, we have good food.”
This has been John’s motto since he was 18. Now at 61, the father of four and owner of Triple A Convenience & Pizzeria remembers a time in his life when he had nothing but the clothes on his back.
John was 15 when he arrived in Halifax with his two brothers, George and Tony. It was 1975, and the civil war in Lebanon was just beginning. When the three brothers arrived in Canada, they had nothing more than a few belongings and a family connection.
The Triple A dynasty
When they arrived, their uncle already built and ran his own grocery store in Dartmouth. This would later become the foundation for a chain of 15 Triple A convenience stores across Halifax, Fall River, Dartmouth and East Hants.
John’s son, Jason Amyoony, says the name Triple A was a unique way of telling people they were shopping at a family business.
“It all started between my father and his two brothers, hence the letter ‘A’ and hence the triple. It was like a very cheesy way of saying three brothers.”
While George and Tony went off to university, John focused on the business. In the 1970s, Sobeys and Superstore weren’t the grocery giants they are today. Back then, if there was a Triple A in your neighborhood, it was considered the heart of the community.
By the 1980s, Triple A found its home, marking the golden years of the business.
Coming off of a successful decade, the brothers were able to gain nearly 20 years of experience serving their communities. In the ’90s, the new decade brought a rise of businesses looking for a piece of the pie.
“We had a meat market and everything, but when Sobeys became a lot bigger and Superstore, Walmart and Costco, we couldn’t make it no more as a supermarket. All convenience stores were suffering. Working 18-hour days wasn’t worth it anymore. For us here, we started to slow down in 1990,” says John.
As competition grew, so did John’s will to stay ahead of the change. In 1987, he opened Triple A on Jubilee Road, just three blocks from Dalhousie University.
Over the next six years, John would split his days working behind the counter in Cole Harbour and south end Halifax.
By the end of 1993, the Amyoonys were exhausted.
Triple A had become their life. They won when it came to creating their Triple A business family, but in the process, they were losing when it came to raising their own.
“I was building a new house while running multiple locations, back and forth to Dartmouth, while the kids here go until one o’clock in the morning. I got so tired for two, three years,” says John.
John’s older brother, George, told him he should temporarily switch locations with his part-time employees at Triple A in Cole Harbour. The transition went smoothly, and John was able to focus on his family life. Then one day, unexpected news struck.
“We found out our daughter had a tumour in her brain and she was going to die,” says John. “We just gave up everything. We left in two days, packed and went home to Lebanon.”
A few months after they moved, John and Rita’s daughter passed away. For the next 13 years, they stayed in Lebanon and devoted their time to raising their children.
Every year, John and Rita travelled back to Halifax to file their taxes, check on the stores and see their family friends who were running the business in their absence.
A new generation
Thirty-one years after John fled to Canada during the Lebanese Civil War, Lebanon was again in battle, this time with Israel. So, in August of 2006, the Amyoony family moved back to Canada. It was a last-minute decision that Jason says was necessary for their safety.
For six years after they moved back to Halifax, the Amyoonys worked hard to reconnect with their neighbourhood. 2012 marked the year Triple A finally introduced pizza, a late-night delicacy Jason believes changed the game.
“Did business boom? Of course, because we offered more to the community, especially with it being a university community here with the late study nights or the late party nights,” says Jason.
As for the Amyoonys thoughts on the drinking culture in Halifax, they say it’s nothing they haven’t seen before.
“We’re so used to it. It’s weird when I hear my mom or dad even asking, ‘So where’s the party tonight or how hammered are you going to be tonight?’” says Jason.
After 43 years of running Triple A, John has served nearly three generations of customers. He says while the demographic is changing, he’s changing too.
“The old days, I’m talking 44 years ago, you come to buy stuff and I know your name, where you live and what you do for a living. People tell you their story. If they have a fight at home they tell you all about it. It used to be like that. Now, if I’m talking to someone, they’ll say, ‘Oh I have to leave,’ and they leave. I’m growing with this too. It’s a learning experience.”