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Walk into Sahadi’s on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn any day of the week and you’ll find customers crowded around a counter with every kind of nut and dried fruit imaginable, waiting for hand-packed dates or roasted almonds as they catch up with neighbors. Hellos, handshakes, and requests for Turkish figs carry over the whir of a sizable coffee bean grinder, preparing beans from aromatic barrels. Further into the store, behind deep vats of olives from numerous countries, you’ll probably see a cheesemonger answering questions as customers peruse what’s new and reach for their go-to Gouda.
Regulars love the 75-year-old, family-run provisions store for the epic cheese counter, the imported and house-roasted nuts, the plump and premium dried fruit, and the briney, meaty olives — all at prices that are more than fair. Loyal fans also wax poetic about the prepared foods — nutty, creamy, and quite simply unparalleled hummus; smoky baba ghannough (or baba ghanoush); tangy labany (or labneh) that belongs on just about everything; trays of spanakopita; hefty stuffed grape leaves; and beloved za’atar-covered pita. They also love the store for frozen options, like local, small-batch ice cream and filo-and-spinach pies. But most of all, they love it for the warmth that exudes from the bustling storefront, where the care that goes into selecting each product is infectious. At Sahadi’s, you’ll learn to appreciate ingredients, and the people behind them, on a deeper level. You’ll leave with plans to try a new spice blend, to find a new recipe that utilizes pomegranate molasses, and to return for the pistachio baklava. You’ll also leave ready to share your haul of dips and breads with friends, so you can spread the love. For Christine Sahadi Whelan, the culinary director and fourth-generation co-owner, the adoration is mutual. “The Atlantic Avenue neighborhood is an amazing place to work. Vibrant, cultured, artistic, and well-traveled customers make our job so easy. We just have to curate great products for them,” she says.
Whelan’s great-great uncle opened Sahadi’s in 1895 in a Manhattan neighborhood known at the time as Little Syria, and her grandfather joined him in 1919 at the age of 18. The store sold grocery items like spices, bulgur, dried chickpeas, lentils and beans, feta, pita, and even swords, lamps, glass bracelets, and water pipes. In 1948, Whelan’s grandfather opened the Brooklyn location on Atlantic Avenue. Today Sahadi’s sells wholesale to 50 states. After opening a sit-down café in Brooklyn’s Industry City in 2019, the most recent venture for the family business is Sahadi’s Spirits, which debuted in this past February and sells underrepresented wine and spirits from the Mediterranean. (Impressive that the store is still launching new ventures after 75 years!)
The same small-batch focus and personal touch that’s kept Sahadi’s thriving as New York’s longest continually operated speciality store drives Whelan. “The idea when you’re buying from me is that we’re curating the store for you,” she says. “So you're walking in and finding new, interesting products every time.” When a product becomes so mainstream that big chain stores start to pick it up, Whelan celebrates the win, but often rethinks its place in the store. “I'm thrilled for the team that made it big-time. But it doesn’t feel small-time for Sahadi’s anymore.”
Since the shop’s thoughtfully curated ingredients and goods have become staples in so many kitchens as well as larger gatherings, we asked Whelan what she’d serve at her own neighborhood block party. Here’s her very Sahadi’s menu:
“No doubt, a giant mezze board,” she says. “Small bowls of hummus, baba ghannough, and lebany interspersed with hand-rolled vegetarian grape leaves, turmeric-pickled cauliflower, shiny black and green olives, and our hand-rolled pita.”
As for the store’s beloved hummus, Whelan says, “Personally, I prefer hummus to be served before it gets cold. So if I'm making it, I'm gonna serve it at room temperature, with a big drizzle of olive oil and a little bit of garnish from whatever flavor I put in the hummus.”
Whelan would accompany this mezze spread with cheese selected by the cheesemonger and a charcuterie board paired with dried fruit, nuts, Lebanese jam or honey, and lavash crackers. “I love to use really dramatic 40-inch-long boards for large groups,” she says. “Boards are conducive to people walking around and sharing, and that is what Lebanese hospitality is all about.”
The Mains + Accompanying Sides
Whelan would also serve kebabs, like the salmon skewers with nigella seeds or the spicy beef skewers with tzatziki featured in her cookbook, Flavors of the Sun: The Sahadi’s Guide to Understanding, Buying, and Using Middle Eastern Ingredients. She’d accompany them with a grain salad like quinoa tabbouleh with chickpeas. Whether it’s for one of the Brooklyn locations or for her cookbook, she explains, “I start with family recipes and adapt them to today’s tastes, or I take familiar flavor profiles and use them in new, unique ways. The best of old and new cooking styles.”
The Kids Menu
Sahadi’s has its own kids’ menu and regularly caters parties for little ones, so Whelan is always ready for younger guests. She’d add in halloumi cheese sticks, focaccia cut in small pieces, and Freeze sodas, colorful carbonated beverages from Lebanon.
Naturally, Whelan would serve some of the unique selection of wines and spirits that she sources from the Mediterranean at her block party. “For a Lebanese sparkling wine, I love Mersel LebNat Gold PetNat, the first pétillant-naturel [effervescent natural wine] produced in Lebanon. It’s a blend of Viognier and the local Merwah variety, an indigenous grape,” she says. “For mezze, I would also serve an arak, which is the spirit of choice in Lebanon.”
Pastry platters and fruit are the go-to party desserts for Whelan, and one of the shining stars? Chocolate-tahini brownies. (At the café in Industry City, Sahadi’s serves the brownies as part of an ice cream sundae with Crème & Cocoa ice cream and halva crumbs— a combo worthy of a shoutout.) Whelan might also put out Steve’s Key Lime Pie, an institution from neighboring Red Hook, and another local partner for Sahadi’s. “Being in business this long means always growing and keeping ourselves open to new ventures and ideas,” Whelan says about this partnership and others. “We love to collaborate with like-minded people.”
It’s no coincidence that Whelan’s top party choices — from the mezze to that iconic key lime pie — are also the Sahadi’s staples that turn first timers into regulars. “My mother, Audrey, always cooks like she’s expecting six hundred guests,” Whelan writes in her cookbook. So much of what you’ll find at Sahadi’s is made for a gathering. Add in the newest venture into specialty wine and spirits, and you’ve got a party — one worthy of a 75th anniversary, toasting the next 75 years.