Ruth: Phoenicia Dreams Come True!
A member of the Phoenicia team for 21 years, Ruth has seen a lot of changes in the store during that time. She started at Arpi’s Deli and has worked in many of the departments at Phoenicia. She eventually made her way to manager of the hot grill, where she is happiest. While Ruth has worked with so many great people, her favorite will always be Richard Willis. She loved working with Richard and was sad when he moved to the Phoenicia Downtown location. Ruth feels a family bond with her teammates and considers them her “work family.” Also feeling a bond with customers, Ruth has been their acquaintance for many years, often seeing kids grow up and bringing in their own children!
Ruth grew up in Mexico and remained there after her brothers had moved to Houston. She dreamed of coming to Houston and was so excited when she finally had a chance to move here, right away she began working as a cashier in a Mexican Café but she longed for more. She knew someone who was working at Phoenicia and they were very happy, they talked about their job in the most positive ways and it made her really want a job here but she wasn’t confident in her cooking or her language skills and was afraid it was going to be a challenge. When she finally applied, her desire to work was evident and she was hired, it was her dream come true! Ruth was excited in her new position and went to school to study and learn so she could be a stronger member of the Phoenicia Team.
Though different cultures and languages can sometimes be difficult, Ruth really tries to connect with customers. She is sympathetic to language boundaries and will often use her version of sign language to direct or satisfy a customer’s needs. In her wildest dreams she never thought she would learn so many customs! One thing she notes is that every country and nationality can agree on one thing…delicious food! She laughs as she says that everyone loves Shawarma! Shawarma was the first food she tried at Arpi’s. It is the healthiest sandwich. She smiles sheepishly as she said that on her second day she saw falafel and thought “What is that?!?” she nibbled a bite and fell in love with them! Her love of food is contagious and she wants everyone to share her passion. If she notices that people seem hesitant to try a shawarma she will describe it in ways they may relate to, in fact she often describes it like a burrito! And even though Ruth has worked here for so many years she NEVER gets tired of eating Shawarma!
Ruth dreams have been realized with a city and a job that she loves and she feels it just gets better and better. Ruth loves creating foods and is especially proud of the soup she makes for the hot grille menu, and she positively beams when she says, “I am proud of the job and I am happiest when Mr. Bob is happy!”
Ruth’s eyes sparkle and her smile is huge as she talks about Phoenicia. “Something holds you here”, she comments earnestly. The Tcholakian Family, the customers, her co-workers and Mr. Bob… they make you feel special.
Come experience the food and atmosphere that dreams are made of here, at Phoenicia!
Noemi: Phoenicia is a home away from home!
Noemi came to Houston four years ago after living in Waller Texas, a very small town, northwest of Houston. She moved here to be closer to her aunts whom were living here and she hoped a bigger city might provide more opportunities for her 8-year old son. As she began looking for places to work, she came to Phoenicia excited about interacting with different people and cultures; it was hard at first because the food and customs were new to her but after being at Phoenicia over a year, it felt like home. While moving to a large city can be overwhelming, working at Phoenicia provides the comforts that she had living in a small town; regular customers, a warm-homey atmosphere and people who really care about each other. It took a while to reach that comfort level, the customers and their customs were very different from what she was used to but she found it was easier when she identified things that made them the same. Noemi smiles when she thinks about how similar cultures and food are; the pita often reminds her of tortillas from her home country and we laughed as we talked about how many of our wonderful breads, tortillas and pitas are used in lieu a fork and knife!
Noemi is a wonderful ambassador for customers who aren’t familiar with Mediterranean food; her first suggestion to a timid palate is our delicious hummus with fresh pita bread or flat breads with cheese- you can’t go wrong! Noemi always encourages people to try food, she tells them, “When you try it you like it!” You will often find her sampling her favorites like Baklava, Turkish delight, pita bread and the famous Zorab’s Italian Spices with olive oil and yummy fresh bread to very appreciative customers! With so many YUMMY choices at Phoenicia she asks herself daily, “What am I going to eat?” The answer is often Chicken Shawarma and with her favorite bakery a scrumptious fresh fruit tart.
As a manager at Phoenicia she enjoys teaching and managing people to be their best and she flourishes under the responsibility that it brings, she is eager to learn new things and her passion for Phoenicia is always evident, it even spills over to her young son…next to visiting the zoo, her son who would rather come visit Phoenicia than do anything! He visits often and you can be sure he is a good boy with a bright future!
