Photo by Kristen Teig. Photo illustration by Johansen Peralta
May 1, 2023
The doyenne of Sahadi’s: Christine Whelan opens up about growth and change
The culinary director and fourth-generation co-owner of Sahadi's discusses the past, present and future of her family's legendary market
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If you’ve lived in Brooklyn for more than five minutes, chances are you’ve been to Sahadi’s. And if you haven’t, what are you even doing with your life?
Sahadi’s, the near-legendary Middle Eastern grocery store in Brooklyn Heights — with an outpost, cafe and wine shop in Industry City — actually has its roots Lower Manhattan, where it opened in 1895 before moving to Atlantic Avenue in 1948. This year it was added to the state’s Historic Business Preservation Registry, but we didn’t need the state to tell us that the James Beard Award-winning market, its unique inventory and its role in the community are not only historic but also vital.
Helping to oversee the 128-year-old institution today is Christine Sahadi Whelan, the culinary director of Sahadi’s and a fourth-generation co-owner. Whelan joins us on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast” to discuss the past, present and future of Sahadi’s, its spices, nuts roasted in-house, fresh-made treats like baklava and halva, homemade prepared foods and goods imported from the Middle East that you literally can’t get anywhere else in the States. Whelan, who runs it all with her family, is also the co-author of “Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients.”
This interview has been edited for concision and clarity. You can listen to it in its entirety in the player above or wherever you get your podcasts.
We’re talking just before 10 in the morning. I’m curious to know what someone who owns a store like Sahadi’s has for breakfast on an average Tuesday.
I’m not a huge breakfast person, but if I eat breakfast, it’s usually Za’atar bread in the morning. They make it all day long. It’s a morning food for the Middle Easterners, so I particularly enjoy it in the morning and a cup of coffee. I’d usually have my breakfast probably about 9:30, which is when they start. Bakery starts around 8.
You spend most of your time these days at the Industry City shop, or are you at Atlantic?
I’m always at Industry City. Industry City has the cafe and the bar component and that’s my strength, is in hospitality. So I’m at Industry City every day. Normally, I’m there five days a week from 6 to about 5.
What’s a typical day for you?
I open, so I’m a 6 o’clock person. I like being the early person. I usually let the delivery drivers in. We get our produce and our meat and all of our deliveries of raw materials. Our fish, it all comes in the morning, so I do that pretty much every day. Tuesday and Wednesday I spend time doing things like this. I do interviews, podcasts, conference calls. But Thursday through Monday, I’m at the shop.
You’re still very hands on all these years in. I don’t know if you have a thought on this, but as I was prepping for this, it sort of dawned on me, it’s been a surreal couple of weeks for family-owned businesses in Brooklyn. We’ve had Esposito & Sons on Court Street shut down after 100 years. I went there and got a hero with my kids over the weekend.
Oh, good for you. I was so sad. I was so sad when I saw that.
That was a bummer. Lenny’s Pizza in Bay Ridge, which famously appeared in “Saturday Night Fever” shut down. Sal’s in Carroll Gardens shut down. You guys are okay though. We don’t have to worry about you?
It is what it is. You have to change. Growth helps because when you have more than one location and when you do online stuff like that, it helps sales. I mean, business is different than it used to be, and you really have to be actively changing while still keeping the store looking similar because people don’t like change. It’s an interesting trade-off of moving on with the times, but yet keeping the facade and the jars the same, let’s say, so that it doesn’t look like change is happening, but it has to happen.
You of all people who have got this established family business, you’re woven into the fabric of Brooklyn. And yet you are still saying that growth is necessary. I work in an industry, in publishing and media, where everyone talks about growth all the time. In tech, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. I’m surprised to hear that from a local food retailer. What do you think it is about needing to grow? Obviously you can’t rest on your laurels, but growth is integral to your strategy?
