Trailblazing Grocery Store in Houston Marks 40th Anniversary With Giveaways
In 1983, Arpi and Zohrab Tcholakian of Arpi’s Deli were getting so many requests from customers for imported spices, groceries and retail goods that they ran out of shelf space and had to open a storage unit. In time, and after starting it in a smaller space, that led to their grocery superstore, Phoenicia Specialty Foods at 12141 Westheimer. They’d later add a second store at 1001 Austin. This year marks the 40th anniversary of opening the first grocery store, and to mark the occasion, Phoenicia is hosting a big giveaway for customers and a social media competition.
One of the best-loved distinguishing features of the West Houston store is the pita conveyor belt. After being baked, the warm loaves trundle down the belt and are immediately bagged to be as fresh as possible. Fans of the pitas are going to get special bonuses with purchases during Phoenicia’s Golden Ticket Grocery Giveaway from November 1 through 5. A prize certificate will be tucked into each package — including those at the downtown store and Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli, and will be redeemable for prizes that include $5 or $10 gift certificates, branded swag like a T-shirt or tote bag or free food items such as pita, baklava or a shawarma sandwich at the deli. One very lucky customer will find the top prize: a $1,000 grocery gift card.
There are additional prizes for those who participate in the #YUMANDTELL Challenge on social media, which runs the entire month of November. To enter, post photos or videos on Instagram showing your favorite Phoenicia Specialty Foods products and tag with #YUMANDTELL. Entries are judged on creativity, originality, quality and how many likes and shares the posts receive, and posting on multiple social media channels or being particularly entertaining with your singing, music or dancing gets bonus points. Phoenicia will repost the most successful ones on its own social media channels. The grand prize winner will score a $1,000 Phoenicia gift card, second place gets one for $500 and third will receive one for $250. Visit the website for full details.
Starting on November 1 — the same day Mayor Sylvester Turner will issue a proclamation that it’s Phoenicia Specialty Foods Day — a special collectible will be available for purchase, too. The store has commissioned a limited number of “Puff the Pita” plush dolls from Houston artist Ksania Lerner of Alexenia Designs. She is making these with rescued art materials from local, non-profit design house, Magpies & Peacocks.
After its humble beginnings out of a storage unit, these days, Phoenicia Specialty Foods stocks 25,000 products from over 50 countries and provides an important touchstone for those seeking Mediterranean foods and ingredients. It’s now a generational family business. While both Arpi and Zohrab are still involved with the business daily, their adult children — Raffi, Haig and Ann-Marie — are destined to continue running and growing it. According to a press release, there are also staff members who have worked with the Tcholakians for decades.
Those signs of longevity indicate that Houstonians will be able to rely on Phoenicia Specialty Foods and all its products and services — which include not just the grocery stores, but restaurants Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli in West Houston, MKT Bar at the downtown store, catering and curbside delivery — for many more years to come.
Phaedra Cook has written about Houston’s restaurant and bar scene since 2010. She was a regular contributor to My Table magazine (now closed) and was the lead restaurant critic for the Houston Press for two years, eventually being promoted to food editor. Cook founded Houston Food Finder in November 2016 and has been its editor and publisher ever since.