Noemi is very impressed with the wedding cakes that they make in the bakery, she was always afraid of taking big special orders but now it is second nature to her. She attributes much of her confidence to working with Don, he is a great baker and a very kind, understanding teacher, with his gentle guidance she is learning so much and simply having him there makes things easier. While she struggled keeping things neat and organized, as they remodeled the bakery, the outcome was well worth it…the ice cream cakes that Phoenicia now offers in the bakery area are delicious and strawberry cake is her favorite!
Your travels may take you around the globe, but when you are at Phoenicia you are a part of our family and you can bet that Noemi is working hard to make sure Phoenicia is your home away from home!
Meet Ahmet Avci
Ahmet came to the U.S. from Turkey in 2001, hoping to earn a Master’s degree in business and math.They were his favorite subjects and he admits with a grin, “I like math.” With math on his mind, he moved to Florida and lived with a host family for eight months. Ahmet became an integral part of their family and often babysat their nine-year-old son. The boy helped Ahmet navigate his newly-adopted country, learn English and become a fan of baseball. Today, he always roots for the Astros!
With several brothers living in Houston and loving it, Ahmet decided to move. He attended a Christian school with ESL classes, where his primary book was a Bible. The words were very difficult for him to understand and he begged for something simpler to read, like a newspaper. The school’s strategy worked because he is not only fluent in his second language, but seems to have an affinity for languages. Whenever someone from another country comes to Phoenicia’s hot grille line, he eagerly quizzes them on words and phrases related to customer service in their country and can now say “Hello, may I help you?” in many languages. He is often heard greeting a customer in Japanese or naming different toppings in Spanish. He has even learned sign language. Ahmet works very hard to make people feel comfortable at Phoenicia. He wants them to feel as he does, like it’s a second home.
Ahmet has a passion for food, has worked at several pizza restaurants and is quite the expert with pizza dough, kneading, pressing and tossing like an Italian master. He also worked at a Turkish restaurant, where the owner taught him to make exciting entrées, breads, appetizers and desserts. Ahmet then took a chance and opened a restaurant in The Woodlands with his brother. It was a fun two-and-a-half-year adventure, but a desire for change led him to Phoenicia.
When Ahmet first came to Houston, his family took him to Phoenicia’s Westheimer location, where he was thrilled to find so many products from home. As a restaurant owner, he became a wholesale customer and found Phoenicia to be a very friendly company. Luis, Phoenicia’s driver extraordinaire, was one of his first friends in Houston and he often placed orders with Esin, a manager at the Westheimer store, whom he held in high esteem. He believed with so many wonderful people, Phoenicia must be a great place to work. One day, as Ahmet was lamenting his desire for a change, Luis suggested he come to work for Phoenicia. Ahmet loved the idea and went to the store where he finally met Esin. With his warm personality shining brightly in his interview, Ahmet was hired for the hot grille Downtown.
He enjoys educating customers about foods they may not have tried and keeps up with regular customers and what is happening in their world. Everyone is a “cousin brother” to Ahmet. With a positive disposition and eternal smile, he landed the nickname, “Smiley.” When asked how to make an “Ahmet Special” hot grille sandwich, there is no hesitation. “Chicken shawarma with hummus, muhammara, tomato, turnip, cabbage and tzatiki. That’s how it is best!” He also admits the Chicken Pesto from the cold deli is very good, too.
Ahmet manages to bring a bit of Phoenicia home to his four-year-old niece, who loves Ulker Gazoz drinks and eagerly checks his bag daily for the yummy treat. Hoping to someday find a special lady to share his passion for food, family and Phoenicia, Ahmet will happily raise the next generation of Phoenicia shoppers. Come Downtown to meet him and discover all the things that make Ahmet smile.
Zohrab “Robert” Tcholakian
Keeper of the Kingdom
As owner and founder of Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Zohrab Tcholakian oversees operations and quality control. He is the creative lead and visionary in the growth of the family-owned business. Zohrab also contributes to the architecture and design of Phoenicia facilities.
Upon immigrating with his wife Arpi to the United States in 1978, Zohrab held a position in architectural engineering at Bechtel Corporation. These skills have influenced his current position as he has contributed to the design of Phoenicia Specialty Foods West Houston, Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli, Phoenicia Specialty Foods Downtown and MKT Bar.