Well, the thing is that 20 years ago we were the only place on earth to get the products that we sold. Twenty-five years ago, 30 years ago, you came to us because we roasted our own pistachios. You came to us because we imported things other people didn’t import. You came to us because you were looking for a specialized ingredient and we had it. Today, Amazon will drop food in your backyard with a drone. I’m not going to be the cheapest. It’s hard to always be the most unique, so it’s a balance. The convenience factor is huge for people. It’s huge. I mean, even among my team, I know that food gets dropped in their backyards with a drone. That’s just the way it is. So we try to keep a balance of making sure that our product selection is constantly moving and changing with the core items still being there, but we are always looking for new items. If an item pops up, let’s say in Walgreens, it’s definitely leaving Sahadi’s.
I can’t compete with them on price. I can’t buy like 50 stores, so it’s a balance of always trying to have the best products. And because we’re a small store, we don’t have slotting fees, we don’t have any of those things that make it prohibitive for a smaller manufacturer to get on a shelf in a supermarket. You can just come see me and if my team thinks the product’s great, it can be on the shelf the next day, so that gives me a little bit of an advantage. But the retail landscape has changed drastically in the last 20 years.
The pandemic accelerated the convenience factor of everything.
And then people got used to it and people don’t come out as quickly and as easily. When we started Industry City, we were going to be a grocery store with a small cafe component. Today, the cafe component is probably 50 percent of what we do. We program baby showers and bridal showers and micro-weddings. We program music all weekends. We do brunch. It’s become a huge part of what we do and we didn’t go into it with that. It was just going to be just this little chill cafe where you could try some Lebanese wines and pair them with some small plates and enjoy yourself. The pandemic changed a lot of things for a lot of people and one of the things we were able to do there was we were able to change on the fly. We didn’t really have a choice.
Is that 50 percent of your revenue at Industry City?
Depending on the season. In the summer it’s fully 50 percent. Of course the winter people come to us by holiday buying and stuff, so it’s a little different, but it’s a lot of what we do. This past Saturday was the day before Easter. We had a full tent buyout. The cafe was full and the groceries were going. So it was like a lot going on.
I work in Industry City during the day when I do go down there during the week. And it’s definitely quieter there than it is on the weekends.
The weekends are crazy there. We’re only open on the weekdays to be convenient, to be honest. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are more than the whole rest of the week. It’s fine. We’re happy to be there every day. We do a lot of catering, onsite and offsite catering, so a lot of what you see, it doesn’t happen in the shop. It goes out the door.
Can you take us back to the beginning? I know you’ve told this story a million times. Sahadi’s was actually established in an 1895 in an area of downtown Manhattan known as Little Syria by your grandfather’s uncle.
Exactly. Uncle Abraham. He started there and then my grandfather came in 1919. He was 18 years old and he came on a boat and he joined his uncle because what do most immigrants do? They go into what they know. My great-great uncle went into food because it’s the natural way of almost every immigrant group who’s ever come into the United States. They usually start off in something related to their current culture, something that they know.
And they provide a service to their current culture. To their people from back home in the new country.
Exactly. They usually settle close to their religious organization. So there was a church in Lower Manhattan. Most of the people that were coming at that time were Christians. They all kind of settled right by their church, which makes sense. And then I want to say they worked together into the ’30s or ‘40s, and then my grandfather had become a partner by them. They split off. My uncle paid him in raw material because cash wasn’t as available.
Was it amicable? Do you know?
Amicable is a strong word. I don’t know that I would say it was amicable. He opened up a store five doors down. It definitely could have been more amicable than it was. Nobody holds a good grudge like a Lebanese.
I love it. I love that.
I mean, there are plenty of other cultures that do, but it was what it was. It was time to separate. It was a small store. There were two strong people working together and my grandfather wanted to go in a slightly different direction, I suppose. So he moved down the street and then he bought the building on Atlantic where the store currently resides in 1946.
So he opened Sahadi’s. His uncle was not the one who opened the store that is now known as Sahadi’s, correct?
Yeah. He opened the store. It was his store from the beginning. He had a partner we bought out in the ’70s. He retired and his children didn’t want to be involved.
The move to Atlantic was from Manhattan, was in 1948. That was because of the construction of the Battery Tunnel. It rips through the neighborhood. Thank you Robert Moses for destroying the fabric of many immigrant communities. Obviously, before your time. How disruptive was that or was it an opportunity?
