During the last four decades, Phoenicia Specialty Foods, the otherworldly international gourmet market, has baked an astonishing half a BILLION rounds of fluffy, puffy, authentic pita bread since they began proofing, forming and baking pita all those years ago.
Inside the MKT BAR located inside Phoenicia's downtown location on Austin Street near Discovery Green. (Photo by Courtesy of Phoenicia Specialty Foods)
Just a sneak peek of the array of specialty foods available at both locations of Phoenicia Specialty Foods.
Every day Phoenicia bakes all sorts of European pastries including Baklava. (Photo by Courtesy of Phoenicia Specialty Foods)
Phoenicia was started in 1983 by Lebanese immigrants of Armenian descent, husband and wife, Zohrab (“Bob”) and Arpi Tcholakian. (Photo by Courtesy of Phoenicia Specialty Foods)
Guess what is turning the big 4-0? The fabulous Houston-born Phoenicia Specialty Foods, the unique international grocery with stores in downtown and on Westheimer Road.
During the last four decades, Phoenicia Specialty Foods, the otherworldly international gourmet market, has baked an astonishing half a BILLION rounds of fluffy, puffy, authentic pita bread since its staff began proofing, forming and baking pita all those years ago. Wrap your head around that.
First, everything starts with a 150-foot conveyor belt (located at the Westheimer store) that puts out more than 4500 loaves an hour (that’s 40,000 to 50,000 a day) from a scorching 1200 degree Fahrenheit oven. That amounts to a staggering 1.35 million fresh baked pita loaves a month and 16 million a year. With eight different types, Phoenicia puts ordinary supermarket pita to shame.
Although renowned for its pita-making prowess (do try my favorite topped with Ackawi cheese dipped in extra virgin olive oil with their special blend of Zaatar herbs) Phoenicia Specialty Foods is also often the last stop for chefs and home cooks alike to purchase those hard-to-find ingredients. It carries more than 25,000 of them culled from 50 countries around the globe.
Catering to retail and wholesale customers, Phoenicia was all started by humble Lebanese immigrants of Armenian descent. That would be the husband and wife team of Zohrab (“Bob”) and Arpi Tcholakian. Back in 1983, the couple opened Arpi’s Deli bringing Houston a taste of a Mediterranean-style delicatessen and introducing the city to shawarma sandwiches. (Meats marinated in a blend of special spices, slow-cooked on a rotisserie spit and wrapped in a pita.)
After many requests from its loyal customers to purchase the herbs, spices and authentic ingredients used in the deli, the couple started importing those very ingredients in volume, piling them up in a storage space that would soon become the original Phoenicia Specialty Foods on Westheimer. Today, you can find an array of fresh baked breads, European pastries, boutique wines and beers, chocolates, cheeses, fresh produce and seafood departments, housewares and even a 25-foot olive bar at that 55,000-square-foot Westheimer store.
In 2011, the Tcholakians expanded downtown with a new Phoenicia Market at 1001 Austin Street across the street from Discovery Green. Here in a 28,000-square-foot space, there is a wide array of gourmet goods just like the original locale. In addition, they opened MKT BAR, an industrial-chic gastropub and music venue within the downtown space.
Ever growing and expanding, Phoenicia offers online shopping, curbside pickup and even local delivery at both stores. Technically, November 1st officially marks the 40th anniversary, a day which Mayor Sylvester Turner has proclaimed “Phoenicia Specialty Foods Day,” and you can count on celebrations throughout the month too.
To learn more about all the events planned, go here
Phoenicia Specialty Foods is located at 12141 Westheimer Road and Phoenicia Specialty Foods Downtown can be found at 1001 Austin Street. The Westheimer store is open from 8 am to 9 pm Mondays through Saturdays and 8 am to 7 pm Sundays. The downtown store is open 9 am to 7:30 pm Mondays through Wednesdays, 9 am to 8 pm Thursdays through Saturdays and 9 am to 6 pm Sundays.