Sahadi’s, Brooklyn’s iconic Middle Eastern grocer, has stepped into the world of wine and liquor with a new spirit store in Sunset Park.
Sahadi Spirits, right beside Sahadi’s second location in Industry City, is packed with lesser-known Middle Eastern and European wines, specialty liquors, and locally-made spirits.
Co-owner Caitlin Whelan is part of the fifth-generation of the Sahadi family to work in the family business. Her mother, Christine, helps run the Sunset Park location, while her brother works at the original shop on Atlantic Avenue.
For years, customers had been asking after Middle Eastern wine at Sahadi’s, but the store didn’t have a liquor license — and the Atlantic Avenue location, which opened in 1948, is too close to a church to receive one, Whelan said.
In 2020, a pandemic-related emergency order allowed them to sell wine at the Industry City location — and customers loved being able to shop for their wine and specialty groceries at the same time, said Sahadi Spirits manager Caroline Navish.
It was “eye-opening” to see how many people were really interested in sampling new wines and spirits.
Securing the right permits took some time, but they celebrated the liquor store’s grand opening on April 23 — a few weeks after the store actually opened to the public.
“I would say it’s been going really well,” Navish said. “People have been coming back and trying new things, or trying the same bottle over and over. There’s a couple of things that we both really enjoy that we just can’t keep on the shelves.”
There are, of course, some familiar names and types of wine in the shop, but the co-owners wanted to take a step away from the European and Californian wines that typically populate the shelves. While Italy and France are famous for their wines today, the drink originated with the ancient Phoenicians, who traded it all throughout Europe and northern Africa.
“We knew that we wanted to have a focus in the Levant, really the birthplace of wine,” Navish said. “I think a lot of people don’t realize that the Phoenicians brought wine from the Middle East to Europe, not the other way around. We really wanted to focus on Lebanon, Palestine, Morocco, Greece, Turkey.”
Navish “really did her research” to find uncommon wines and spirits — Sahadi Spirits carries some products that are difficult or impossible to find elsewhere in New York City.
There are also bottles from Georgia, Armenia, and more, and Navish went out of her way to find some wines made with indigenous grapes, like Domaine Tourelles Vielles Vignes Cinsault, a Lebanese red wine made from fruit grown in old Lebanese vineyards.
There are also bottles from Georgia, Armenia, and more, plus specialty spirits: Raki, the national drink of Turkey, and its Lebanese counterpart Arak; Greek Mestiha. Navish said she wanted to focus on liquors made without artificial colors or flavors. Instead of the iconic, bright-red Campari, Sahadi Spirits stocks St. Agrestis Amaro and Forthave Red aperitivos.
Beside the far-flung spirits are some crafted right here in Brooklyn. Fort Hamilton Distillery buys some of their botanicals from Sahadi’s warehouse to use in their gins, those gins in turn are sold at Sahadi Spirits.
“There’s a lot of interesting, really well-made things being made locally,” Navish said. It’s exactly what we’re looking for in terms of it’s natural, it’s local, it’s interesting and fun.”
In addition to their usual customer base, some of the longtime customers from the Atlantic Avenue store have been heading down to Sunset Park to check it out, Whelan said.
“A lot of these people are original Sahadi’s customers, so they’ll ask about my grandfather, they ask about the Industry City location,” she said. “They’ve been shopping here a long time and they’re just excited and supportive of us doing something we’ve never done before.”
Local customers can also have their orders delivered through the Sahadi Spirits website, and shipping is available throughout New York, Washington D.C., and Florida — with more to come as the team works out complicated shipping regulations.
There are open bottles of wines and spirits for shoppers to taste, and Navish is happy to guide curious customers through the selection if they’re looking for something in particular.
Just like at the grocery stores, if a customer comes in searching for a particular bottle that they don’t have in stock, the team is happy to find and order it in, Whelan said. She has also had fun helping customers choose the right wine for the cheese they bought next door at Sahadi’s, turning the shopping trip into an experience.
“We want to be passionate about every single thing that we’re selling,” Whelan said. “Everything is specialty and really something you won’t find anywhere else.”