Zohrab comes from a long line of family in the food business, working for his parents within their small corner shop market in Lebanon as a child. Both of his brothers are also in the food business and his three children currently hold management positions at Phoenicia Specialty Foods.
Zohrab is a philanthropist to St. Kevork Armenian Church. In his spare time he enjoys cooking and spending time with his grandchildren.
As owner and founder of Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Arpi Tcholakian has created a domain where devoted diners have flocked for her signature recipes since 1983. In addition to creating original recipes for Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli and the Phoenicia Specialty Foods prepared foods section, Apri oversees operations, quality control and manages Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli.
Arpi is the force behind the delicious entrees, including the famed Phoenicia Shawarma Wraps, Arpi’s Salad and Arpi’s Walnut Baklava. In 2010, Phoenicia Specialty Foods renamed their Mediterranean eatery, Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli, as a tribute to the family matriarch for her tireless dedication to the business and the countless number of customers she has touched over the past three decades.
Arpi is a graduate of American University of Beirut and is currently a philanthropist to St. Kevork Armenian Church. She has three children, all of whom hold management positions at Phoenicia Specialty Foods, and two grandchildren. In her spare time she enjoys gardening and the theatre.
The Gate Keeper
Having worked at Phoenicia Specialty Foods since its inception, Raffi Tcholakian serves as Phoenicia Specialty Foods Operations Manager. In this position, Raffi manages the Phoenicia Specialty Foods IT network and software. He also oversees the market’s wholesale accounts, which total 1,000 servicing Texas and the surrounding states while managing Phoenicia’s Imports department. Prior to becoming the wholesale manager, he started the wholesale accounts division, expanded the West Houston market to a larger location and contributed to the addition of Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli.
Raffi holds a psychology degree with a business minor from the University of Houston. In his spare time, Raffi enjoys training for the MS 150 and other cycling races. A lover of music, if there is classic rock playing in the market, Raffi is more than likely working in the back office. He is married with two children and is a charter member of SEARCH Homeless Services.
Princess of Creation
Biography coming soon.
The Brother of Brews
Phoenicia Specialty Foods Wine and Beer Manager, Haig Tcholakian, manages the buying of select wine and beers for the Downtown and West Houston locations as well as MKT Bar. In addition, Haig oversees the selection of MKT Bar menu items. His specialty lies in finding boutique wines and beers from around the world from areas lesser known for these products such as Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Americas.
In 2006, Haig returned to the family business after he worked in the corporate finance group at Moody’s Investors Service in New York City. Prior to this, Haig was a risk analyst on the trading floor at Reliant Resources in Houston.
Haig’s world travels greatly influence his position as the wine and beer manager. He has traveled to France to study Bordeaux wines, Lebanon and Syria to visit exporters and Japan for business and design ideas. Haig holds a Bachelors Degree in Finance from the University of Texas at Austin.
Downtown Market General Manager
Her laugh is contagious, her enthusiasm captivating. Like the downtown staff she leads, Adrienne aims to consistently deliver a great customer experience. How does she juggle a multitude of responsibilities and stay so darn cheerful? True love. Phoenicia’s a special place for customers because it’s special to Adrienne and her team. She prefers to describe herself as a steward, acknowledging that it’s easy to manage when you have the best employees.
“I’m all about being upbeat and creating a memorable experience,” she says with hearty conviction. “When we enjoy what we do and work together, our store shows it and our customers feel great.”
Nothing makes her happier than customers taking ownership of the store. Adrienne regularly witnesses customers showing around their friends and families, like Phoenicia is their own little secret. She’s especially tickled when they ooh and ah over delightful aromas that greet them in the store.
For more than a month, Adrienne sampled Phoenicia’s culinary treasures–without eating the same foods twice. She recommends Labne yogurt as “wonderful to smear on anything.” Bayou City Sliders get a nod of endorsement, as does Steak & Tango Night from her husband. It’s just common sense to her. “All the food here is fabulous because the people behind it are absolutely amazing.”
Head Kitchen Honcho (a.k.a. Executive Chef)
After 17 years as an acclaimed chef in Portland, Oregon, Matt is returning to his Houston roots, where his culinary career began at age 10. While his mother worked an evening job, Matt wrote extensive menus, set elaborate tables, took orders and whipped up the meanest grilled cheese sandwiches for his two older sisters. Never mind that grilled cheese was the only item he could cook; it served as a springboard for a future career and rapidly rising star.
