The current crisis may have effectively shut down—at least temporarily—Edouard Massih’s successful catering business, but it’s also given way for a new voice and generation to emerge: North Brooklyn now has its own Lebanese grocery store.
Massih debuted Edy’s Grocer in Greenpoint this weekend with a soft opening in a corner deli that had been run by a Polish woman for over four decades. While New Yorkers adore shops like Sahadi’s for its Middle Eastern specialties, this shop is more modern. The 25-year-old Brooklynite is in charge of everything from curating the store’s inventory (Sahadi’s is one of his purveyors) and soothing pink-and-green aesthetic to cooking the Lebanese dishes on his menu.
“When I moved to America, I didn’t relate to anything in supermarkets,” says Massih, who emigrated to the U.S. at age 10. “I’ve always wanted to make people aware of Lebanese food.”
It took a pandemic to push his plans forward. His business, Edouard Massih Catering, started as a one-man operation but after three years, he says, he was catering up to 16 events per week. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, the Lebanese-born chef specialized in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine that was “a bit modern, a little different.”
But by mid March, clients started cancelling weddings, fashion events and parties were called off and offices no longer ordered lunch for their employees. He laid off his four employees.
“It was a big slap in the face,” recalls Massiah. “How do I stay alive?”
He started cooking up weekly quarantine menus—various dips like labneh and hummus with pistachio dukkah as well as larger main dishes like Lebanese meatloaf—available on Tuesdays and Thursdays for people to pick up at his home or through Uber. The New York Post wrote about him, which brought lots of attention, but he says the health department reached out and told him he had to shutter his business.
He went back to Boston to spend time with his family and regroup. Eventually, Massih decided to call up Maria Puk, the owner of Maria’s Deli. The two had joked about him taking over the space whenever he stopped by for a soda or sandwich. She said no at first, but two weeks later, she called back and they worked out the terms for the lease before he started helping her move out on June 1.
“She was like my grandmother in a way. She’s an immigrant as well,” says Massih. “She took over the grocery store when she was 24. She was here every single day.”
Puk shares a similar story with Massih: she emigrated to America in 1963 from Poland and has lived in Greenpoint ever since. Before taking over the deli in 1978, she had worked there stocking the fridges and helping take orders. She never closed, except for summer vacations, for more than a few weeks at most.
“I’m ready for retirement. I figured it was a good time since the pandemic came,” says Puk, who lives three blocks away. “I moved out, and let him move in. It’s a good transition for both of us.”
She reduced her business hours over the last few years, but when Maria’s Deli was open, locals would come for the chicken cutlet sandwiches, fried fish on Fridays and the stuffed cabbage. But the pandemic forced her to stay closed, and she saw how many delis were struggling.
“In six weeks, he did a beautiful job,” says Puk of Massih’s renovations. “I’m very proud of him. I’m really happy that he is there, and we wish him the best of luck. I know he’s going to be very, very successful. He knows how to deal with people.”
Saturday’s opening preview could be an indication of the demand for a business like Edy’s Grocer (he also threw a series of “farm-to-backyard” pop-up dinners last year and has a following in Greenpoint). Massih posted on Instagram that there were lines out the door and that “you guys were so amazing you sold me out of every single thing—I mean literally every single thing.” He plans to reopen tomorrow (a full menu is set to debut during the grand opening in early September).
Here’s a sampling of the preview menu:
The soft opening also comes at a time when Massih’s home country experienced a massive explosion a few weeks ago that left many people injured and homeless—that’s on top of an ongoing political and economic crisis. He’s helped set up a fundraiser and will donate over $2,000 to Seal Lebanon, a non-profit helping Lebanese citizens rebuild their lives. It’s just one of the many reasons he wanted to open Edy’s Grocer.
“It’s important to me because it makes me happy. It brings me joy,” says Massih. “I’ve never met anyone who’s been to Lebanon who didn’t say it was some of the best food they’ve eaten.”
Edy’s Grocery is located at 136 Meserole Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222. Hours are Monday-Friday 7am-9pm and Saturday-Sunday 8am-4pm.
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