- Published on Thursday, 19 January 2012 05:30
- Category: Grand Central Stories
Just across the East River, on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a piece of Little Syria alive and well.
Charlie Sahadi runs Sahadi Fine Foods, which his Great Uncle Abrahim started as A. Sahadi and Co. on Washington Street back in 1895.
“He was an importer and brought in products from the Middle East. He also manufactured tahini, bulghur and halvah,” explained Sahadi. “This was a little before my time, so I actually couldn’t see what he was doing.”
Abrahim did not have any children; but did have nephews, including Charlie’s father, Wade, who emigrated from Lebanon in 1918. Working for his uncle to make money and support his brothers and sisters back home, Wade was employed at Sahadi from 1919 until 1941, when, says Charilie,the two had a “difference of opinion.”
Wade had become a business partner by then and decided to branch out on his own. Abrahim bought his nephew out of chick peas, lentils and olives and in 1941, Wade moved two blocks away along Washington Street.
Around that time, construction had begun on the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and many businesses closed. But quick-thinking Wade Sahadi purchased a building at 187 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn in 1946. The business eventually moved in by 1948 with the same name as today: Sahadi Importing Company.
“It opened as a Middle Eastern food store,” Sahadi explained. “It was probably a scary place for many people. Foreign food then wasn’t foreign food today. People stayed with their own back then.”
In the 1960s Wade was joined by his two sons, Charlie and Richard, and decided to branch out as a specialty food store featuring Middle Eastern products.
“We started to bring in products from other countries to make it interesting,” Sahadi recalled, noting that Irish oatmeal was one of them.
Today, Sahadi’s is a food lover’s paradise. Sahadi takes pride in a wide selection of product and are best known for having 36 different kinds of olives and carrying fresh nuts, coffee, dried fruits and candy in bulk.
Although most of their products are imported, Sahadi does manufacture their own brand of products in Brooklyn, which can be found in the store and shipped around the country.
Sahadi also sells items wholesale, such as lentils, peas, beans, cornmeal and semolina.
“We sell more bulk items than most specialty food stores because it takes more time to service each customer at a time,” Sahadi said. “But the customers don’t mind the wait because they are getting one-on-one service at good prices.”
He says that customers ask him what the “best olive” is all of the time.
“If there was a best olive, I wouldn’t have 36 different kinds,” Sahadi said. “The same goes with olive oil. Fifty percent of customers said their favorite oil was the one I thought was the worst. It goes to show that your opinion is not the only one.”
Sahadi said that although he has cut back his time in the store, he is very happy with his job. “I am blessed, I actually enjoy what I do,” he said. “You have bad days, but I enjoy the challenge and the questions I know are going to come from customers. I enjoy seeing them and they enjoy seeing me. I thrive on that – to me contact with customers is wonderful.”
And customers agree. Harriet Libstag has been shopping at Sahadi’s “quite often” for the past five years. “I love the variety and the help is wonderful,” she said, adding that she comes for the coffee, dried fruits, nuts, low sodium olives, mozzarella, which is “the best,” and halvah.
A shopper, who wanted to be known as “Jim,” has been coming to Sahadi’s once a week for the past 20 years. “I like what they sell, the food is great and the people are nice,” he said, adding that he usually picks up cheese, hummus or baba ghanoush, and olive oil. “Every Christmas, my wife gets me a gift card.”
In the 1980s, Sahadi’s opened up a deli section at the request of Charlie’s daughter, Christine. She and her mom worked preparing foods, including hummus, baba ghanough, tabouleh, fattoush, labne and chicken dishes such as chicken parmagiana, hot wings and Greek salads. They have a rotating menu of about 35 to 40 items per day.
“Monday through Friday, we put out different dishes each day. If customers really like it, we incorporate it into our menu,” Sahadi said, noting that they also do catering, but are not full service.
Sahadi has even more plans to expand in 2012. Later this year, they will expand their space into what is now a Sahadi’s holiday gift basket pop-up storefront in the adjoining building.
“We are going to spread out more,” Sahadi said, adding that the new space will be somewhat a bakery, with a brick oven that will make food in front of customers. “There will also be a service counter to cut cheese and more samples for a whole cheese department. We will incorporate some new products, too.”
Customers can shop at Sahadi’s in-store at 187 Atlantic Avenue or online at www.sahadis.com.By Denise Romano, Aslan Media Columnist
*Photo Credit: Denise Romano
About the Columnist: Denise Romano
Denise is a freelance reporter extraordinaire. She is Brooklyn born and raised with a Print Journalism degree from Brooklyn College. Though not of Middle Eastern descent, she started a blog to tell the stories of Iranians and Iranian-Americans after the 2009 election fallout. Ever since, she has been dedicated to giving voice to those who are marginalized by the mainstream media. When she is not writing, Denise spends time with her husband, sings in a barbershop chorus, cooks Italian food, and watches Saturday Night Live. Because she is in tune with the beat of the Big Apple, she launched this blog to share the everyday concerns of New York's Middle Eastern diaspora communities exclusively with Aslan Media.