A Brooklyn Tradition: Sahadi’s added to state Historic Business Preservation Registry after 74 years on Atlantic Avenue

exterior of sahadis
Sahadi’s, the iconic Middle Eastern store and café on Atlantic Avenue.
Photo courtesy of Sahadi’s/Facebook

Sahadi Importing Company, with its bins of nuts, shelves full of spices and display cases stocked with sweets, has been a Brooklyn Heights staple since the 1940s — and it’s now been added to the New York State Historic Business Preservation registry, solidifying its place in local lore.

“Thrilled to welcome Sahadi’s, ‘A Brooklyn Tradition’ into the New York State Historic Business Preservation Registry,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon on Twitter when she delivered the business’s new certificate. “For decades, they have brought the best flavors from across the world to Brooklyn. Legendary among foodies in the know + locals, Brooklyn is blessed and honored!”

Simon nominated the business to the registry, which serves as a way to recognize the history, work, and traditions of historic businesses — for a nomination to be approved, a business must have contributed to the identity of its nabe and show commitment to carrying on its old traditions. It was officially added earlier this year, and Simon stopped by the shop earlier this month to deliver the certificate personally. 

Sahadi’s Atlantic Avenue location certainly meets those criteria. The store’s first location opened in Manhattan’s Little Syria in 1895. Fifty-three years later in 1948, as the local Arabic community started to disperse and the construction of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel disrupted local businesses, then-owner Wade Sahadi decided to move his shop to Brooklyn Heights.

“Some of the other businesses started to make their home here, on Atlantic Avenue,” said Ron Sahadi, Wade’s grandson and the business’s managing director. “I think it became known as a little bit of a Middle Eastern enclave over the years. Over the years, a very big part of the population is that same Middle Eastern community.”

sahadi's counter
The shop is stocked with prepared foods, bulk nuts and dried fruits, sweets, and more. The Sahadi family has operated the business in New York City since the 1890s. Photo courtesy of Sahadi’s/Facebook

In the 1950s and 60s, Atlantic Avenue was known as “the Syrian shopping center of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey — filled with Middle Eastern bakeries, marketplaces, and more. Even Middle Eastern Christian churches — Our Lady of Lebanon and St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral — moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn to serve the growing community there.

Sahadi’s has remained a favorite of locals and visitors alike even as the demographics of the neighborhood shifted. Many of its customers are second-generation, Ron said — their parents used to shop there, too. 

Wade’s son, Charlie — Ron’s father — later took over the store, with the help of his wife, Audrey, and brothers Bob and Richie. 

“I graduated high school in ‘89, I graduated college in ‘93, I always knew this was what I wanted to do, so I’ve been doing this a long time,” Ron said.

His sister, Christine Whelan, and her husband, Pat, are in the business too — as are their two adult children, Michael and Caitin. 

“We’re down to the fourth generation … in this day and age, it’s unusual to have a family business last for generations,” Ron said. 

The shelves at Sahadi’s are stocked with their own brand of spices, nuts roasted in-house, fresh-made treats like baklava and halva, and even homemade prepared foods. Some items are newer — they’ve expanded their selection of baked goods since opening a second location in Industry City in 2019 — but some, like the nuts and the hummus, have been around for decades.

The fresh hummus is Ron’s top recommendation for visitors, he said. It’s been made the same way since they opened the prepared food section in the 80s, and it gets “very good reviews from everybody.”

christine and caitlin sahadi
Christine Whelan and her daughter, Caitlin, work together at the Sunset Park Sahadi’s location. Christine was “thrilled” when her children decided to join the family business, she said.Photo courtesy Sahadi’s/Facebook

Their bulk dried fruits and nuts are also a fan — and family — favorite.

“We roast some of these nuts in our warehouse here in Brooklyn, in Sunset Park,” Ron said. “We have some of the best almonds, in my opinion, you can find in the world — we buy great quality almonds from California, we roast them here.”

Before they were nominated, the family weren’t even aware of the Historical Business Preservation Registry — Christine was contacted by someone from Jo Anne Simon’s office asking if they’d be interested in a nomination, and the rest is (literally) history. 

“We were beyond flattered,” Christine said. “A lot of the elected officials shop by us, they come in. At our core, we’re still a neighborhood store. It’s so flattering that [Simon] thought of us in those terms, and that she thought to include us in the register.”

Christine and Ron’s parents, Audrey and Charlie, and their uncle are all retired and in their 70s — but still stop in occasionally to pick up the necessities. She and her daughter, Caitlin, work together in the new Sunset Park location — while her son works with his uncle Ron on Atlantic Avenue. 

sahadi's sign
“We feel blessed to still be here,” Ron said, still receiving love and support from the community four generations in. Photo courtesy Sahadi’s/Facebook

It felt “amazing” when both of her kids decided they wanted to join the family biz, she said, especially because she pushed them to explore other options first, to make sure it was really what they wanted to do. 

“We all work, including them, very long hours, and it has to be a labor of love,” she said. “We’re happy to have them with us, and hopefully as we cut back on our hours, they’ll run with it and take it in the direction they want to go in.”

After over 100 years in business in New York City and almost 75 years on Atlantic Avenue, the family feels a deep affection and connection for the neighborhood and their customers — and they know how rare it is to feel the love and support they do.

“We’re all here for each other, and Brooklyn is our home,” Ron said. “And we feel blessed to still be here, going into the fourth generation. It means so much to our family to have that support after all these years when there’s so many places you can go nowadays … we feel blessed that we’re able to, still, after all these years, be a part of your home.”