I think he looked at it as an opportunity. He lived in Brooklyn at the time. It was more convenient. Our church is right there, and our Lady of Lebanon, the Catholic Church is also right there. So there was already a built-in community. He already had a customer base and it was certainly less disruptive than working with the Battery Tunnel construction. Even though the streets are still there, a lot of them, the disruption … It wasn’t an ideal situation. My grandfather was very involved in the church and there was always people would come and sit with him in the back room. He would always have people there, so I think he was ready to make his move. He was ready to make his own way, so to speak.
This is in 1948. To the best of your knowledge, what would someone have found in the store in 1948?
Oh, I can tell you exactly what it looked like. I have pictures of it. Actually, it looked like that until I was growing up. It was a single storefront. We own the building, so there’s another storefront next to it. So the storefront on the other side was where we did our, what we called oriental art. It was like where you would buy the hookah pipes and backgammon boards, Turkish coffee sets.
You guys were selling hookah pipes in the ’30s and ’40s?
Yes. That’s where our office was. Our office was in the back of the store next door. The main store, which is the 187 Atlantic, was a single aisle. On the left-hand side, there was a glass display case that held pastries and stuff. And then above it were the same jars that we still have at Atlantic Avenue. Those Anchor Hocking five gallon jars were above it with nuts and fruits. There was no self-service at the time. That’s not the way businesses were run. The businesses were run by the proprietors.
Even for the bulk, if you wanted to scoop out nuts, the proprietors had to come and do that?
We did it for you, yes. And then behind that, there was a counter where the pastries were. Behind the pastry counter were shelves of fava beans and chickpeas cans. Once again, none of that was self-serve. Then there was counter space where there was just stuff on the top. The side back wall was grocery. The back wall was refrigerator. Feta cheese, twisted cheese, labneh, yogurt, stuff like that. Also, nothing self-service, even single containers were served to the customer.
There was the cash register and then there was all kinds of candies and stuff, fruit rolls, apricots, stuff like that. On the top right-hand side of the store, top to the ceiling was spices. There were these long glass containers with loose spices. You opened the draw and you scooped what you wanted into a little bag. And then beneath that was olives and the wheats and everything like that and we served everything.
The olive selection is killer. What are your own earliest memories of the shop? You remember bopping down the aisles? Describe Christine as a little girl in the store. Was she getting into trouble? Is she helping out?
I was filling tahini. We used to fill tahini in the actual store. It came in 356 pound barrels and they would have two or three guys flip the barrel upside down. One of those things you would get iced tea out of with the little spout on the bottom. The tahini would drip into there and then I would hold the jar under the spout and I would fill the jar. We used to do everything in house. So when we did seasoned olives, we would jar our own olives. We would jar them right in the store. My father would make the brine and then he would leave me with the jars and I would fill the jars.
Was there ever a moment where you had no interest in going into the family business? Was it always a given or did it just sort of play out?
No, it’s always a given. I love food. I love food culture. I love talking to people about food. I love everything about it. I went to college for finance because at the time there was no food programs. We’re talking a long time ago. They didn’t have food programs. I went to culinary school also. I went to NYU for finance because I figured it would be a good fit with the business, but I always wanted to do things in food, always. I’ve been cooking since I was a kid. I love to cook. I wrote a book two years ago and it was like the culmination of all the years of cooking with our spices and everything.
Did it help in the running of the business, having someone with some finance background?
It definitely did. I did finance, my brother did accounting, so we are both very similar in that way. As the business grew and we have the warehouse and we have the Atlantic location, we have Industry City, it definitely helps to have a good idea of the overall picture and I think the finance background really helped me have a good overall view. My husband who runs the warehouse and is a partner, is also a finance person.
What is the warehouse for people who don’t know? People are familiar with the Atlantic store, they may be familiar with Industry City. What’s the warehouse?
We import a lot of our own products. That’s my husband’s end of it. He does the importing of everything or he does the sourcing of all the items that we distribute to places other than our own stores. I have the items in my store, but we distribute countrywide. We have exclusives with about 10 people in Lebanon. If you buy Saifan oil, no matter where you buy it from, it came in through me. He brings in the item, he does the import. We do buying trips every year and we source new items and then he does the import and then he distributes it either via common carrier, UPS, our own trucks, depending on how far it’s going throughout the country. And then we have arrangements with somebody in Detroit and somebody on the West Coast where we’ll bring an import and we’ll send pallets there, a whole truckload. So we do that and we also do our own roasting there. That’s where we do our roasting.
