STORMY weather did little to deter falafel fans from turning out in their droves to support a Syrian refugee’s new venture on Saturday.

Heavy winds and rain led to the last minute cancellation of Darlington’s World Food Day Festival, where Mouhyedin Alkhalil had planned to launch his first business.

Inspired by his family’s recipes and his memories of enjoying the food of his home country, Mr Alkhalil set up Falafel Fella and hoped to introduce his version of the vegan dish to world food lovers at the weekend.

With his falafels and desserts lovingly prepared and ready to go, the 26-year-old’s excitement soon turned to disappointment when he learned that the outdoor festival would no longer go ahead.

However, he was pleased and relieved to be offered a space to trade away from the elements and in the historic confines of Darlington’s Victorian Covered Market.

Queues quickly formed and within a couple of hours of setting out his stall, Mr Alkhalil had completely sold out of his vegan treats, which were made according to traditional Syrian methods.

Prepared from recipes handed down from his mother and sister, Mr Alkhalil’s falafel wraps and rice desserts proved extremely popular, with customers taking to social media to lavish praise on the dishes.

Mr Alkhalil said: “It was disappointing when the food festival was cancelled but we moved the stall and had a great day.

“I was shocked by how many people came to buy my food and support me, it was very good and I’d finished by 1pm.

“I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who came, I feel so, so proud that I had this support.”

Mr Alkhalil, who found sanctuary in Darlington less than two years ago after being forced to flee his war-torn country, set up Falafel Fella in a bid to give something back to the UK.

He was brought into the country from the Lebanon under a United Nations vulnerable persons’ resettlement scheme and has made his home in the North-East, where he now lives with Darlington couple Fran and Martin Wood.

Having worked in a series of zero-hour roles since arriving in the UK with next to no English, Mr Alkhalil now hopes to inspire others with his business.

He hopes that the launch of Falafel Fella will be the beginning of a venture that could eventually lead to him having his own restaurants and providing opportunities to others in need of work.

Last week, he said: “When I came here, I was looking for safety first and then for work – I have taken from the UK government and now it is time to give back, especially to Darlington, where I love tolive.

“I would encourage others who might be in my position to follow their own dreams, not to let anything break them and to keep looking forward.

“I cannot say it has been easy but life is not easy for anyone and with love and support to follow my dreams, life has become easier.”

Falafel Fella will be open throughout the week at Darlington’s covered market.