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Charlie Sahadi: The Ambassador of Atlantic Avenue

The proprietor of Sahadi's Specialty and Fine Foods explains why Brooklyn has it all.

With the onset of September and chillier weather, the storefront at is decked out in Autumnal glory, complete with plastic red and orange leaves, jack-o'-lanterns and skulls - among the bottles of olive oil and jars of spices, of course.

But the proprietor of the Atlantic Avenue enterprise, Charlie Sahadi, is also preparing for a different kind of celebration.

On September 27, Sahadi will be crowned the Ambassador of Atlantic Avenue. The occasion, the first of its kind, will be commemorated with a fundraiser, with proceeds going to the Atlantic Avenue Local Development Corporation (AALDC) - the community organization behind such events as the Atlantic Antic (October 2) and the Spring .

"They called from the LDC and said 'Before you say no, listen to my proposal.' Of course, I said no at first," said Sahadi on a recent afternoon.

Sahadi, who is the child of first generation Lebanese parents, was born in New York, and raised in Brooklyn.

"I've been doing this for 63 years, I don't need to be honored," he said. "It's what we do here in the community - we help each other."

After being convinced by his wife and daughters that it was a positive move for the community and for the family, however, Sahadi agreed to accept the award.

"It's a very nice thing, to be honored," he admitted. "They say I'm the mayor, so now I'm not sure if ambassador is a move up or down," he joked.

What does being the ambassador of the street mean?

"I think it is someone who's good for the street - and I think I do good things here. Someone who goes out, promotes the positive. I feel it's my street - not in that I own it, but as a member of the community, I'm proud of my accomplishments," he said.

Sahadi's father first opened the imported goods food store at 187 Atlantic Avenue in 1948. Before moving to the Borough of Kings, Sahadi's was on Washington Street in Manhattan, opening in 1941.

"That was before the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was built," recalled Sahadi.

Sahadi says he is "proud" of the neighborhood. And Brooklyn is the place to be, he added.

"I'm blessed to be here at this time, and proud to be a part of downtown Brooklyn."

"I'm a part of a lot of people's lives," he said. "We've been part of the community as it grows. As families grow, people come in and tell us they're daughter got married, they have new grandkids - and we're part of all of it. It's a wonderful experience. It's like being a part of an extended family."

On this afternoon, and indeed, anytime Sahadi's is open, the isles were filled with people, the shelves bursting with everything from imported olive oil to Italian chocolates, marzipan molded into bright fruits and berries to spices and nuts and fruit snacks. Various languages, from Arabic to Spanish to Creole, could be overheard above the din.

"I want to tell the world 'Come to Brooklyn!'," Sahadi said, sounding a bit like another ambassador, Borough President Marty Markowitz.

"How many languages, colors, religions do we have living together here. With everything going on today, we don't have to love each other, we just have to live together," Sahadi mused.

"Brooklyn is the best example of this in the world. I'm proud to see a borough so mixed, yet so together," he said.

Sahadi has no shortage of examples of Brooklyn's diversity, and the ability of its residents to overcome cultural and religious differences.

In 2006, Mayor Bloomberg hosted at event for Arab Heritage Day at Gracie Mansion.

"It was attended by Arabs like myself, who were born here, as well as immigrants," recalled Sahadi, whose store donated food and refreshments for the event.

"Either that day of the day before, the war between Lebanon and Israel broke out. The Mayor considered cancelling. But in the end, he held the event. His words were, 'With tolerance and respect, we can conquor anything.'"

The Mayor's words struck a chord with Sahadi.

"I called him the next day," he chuckled, "and asked him, "Did you steal my speech?'"

For Sahadi, differences are a positive among Brooklyn residents. Like the varied ingredients found on the shelves of his food emporium, they work together to contribute to a vibrant whole.

His philosophy applies to business as much as it does to community members. When first arrived on Court Street, the Daily News showed up inquiring what Sahadi feared would happen to business with such a big name competitor mere blocks away.

Sahadi told them he welcomed the addition to the community. Besides the fact that the brand new grocer would draw more shoppers to the Atlantic Avenue community, variety has never been a negative thing in Sahadi's eyes.

"I see people come in all the time, and they have three separate lists- one for Sahadi's, one for Key Foods, one for Trader Joe's," he said.

In short, Charlie Sahadi has come to terms with the title of Atlantic Avenue Ambassador, and is looking forward to the event and to greeting friends and community members.

"It's a cocktail party. I'm a people person - I've never been a drinker, but I get high off of people, off of life," he said.

He emphasizes that what is good for the community is good for him - and if that means a new title, he will gladly take it.

 

The Charlie Sahadi Ambassador event is at Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue, on Tuesday, Sept. 27 from 7 - 9:30 p.m. The event is open to the public and tickets are $50. All proceeds benefit the Atlantic Avenue LDC in preserving and improving Downtown Brooklyn.

dorothy siegel September 23, 2011 at 12:22 PM
Charlie is a good friend to the community and a good businessman as well -- he respects his customers, provides us with only the freshest, hi quality foods, and charges a very fair price ("I make enough"). He and his family work so hard to serve US. Thank you Sahadi family!
Lou Howort September 23, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Sahadi's is the Zabar's of Brooklyn. It's not just a local community business but its customers come from all over the US and the world to experience a unique food shopping experience. Thanks to Charlie for being the captain of the Sahadi's ship all these years and providing honesty and value to its customers. Now if Charlie could only arrange for adequate parking near his store, that would make going there a perfect experience!

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