Oh, wow. Roasting of coffee? Nuts? All of the above?
Pistachios. All dry roasts. We don’t do wet roasts, so any oil roast, we don’t do.
I mainline your pistachios. I love them. Talk about the supply chain aspect of it because it’s interesting. You’re saying there are certain things that if you get it at any store in New York or Detroit or whatever, and it’s from Lebanon, it most likely came through your warehouse, you imported it. What are those items? And you’re working with people in Lebanon and Syria, who are your suppliers? How do you find them?
Okay, so this is very interesting. We used to import from Lebanon and Syria. There’s an embargo in Syria right now. You cannot import in Syria. But we normally go on our buying trips twice a year. It’s either Cologne, Germany or Paris. They alternate every other year and this year we went to Dubai. It’s easier for us. It’s not so easy to get around Lebanon. It’s not as easy as it is to do at a show. At a show, all of the Lebanese guys that want to sell are at the show. We spent five days in Dubai and we must have had, I’m not exaggerating, 30 business meetings. We tried different products, we talked about different products. We talked about supply chain issues, transportation issues. It gave us a chance to talk to our current suppliers and also gave us a chance to talk to some new suppliers. We did see a few people that had beautiful Syrian products there this year that are talking about lifting the embargo and we wanted to make sure that we were on the forefront of importing if we do.
We do not bring products from Lebanon that anybody else brings. We are a little bit fussy in that we want the best quality and we want the product to come through us. We want to be able to control how fast it gets here,the quality along the way. Al Wadi is our main Lebanese grocery supplier. From them, I get everything from olive oil to chickpeas to fava beans. They make halva. All of those items come from them. If you bought Al Wadi in the United States, it came from me. They won’t sell anybody else that’s going to send a container here. We have an agreement with them.
You have cousins on the ground in Lebanon, right? Are they still there?
We have cousins on the ground and we also have one or two very dear friends who also do that kind of stuff.
You’re dealing in that part of the world and you’ve been doing it for 70-plus years. You’re dealing in a more volatile — politically, militarily — portion of the world. There’s got to be things that like, “Oh, well we can’t get this any more because of an embargo or because the farm got wiped out” or whatever it is. How unpredictable is it over time or have you just learned to roll with what’s going on in that corner of the world in terms of getting the supplies that you need?
Well, when you’re dealing with Lebanon, you are inherently dealing with a certain amount of volatility. I’m not going to pretend it’s not the case. There’s so much going on. A lot of the people that we work with, you have to realize, my father bought from their father. I still sell the same brand of olive oil — and I sell container loads of it, maybe 20 a year — from the son of somebody that just passed away a few years ago. We tend to stick with our farmers. We tend to stick with our suppliers.
We form relationships. A lot of this business is about relationships. If I have the best figs, it’s because I’ve been buying from the same guy for 25 years. They know that I want the top of the crop. In that way, they will go over and above for me because they know that I have a certain level… We are very strong in quality, so everybody knows that, all of our suppliers. So if they don’t have the quality, they’ll just call me and say, “I can’t get this to you” rather than send me something inferior. A perfect example will be Aleppo Pepper. Clearly, nobody’s growing anything in Aleppo anymore.
Aleppo is in Syria and it’s …
And Aleppo Pepper is a very big item for us. We bring tons of it. So in the beginning, we bought it from Aleppo. They would ship it, they would send it to Lebanon and Lebanon would put it in a container for me. It would come up with my Lebanese stuff, but clearly there’s nobody farming there anymore. A lot of the farmers there just went over the border into Turkey because they need to be safe and they wanted to get their families out of Aleppo. So they started growing Aleppo Pepper in Turkey. We must have gone through 20 batches before I found one that was the [right] quality and the color, and even though it was the same farmer, the land is slightly different. The machinery they were using was slightly different. They got it right, but it took a lot of tries, so in some cases, I’m not going to say we were out of it, but we were clearly looking for a more consistent quality and we got it, it just took a while.
