He lost his export business due to the Syrian civil war, but Kassem al Naffakh has made a comeback with a new venture.
After more than a year of labour, the Clocktower Cafe in Surbiton is due to open next week.
The former public toilets, in Claremont Road, have been converted by Mr al Naffakh – who lost his water treatment business three years ago when the Syrian conflict broke out.
Kassem Al Naffakh and daughter Judi Al Naffakh inside the new cafe
Mr al Naffakh, 59, who lives in Surbiton, said: “My total market was in Syria.
“The Syrian market was very good and I had no time to expand the business as it was doing well.”
The conflict, which has been raging since 2011, put a stop to the export of appliances, and unrest in nearby Egypt and Libya further complicated any expansion there.
Mr al Naffakh said his family persuaded him to change careers, and he began working to convert the block in June last year.
Most of the work was finished in February, but difficulties including rainwater that leaked into the basement during the wet winter, meant completion was delayed.
Mr al Naffakh added: “It’s a good space, next to the park, and Waitrose is next door, which is busy all the time.”
The cafe will open in the middle of next week, serving Lebanese food alongside traditional cafe fare.
The toilet block, closed in 2008, was declared surplus to requirements by Kingston Council in 2011.