By Robert Boumis
Proper Meats + Provisions has burst on to food scene in Flagstaff, Arizona as a whole animal butcher shop and deli. The new butcher shop is distinguishing itself with a philosophy of sustainability and a connection to local farms.
According to Owner Paul Moir, Proper Meats + Provisions embraces the concept of a whole animal butcher shop. “It means we literally buy animals direct from the ranchers, bring them into the shop whole and push nose-to-tail utilization. We sell stock and broth, we sell bones, we sell tallow. We even make dog food out of the parts that aren’t necessarily not fit for human consumption, but people aren’t willing to buy, which has become quite popular–particularly with my dog,” jokes Moir.
In addition to using every bit of the cow that they can, Proper also works around locally-sourced meats. In fact, the idea of promoting the local meat industry was a big part of the impetus behind the founding of Proper Meats + Provisions. Before opening Proper, Moir’s company already owned several Arizona restaurants built around the local food movement. While Moir found plenty of locally-sourced vegetables, he had a hard time finding local meat, despite a thriving beef industry in the state that produces hundreds of thousands of heads of beef a year. “Arizona creates an amazing amount of meat, exports it out of the state, and then imports meat back in, which doesn’t make a lot of sense,” explained Moir. To remedy this, Moir created Proper in order to try and promote local use of Arizona meats.
Proper’s nose-to-tail philosophy extends to products like pork. “We know the ranchers, the owners of the ranches, the farmers,” Findach said. We know where we’re getting everything from and we have a personal relationship with the farmers and ranchers.”
By Lorrie Baumann
In a society that’s deeply conflicted about much that’s happening in the Middle East and its potential repercussions for the American homeland, Houston grocer Phoenicia Specialty Foods offers a yummy reminder that we’re all on this planet together and our respective cultures have much to offer each other. Phoenicia Specialty Foods operates in two Houston locations, a 90,000 -square-foot west side location that’s like a warehouse for international foods, and the newer 28,000-square-foot location in downtown Houston.
The family behind the two stores (retail and wholesale operation), and the original restaurant: parents Zohrab and Arpi Tcholakian, who started the business by opening the Phoenicia Deli in 1983, brother Raffi, who oversees the company’s wholesale business and much of its import operation at the Phoenicia Foods Westside location, brother Haig, who curates the stores’ beer and wine offering and is half the marketing team along with sister Ann-Marie, who also manages the downtown store, also still operate the original restaurant that’s the particular province of the matriarch of the family. “It’s in our blood, and we are cut from the same cloth in regards to our work ethic, passion and detail-oriented nature. Mom is the matriarch of the restaurant, Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli restaurant, which is where it all began. She’s definitely the most famous out of all of us. Everybody recognizes her because she’s always in the restaurant,” says Ann-Marie. “My parents don’t want to retire; they love the business; they love the energy. They really enjoy providing these services and these hard to find specialty items to the community, and also having the opportunity to interact with friendly faces. Dad is always in the store teaching employees and customers about the products’ cooking techniques and origins.”
The stores’ product mix includes more than 50,000 SKUs representing products from more than 50 countries and is focused on international specialty items, especially Middle Eastern, Eastern European and European specialties. Many of the bakery items and prepared foods are produced in house, with some commissaried over from the West Side location to the downtown store.
“There are other stores who sell some of the same products, like olive oils and cheeses, and they call it gourmet, but these were staples that we grew up with and were always in our home… So, we try to keep the prices reasonable on these quality selections. We work to transfer cost saving to our customers through the economies of scale provided by our import buying power at our west side Houston headquarters,” says Ann-Marie.
The Tcholakian family are ethnic Armenians who were living in Lebanon when civil war broke out there. As the war intensified, the family began looking for a way out in 1979, particularly since Arpi was eight months pregnant with her youngest and wanted a safe place to raise her children. The family had a cousin in Houston who lived next to a hospital, so when flight became a matter of survival, Houston it was.