They adapt. Over there, they have no choice. They don’t live our cushy lifestyle. They have to make it work. They need to make money, they need to feed their families, so they’re going to do everything they can to make us happy because our money’s good money. They like dealing with the U.S. They’re going to get paid consistently. There’s a certain level of trust and respect when you’ve been working with somebody a long time. So even as the money market is crashing in Lebanon, I’m still getting product. Don’t ask me how they’re working it out, but they are working it out. I cannot tell you how many containers we year we bring from Lebanon and even with the bombing and Tripoli and the ports, the stuff still comes. It may come a little slower. Some of the labels might be a little crumpled, but the stuff still comes.
So it doesn’t have to be grown in Aleppo to qualify as an Aleppo pepper? It’s not like champagne.
It’s Aleppo Pepper seeds.
And the earthquake in Turkey, that was just earlier this year. Devastating. Did that affect you guys?
Not so much yet, but it’s going to. A lot of what we do is agricultural products, so when something happens, a lot of the time we already have stuff here. The summer is the growing season, obviously, just like it is here. I am quite sure, apricots, figs, all of that, we’re going to have trouble sourcing next year. I already have all of the figs I’m going to get for the year. We bring everything at once. We can control the quality. Otherwise, I don’t know how they’re storing it over there. I don’t know if it’s being kept cold. I know what the first container is like, but I want the seventh container to look like the first container.
So we work with partners. Sometimes I do the import, sometimes they do the import and we share containers. Normally, we bring everything in the beginning of the year and we cold store it. So I have everything that I’m going to need to get through. The new big crop will probably come in November around Thanksgiving and apricots just around then also. We have enough to get through to that. It’ll be very interesting to see where we’re going after that because all of that comes from Turkey.
So you’re already planning ahead or looking for Plan Bs or you’re going to wait and see how it goes first?
We’re in the discussion stages of how much got damaged in what areas of the country. Where my sesame seed guy is, they had a lot of damage. We saw them in Dubai and his plant had a lot of damage. He already built a factory here in the United States to grind the sesame seeds because the political situation in Turkey is not always wonderful either.
You were saying before we turn on the mics that sometimes reporters call you when something happens in the Middle East for some sort of comment as if you’re a Middle East analyst, but you have a go-to answer for that. You’re like, “No, thanks.”
I sell food, I sell happiness. I don’t want to touch anything else. Food is the great equalizer. To me, food is the great diversifier. Everybody eats. In the whole world, everybody eats. You can always talk about food with people. That’s it. That’s my standard answer to that.
You have that tent in Industry City with mariachi bands or whatever showing up to perform. I would imagine over the course of your time at the shop, that the demographics of your clientele have changed. If you started out in the ‘70s, ‘80s versus now, the clientele must be different. A lot of the old timers as they age out or pass on, maybe the demand for certain items dies out with them too. Are there things that are gone that were once more common to the store? How has the demographic of the clientele changed at Atlantic Avenue?
Drastically. I adore Brooklyn. I love the diversity. Growing up, working downtown was amazing because the clientele down there used to be very Middle Eastern. It was great. Lots of big families, amazing, but nobody has seven kids anymore. I mean, people do, but it’s not as common as it was years ago. Over the years, Atlantic Avenue has become much more diversified and the people that have moved into the area are well-traveled. They know a lot about food. They are well-educated and they’re open to trying anything. I love the clientele there and one of the best things about working down there is you’d learn as much from the customer as they would learn from you. They would look at a products and they would go, “Oh, I use this for X, Y, Z,” and you would be like, “Oh, we don’t use it for that.” There’s so much to learn from the customer.
Brooklyn to begin with has an amazing food culture, but downtown not only has an amazing food culture, it also has an amazing base of people that still cook, which is very unusual in today’s world. People buy spices from me. I want to say to myself, “But nobody really cooks so much anymore,” but yet people come to us for that. We’re well known for that, and we’re also a very community based store. If it’s a snowstorm, people come in because they want to get out of the house. They’ll come in, they’ll have a cup of coffee, they’ll talk to their neighbor who also came in because they wanted us to get out of the house. We’re that kind of store. We attract that.
