Phoenicia started as a dream of our founders, Arpi and Zohrab Tcholakian, who are both very involved in the business today. The dream began in 1978 when they immigrated to Houston from Lebanon. Both of Armenian descent, the couple uprooted their family in hopes of providing a more promising life for their children. Zohrab was able to secure a position as an architectural engineer soon after arriving in the U.S. With the 1982 oil-industry collapse, three children to feed and expenses to pay, he decided to embrace his roots. Having worked in his father’s small shop in Lebanon, the grocery business was in his blood. He chose to invest in a small sandwich shop and deli. What all started with a shawarma, didn’t stay small for long.
Zohrab and Arpi combined their love of food, family and friends into a humble 2500-square-foot space named Phoenicia Deli. Growth was slow initially, but demand for a greater selection of imported foods was undeniable. As the overall diversity and concentration of different ethnicities in Houston grew, so did the demand for Phoenicia’s products. In 1993, Zohrab opened a 5,000-square-foot version of Phoenicia Specialty Foods in the center next door to the existing business. Expanding from the staple Mediterranean goods, it soon transitioned to carry Western European, then Eastern European products and eventually African, Asian and South American products. This was the start of what Zohrab envisioned: “The International Food Market of Your Dreams!” The business was able to grow in large part to wholesale distribution of the products Phoenicia imported directly to restaurants and other grocers. Soon, the retail customer base ballooned and the opening of a larger 55,000-square-foot facility across Westheimer Road was warranted.
The Tcholakian’s owe much of their success to their ability to adapt to customers’ desires over the years and appeal to a wide variety of people. The emergence of “foodies” across the U.S. and Americans’ openness to non-traditional cuisines helped solidify Phoenicia’s identity. This amazing husband-and-wife team has poured the past 30 years of their lives into the business. Even in their golden years, they show no signs of slowing down. Yet, this modest couple never forgets what is important: family, friends and wonderful employees that are like family. Zohrab and Arpi beam with pride as they talk about their three children, Raffi, Ann-Marie and Haig, and how integral they have been and continue to be to Phoenicia’s success. Also doting and loving grandparents, Zohrab and Arpi always have a moment to share with their adorable granddaughters.