Zohrab, an architectural engineer, got a job in the oil industry, and things were going fine until the oil industry collapsed in the early 1980s. Zohrab decided that the time was right to leave the industry and start his own business, following the example of his father, who had owned a neighborhood store in Beirut. “He didn’t want to wait for his pink slip, so he convinced my mom,” Ann-Marie says. In 1983, he and Arpi opened a little cafe on the west side of Houston where they offered deli items and shawarmas, which Arpi described to her customers as a sandwich that resembled “a Middle Eastern burrito.”
“Back when my parents started, they had to educate people. They always wanted to make it international because they had a mix of culinary influences being Armenians born in cosmopolitan, European-influenced Lebanon,” says Ann-Marie. “Back then, when my parents started, not many knew what hummus dip was in Texas. Now everybody knows what hummus is.”
As the cafe’s following grew, the Tcholakians added more and more grocery to the business. “It was a struggle in the ’80s for my parents to keep the business open. It just took a lot of work and dedication to keep the business alive in the 1980s in a collapsed economy,” Ann-Marie says. “My brothers and I used to do our homework and watch TV in the back of the store. People knew our lives.” The downtown store opened five years ago after the developer of the building in which the store is now located offered them a space on the ground floor of a residential tower in a neighborhood that hadn’t seen a grocery store for 40 years. “We were very attracted to what the city was doing and what the Downtown District was doing. There is a lovely park next door called Discovery Green with lots of programming and culture, catering to Houston’s diversity. It was a natural fit for Phoenicia,” Ann-Marie says. “We’ve always felt very connected to the Houston’s growth, and it was really exciting to be part of the revitalization of downtown.”
In addition to the grocery, downtown Phoenicia Foods has an in-house beer and wine bar called MKT BAR. This gastropub concept offers comfort food with an international twist, artisan beers, boutique wines, music and art programming and has become a hub for locals and visitors alike. Monday nights are Fun and Games Nights with retro board games, ping pong and more. Wednesdays are Vinyl and Vino Nights with guest disc jockeys playing their favorite vinyl records on stage. Tuesdays and Thursdays are popular MKT Steak Nights, “offering a nice steak for a minimal amount of money, which draws people from the neighborhood,” Ann-Marie says. Cartoons & Cereal is a new event on Saturday mornings, with retro cartoons on the televisions from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. “People are always gravitating to the TVs,” Ann-Marie says. “It’s always been our goal to make Phoenicia Specialty Foods and MKT BAR down-to-earth and fun.”
“For the downtown location, we work hard to create events that attract attention, to gain a clientele. In the urban market space, you have to do a little more to capture people’s attention and to create a neighborhood destination and feel,” Ann-Marie says. “Downtown Houston is still emerging, and so we had to put a lot of energy in from the beginning to grow the business. That’s the reason why MKT BAR exists today.”
“A lot of people come to MKT BAR for a music performance for example, and then they buy their feta cheese to take home. It’s a symbiotic relationship between MKT BAR and the grocery,” she continues. “There are other customers who come for the groceries and discover MKT BAR and are amazed. They work hand in hand very well.”
By Richard Thompson
The winters in Milton, Massachusetts, bring brisk cold-snaps and 30 degree rains to its historic red-brick buildings and famous waterfront restaurants. Red-cheeked children skate on the frozen brook in nearby Cunningham Park and short horn blasts from incoming barges are carried over the sea air all the way to East Milton Square. It’s here that residents put on their Red Sox embroidered scarves and head out into the cold, because they know that if they want some of Mike’s Fresh Sushi or need to stop by Kinnealey’s Meat Shop for a whole chicken, they have to make it to the Fruit Center Marketplace.
“This is a family run business that’s been around for 42 years now,” says Michael Dwyer, Marketing Director for the Fruit Center Marketplace Milton. Focused on specialty and gourmet products, Dwyer says that residents come here because its a place they can trust. “From bread and butter to paper goods and detergents, all the stuff you’d find at a regular grocery store, you’ll find here – with countless gourmet items as well.”