As customers have asked us, we’ll try new items, so it’s kind of been almost an organic shift from straight Middle Eastern to what we are today based on what the customer wants. Because let’s face it, what the customer wants is ultimately what’s going to help us grow.
Talk about your book a bit, “Flavors of the Sun.” It’s not a typical cookbook.
Well, the book is structured really unusually. The book is structured by flavor profile. Because the book is almost a direct answer to all the years that I spent on the floor at Atlantic Avenue and the customer is saying, “I bought a jar of pomegranate molasses and I used one tablespoon in a New York Times recipe and it’s been sitting on my closet for two years,” and me going, “Well, let me just give you some more uses for it.” That was the basis for the whole book: People would ask, people would ask, people would ask. And we talked about it, we had lots of recipes from the store in there. I was a working mom and I worked a lot when my kids were growing up. We don’t take out, ever.
No, we go out, but we don’t take out ever. It’s just not my thing. I cook almost every night. Even now with my children completely grown and in their own households, I cook almost every night. So I needed to have things that I could come home at 6 o’clock and have on the table by 7:30 because we were busy. And so a lot of it is Middle Eastern flavors, but not necessarily the long session recipes. I never had six hours to spend on a recipe when my kids were growing up, so I needed to use the similar flavors, but I needed to be able to do it in an hour or marinate in the morning, cook in the evening.
As you can see by the structure of the book, I do a lot of grilling. I do a lot of outside cooking as opposed to long simmered things because I was never home that much, but I wanted people to understand how to use flavors. To think about the food and not be so structured on the recipe itself, but to be more thoughtful about different ways you can use things because, let’s face it, nobody wants to have 400,000 jars that they’re never using. You can always use it in different ways and I’m just as likely to use pomegranate molasses in a salad as I am to use it in kava.
You’re a James Beard Award-winning market. I heard you found out about winning the James Beard designation through an email. You didn’t even know you were in the running for it?
I didn’t know I was in the running for it, and even more embarrassing, my brother deleted the email because he thought it was junk because he couldn’t believe that the James Beard Foundation would be reaching out to us. They reached out the second time and he sent it to me and I said, “Why did you delete it? It’s from the James Beard Foundation.” And he said, “Because it didn’t even occur to me that… We didn’t apply for it. I assumed it was some kind of junk thing.”
That’s crazy to me because I always assume that people put their hat in the ring to be considered. Someone must have nominated you or something. I don’t know how that process works.
Somebody in the James Beard Foundation is a very valued customer. My brother knew who she was. I don’t think he realized she worked for the James Beard Foundation. She comes in all the time. I mean, twice a week. She nominated us. It was lovely. We went to Chicago. It was such amazing company to be in. I’m like, “I’m at the Oscars of the food world!” It was so much fun. It was so nice just to be in the company of all these chefs and to be considered on par in terms of having a classic store. It was really beyond flattering.
Did that have a material impact on your business or was it just a nice accolade?
It’s hard to say. It’s very hard to quantify things like that. It definitely put us in a different stratosphere in terms of media. We don’t advertise. We always got a lot of media requests because we’re in Downtown Brooklyn and a lot of the people in the food world live in Downtown Brooklyn.
So do a lot of people in media.
Right. I’ll read the Times, anything big, but I am fairly busy, so it changed a lot of what we do in terms of how we approach media requests, which ones are better, business wise. It also brought a different crowd. People that might not have known who we were before all of a sudden saw this and were like, “We should go there. We’ve heard of them, but we’ve never been down there.” It was definitely flattering. On Sunday, I’m doing a class at the Pier 57 for the new James Beard Foundation. It’s a new food hall on the event space for the James Beard Foundation.
Yeah, so I’m doing an event there on Sunday. Things like that would never have happened if we weren’t on their radar, which is amazing. I love doing things with them. I think they’re great people and I think they’re a great resource.
You’ve already had a busy year this year. You were added to the state’s Historic Business Preservation Registry in January, which is very cool. Congrats. I don’t know what that means other than it’s like a high five from the city. Does it mean anything?
Yeah, because we’re a historical business. And we’re one of the few that’s still around, like you mentioned earlier, that’s still around for after a hundred years.
