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Alberta bid winner for donair costume says all about provincial pride — and lettuce

EDMONTON — The Edmonton business owner who forked out $16,000 in a government-sponsored bidding war for a life-size donair costume says it was all about keeping the meat suit from being desecrated by lettuce-rejecting Maritimers.

Adil Asim, owner of PrimeTime Donair, said the business decided to up the ante and not quit when it heard some of the rival bidders were East Coast donair operators promising to alter the donair suit to remove or cover up its faux-lettuce adornments.

“When we heard that, we took offence,” Asim said Tuesday in an interview.

Asim said 90 per cent of the customers in his Alberta-based donair shops order lettuce and, on top of that, the suit was ordered up by the province.

“It’s an Alberta donair, so we said, ‘For pride, we have to win this thing so we can save that lettuce.’ And that’s exactly what we did,” he said.

Asim’s bid of $16,025 was the winner when the month-long online auction closed Monday night — a far, five-figured cry from the original $50 offer when bidding began as part of the province’s ongoing program to sell off surplus items.

The bizarre, colourful costume, contrasted with its sober-sided Crown backstory and energized by an online bidding war, grabbed headlines in Canada, the United States and as far away as Europe.

The bids included interest from Halifax, which is recognized as the Canadian cradle of sizzling meat on a vertical spit but considers lettuce in the wrap a culinary blasphemy.

The suit itself is 1.4 metres of vulcanized rubber and latex wrapped in faux tinfoil and sporting silver sleeves covering the arms and legs — but there is no face. It comes with replica meat, onions, tomatoes, donair sauce and — sorry, Halifax — lettuce.

“When we saw (the suit) in person, we were blown away,” said Asim. “It looks good in pictures, but in person it is amazing, the amount of quality that has gone into this. It literally feels like you could take a bite out of this thing.”

During its time in the public eye, the meat suit even entered politics, caught on camera in late July walking hand in hand with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith at a downtown Edmonton food festival.

At one point, the Alberta government said heavy traffic on the auction site caused it to crash.

It was originally designed to be surrealistic centrepiece of a 2015 provincial drive-safe program. 

The Alberta legislature newsletter Alberta Today reported the concept was for the donair to be a walking, talking Kafkaesque representation of the hallucinatory danger of driving while high.

Former Alberta transportation minister Brian Mason told Alberta Today the plan was scrapped and the meat suit mothballed after it was decided the concept was potentially too lighthearted for such a serious topic.

Asim said they pick up the new suit on Wednesday and the plan is to use it for corporate promotions, but also for charity work — perhaps for the local food bank — giving the dusty suit new life as pitch pita.

“That’s the goal here, try to do as much as good as possible with the suit. It definitely is a piece that garners a lot of attention.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2023

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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