The Fruit Center Marketplace, named by The Boston Globe as one of the Top Places to Work in Massachusetts for four years running, began in 1973 with the simple idea of providing exceptional produce to customers in the South Shore community. Its loyal base and reputation quickly saw business expand, so the original store was replaced with two locations to meet demand – one in Milton and a smaller location found down the road in Hingham. Says Dwyer, “Folks come to us because they’re looking for the complete food experience.”
The Milton Marketplace, in which Fruit Center Marketplace resides, is a 10,000 square-foot two-story building that houses the Fruit Center Marketplace on the first floor, while upstairs, customers will find an assortment of stores and a gourmet eatery, The Plate, that makes for a complete shopping experience. According to Dwyer, the layout is designed this way to entice customers to stay and shop: “We have a range of customers; some who shop here weekly for their groceries and leave, while others spend the entire day here, shopping upstairs before picking up some bananas and a few takeaway items to bring home for dinner. Different customers…different purposes.”
The grocery store itself is home to an assortment of gourmet and specialty departments that are locally sourced, high-end and are highly regarded by both customers and upscale restaurants. Dwyer says that an important factor in choosing their partners was that these companies have experience in working with hotels and restaurants and specialize in high-quality products. He said, “This is certainly not usual for any other grocery retailer.”
Inside, customers are offered a selection of locally sourced produce from the Boston area, a 40 foot salad bar that boasts over 100 fresh items everyday, a baked goods display, an olive bar and even a line of prepared meals and side dishes such as meatloaf, chicken Parmesan, scallops au gratin and butternut squash, for those busy shoppers looking for something to eat without dealing with the hassle of cooking.
Mike’s Fresh Sushi, which partnered in 2008, specializes in all things raw, making all of its products in-house, right on the floor. While there is no seating available, shoppers are able to pick up restaurant style sushi and take it home without a second thought. Everyday, the itamae – or sushi chef – behind the bar creates 10 to 12 varieties of sushi ranging from traditional California rolls to more creative sushi offerings like eel with strawberries.
Kinnealey’s Meat Shop, which has worked alongside the Fruit Center for nearly 30 years, is its own business run inside the marketplace and is a high-end meat purveyor that caters to high-end restaurants and hotels in the Boston area. Aged sirloin steaks, veal cutlets, pork ribs, game, sausage and organic poultry options are all offered by the specialty butcher.
On the second floor of The Marketplace, shoppers will encounter the newly opened restaurant, The Plate, offering customers a sit-down compliment to the food-center motif downstairs. “The new cafe will offer an inventive dining experience with a partially open kitchen,” says Suzanne Lombardi, Chef and Owner of The Plate.
Says Dwyer, “Suzanne [Lombardi] has a long and impressive food background in Boston and we know from her two wildly successful past enterprises that she could bring homemade food and innovative dishes to Fruit Center.”
The 2,600 square-foot marketplace cafe serves handmade, gourmet breakfasts and lunches Tuesday through Sunday, allowing patrons to enjoy its reclaimed wood décor, natural sunlight and variety of seating options. Everything from commuter breakfasts for on-the-go professionals to organic eggs and smoked bacon dishes are offered as eat-in or take out choices. Lombardi even makes her own English muffins and jams.
After filling themselves up at The Plate, shoppers who meander upstairs will find a small assortment of retail merchants selling clothes, jewelry and toys. The Gift Garden carries a selection of upscale women’s clothing and jewelry plus greeting cards, cookbooks, candles and ceramics, while The Nutshell focuses solely on children’s clothing. Rounding out the second floor is The Toy Chest, a toy store that harkens back to a simpler time, where customers can treat their grand-kids, nieces and nephews with toys that don’t require batteries or AC adapters. “It’s a traditional toy store,” says Dwyer.
During certain times of the year, the Fruit Center works collaboratively with the retailers upstairs for social and shopping events such as a “stroll” night where shoppers can go to the second floor and take advantage of special deals, and then come downstairs to enjoy some wine tasting and cheese and chocolate sampling downstairs.
Says Dwyer, “Having regular product samplings within the store, a busy restaurant and a wide range of products that customers desire not only brings them back, but they tend to come back with greater frequency.”