And then in February, in less fortunate news, the Attorney General Letitia James came to your defense. Some $100,000 was diverted away from you guys by scammers pretending to be Sahadi’s. They used a very, very similar name, used the same address even. Can you relay what happened from your perspective? Were you at a certain point like, “Our monthly net has gone down” or how did you get tipped off that this was happening?
It happened at the warehouse. We have a very tight accounting team. It works with us on a daily basis because we have a lot of checks. Although we have a lot of inflow and outflow, one of our guys noticed that something was wrong. All I know is that it went from bad to worse because these type of things often do. Once one check was gone, another check… And then you start digging around, then you have to freeze your bank accounts. I think it took three years off my husband’s life, but they figured it out. The thing with digital and ACH and everything today, there’s a lot more opportunity for something to go wrong no matter how careful you are.
This is literally an identity theft of a business, which is crazy.
Don’t ask me how. They managed to open two bank accounts without any credentials from us, so it happens, but you live and learn. I mean, we’re a lot more tighter now. Every check that goes out is verbalized as well as written, but it is what it is.
What’s next for Sahadi’s? What do you want people listening to take away from this chat? I know you mentioned Sahadi Spirits. You have a little wine store that opened up within the Industry City market. What else is new for you guys?
That’s going to be our next big feature. We’re going to be doing some wine classes. It’s all underrepresented regions for the most part, so it’s Lebanese and we have Palestinian wine. We have a few small purveyors in Sicily. We’ve got a bunch of Turkish wine. Places people don’t really think of as being wine cultures, Morocco, and of course we have a ton of Lebanese wine, bubblies and everything. We’re going to be trying to do things within the cafe and the wine store at the same time, so they’ll be like pairing dinners where a wine maker will come and speak about their wine. It should be a lot of fun. It gives the kitchen a chance to shine with some specialized dishes that we maybe don’t feature every day. It gives the wine buyer a chance to talk about her wines.
We’re going to be pushing the whole hospitality ends of it. We can do everything for you now. We can deliver your party meal. We can deliver your catering order. We can deliver your wine, or you can come and buy ingredients. We’re happy to take whatever angle that customer wants to come from. That’s going to be this year’s project.
What’s a dream day in Brooklyn for you? You have a day off, you don’t want to cook. You’re going to treat yourself. You want to shout out any restaurants, you want to shout out any other markets?
I’m going to say generally I’m going to cook for myself. I’ll leave it at that.
Okay, you’re going to go where? Brooklyn Bridge Park, Prospect Park?
Probably the Promenade. I feel like the Promenade is quintessential Brooklyn for me. I spent my entire life down there and even when I was younger and it was a long day, sometimes we’d go for a walk on the Promenade just to get some fresh air, so I want to say that that’s probably one of my favorite places. I love Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s gorgeous, but there’s something about standing on the Promenade, just looking over.
You do feel like you’re in a 1970s film about New York, no matter what. Are you following the whole mishegoss with the BQE and the cantilever project?
The cantilever project is going to be the bane of our existence because it’s so difficult to get downtown now and the traffic is so bad and they’re diverting onto Atlantic, and Atlantic is so narrow now because of the bike lanes. There’s just so much going on. My son has to manage down there and between him and my brother, when we talk about the cantilever project, their faces get red in two seconds because no matter how they do it, somebody’s not going to be satisfied.
There’s no way you’re going to satisfy everybody. Because they’re talking about delivery trucks, so that impacts you directly.
Delivery is a horror scene down there now. The truck takes forever to get there. They can’t pull over anywhere. We don’t have a loading dock, nor do we really want one because we wanted customer parking. Because of the bike lanes, you really can’t pull the truck over where you need to. It’s just very difficult, and then of course you’ve got all these trucks now barreling it down Atlantic Avenue because the cantilever is not working, so they get off. It’s craziness. I don’t know. That’s going to be a challenge for years to figure out how to fulfill. Do we fulfill overnight? We already work a long day. We don’t really want to send the truck out in the middle of the night. But it’s going to be a challenge for everybody down there. It’s not just going to be a challenge for me, so I guess we’re all going to suck it up and figure out the best practice for going forward because like I said, this is not a six-month fix.
Check out this episode of “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast” for more from Hanif. Subscribe and listen wherever you get your podcasts.
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