Life in an expanded Sahadi’s
It’s a revered Brooklyn institution, as renowned in many circles as the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. When out-of-town guests visit, it’s a must-see on a tour of the neighborhood. When one leaves the Museum or Garden, one’s soul is fed; when leaving Sahadi’s, the specialty food store on Atlantic Avenue, it’s the taste buds and stomach that reap rewards.
Sahadi’s has just completed an expansion and renovation, connecting the interiors of 187-189 Atlantic with 191 next door. The latter address was used over the past several years as a seasonal holiday shop, where customers found decorative food baskets and other gift items for Christmas.
By uniting the spaces, square footage of the main store has increased by 2,000 feet, Charlie Sahadi, the affable captain of the ship, informed me during a recent visit. The change allows for customer flow among the newly created stations. The dried fruits and nuts counter retains center stage, but the coffee bins now have their own boutique, where customers can order a home supply while enjoying a cuppa of fresh-brewed joe. The experience can be made even more enjoyable by pairing the coffee with a croissant from the bakery section or a pastry from the sweets counter.
The popular deli, which features Middle Eastern specialty prepared foods, has been expanded. Here you will find such items as curried cous cous, fava bean salad, hummus, baba ganoush, potato herb pies, and sundried tomato feta pie.
The cheese section is also larger and easier to navigate. Audrey Sahadi, Charlie’s wife, heads the cheese department, and she’s an ace, said he, at finding the largest, tastiest selections at the best prices. You might pick up a cheddar to top a burger or go for the gourmet stuff like gouda with basil and garlic, point reyes blue, or white stilton with apricot.
Audrey is not the only family member involved in the business. Charlie’s brother Bob is a partner, and Audrey and Charlie’s daughter Christine and son Ron are integral members of the staff. Daughter Renee is a teacher for the deaf. “This was their idea,” Charlie said referring to Christine and Ron. “They designed the layout” and oversaw the construction. Sahadi’s is closed on Sundays and always will be as long as he is in charge, Charlie insisted. Life can’t be all about the money, he said. He has six grandchildren of whom he is very proud and reserves Sundays for family get-togethers.
Sahadi’s was opened in 1948 by Charlie’s father. His son began working full time in the store in 1963 at age 20. Charlie Sahadi was honored as the first Annual Atlantic Avenue Ambassador in September 2012 at a gala that benefitted the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation.
Among the other honors he has received working in the service of Brooklyn was a Brooklyn Heights Community Service Award and the 2007 Lebanese Heritage Day Award, the latter under the sponsorship of Borough President Markowitz. In 2003, Crain’s New York named him one of the 100 Most Powerful Minority Business Leaders.
The expansion idea was first submitted to the Board of Standards and Appeals in 1999. It was approved at that time but backburnered after the family purchased a building in Sunset Park to convert to a warehouse. When time and finances allowed for refocus on Atlantic Avenue in 2011, the same plan presented by the same architect was again put before the BSA. But this time the Board turned thumbs down. Sahadi sent an email request to customers, asking them for support. In one hour, he received 60 responses. He presented a binder of 350 letters to the BSA at another hearing. “I told them this may not mean much to you, but it means a helluva lot to me,” Sahadi explained. He’s not sure if the outpouring helped change the Board’s mind, but ultimately the family received permission for the renovation.
On October 14, after being closed for a week, Sahadi’s held a party to celebrate the expansion and reopening. All the letter writers who responded to Charlie Sahadi’s appeal were invited to a pre-party party. Then the doors were open to a grateful community. An estimated 1000 satisfied customers entered the shop to admire the renovated food emporium and congratulate Charlie Sahadi and his family.