From his humble beginnings of grilled cheese, we’ve snatched up Matt to be our Big Cheese. You’ll find him throughout the store trying new items, perfecting and photographing recipes, straightening up shelves and working on a new, soon-to-be-released menu. His Phoenicia faves include The Butcher pizza, ceviche, beef shawarma and “anything Lito makes”. During his off-Phoodie hours, Matt likes to train labrador retrievers, raise chickens, keep bees, hunt, fish and fix “normal” food for his family at home. Since son Connor’s favorite dishes include the likes of chicken-fried pheasant and truffle butter pasta, we’d like to savor Matt’s version of “normal” food, too!
As manager of Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Moses Abayan is the lead buyer and employee manager. As lead buyer, Moses contributes to the purchasing of Phoenicia Specialty Foods’ more than 10,000 products specializing in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean imports and produce. Also in this position, Moses manages the 100 plus employees in the Phoenicia Specialty Foods West Houston location.
Moses’ hobbies include spending time outdoors and playing tennis. During his free time, Moses enjoys spending time with his two sons and family.
As a manager of Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Esin Comert oversees the daily transactions of over 1,000 Phoenicia Specialty Foods wholesale accounts. In this position, Esin assists customers ranging from small and large grocery stores to restaurants by filling orders and managing the shipping and receiving of goods. Having grown up in Turkey, Esin uses her expertise in the region to grade select the international products.
In her spare time, Esin enjoys cooking, travel and outdoor sports.
Marvelous Manager Milly, Specialty Food Specialist, Downtown
Milly is quickly becoming everyone’s favorite reason to shop downtown, her enthusiasm and her passion for Phoenicia are amazing and her product knowledge is unrivaled!
She can often be found hunting down a certain spice or searching the shelves for a special food that the customer can only describe by appearance or aroma…she is a phenomenal Phoenicia Phoodie!
Milly started eight years ago, as she remembers fondly, by asking her brother who was already employed here to find out if she could be hired. When he failed to get her an interview she boldly walked right up to the owner and told him, “You need to hire me!” and we are forever grateful that he did!
Milly was born in Higuey, Dominican Republic a city known for its tourism and beauty. Growing up in Higuey gave her a passion for history and culture which is what she loves most about Phoenicia.
Milly loves the history behind the foods we sell and even though she is a self proclaimed non-cook, she loves how dishes are made and what they represent to the cultures that enjoy them.
Heath, a resident of One Park Place; loves Milly’s energy and passion for the job, He recently said, “Milly is the main reason I shop here, she has an amazing positive energy and she is one of the best things about Phoenicia”
When Milly isn’t bustling through the store she like to relax by reading books, riding her bike, attending shows at Miller Outdoor theater or zipping around on her cute scooter!
Milly was recently voted by all her co-workers as the “Yummiest All Around Employee” and we wholeheartedly agree, so stop by Phoenicia Downtown and see all the products that Milly’s heart sing!
General Manager - Arpi's Phoenicia Deli
With a background as a computer programmer, Massar Rahma walked into Phoenicia Specialty Foods two years ago, looking for a stocking job that would tide him over until he found his dream job. Little did he know that dream job would be as general manager at Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli!
When Massar began working at Arpi’s, he fell in love with the food and the different kinds of coffees they make. He was eager to learn how to make them and worked diligently to learn from other baristas until he perfected his techniques. His favorite coffee drink is the Vanilla Dulce de Leche–and he gets many requests for this goodness in a cup!
At Arpi’s, he is the Massar of all! He can often be seen buzzing around the busy kitchen, helping on the registers, making coffee and always taking the time to help a customer who may be unfamiliar with Arpi’s delicacies. He laughs as he recalls one customer, who has since become a regular, who chastised him for making him taste an item. Now that customer comes in almost daily for it. The customer said, “It is your fault, Massar! You made me try it!” Massar loves the busy lunch times and has a following of regulars that come in so often, he knows their orders by heart.
You can hear the joy in his heart when he talks about busy weekends when families are relaxing at tables and kids are playing games and laughing. This is Massar’s favorite time at Arpi’s. He beams with a humbling sincerity we when he talks about Arpi’s and how he wants customers to feel like Arpi’s is their home away from home.
Come to Arpi’s and become one of Massar’s “regulars.” He will make you feel like you are home.
Patrick “Count de Kabob” Rayer
Patrick “Count de Kabob” Rayer was born in Paris and raised in Normandy. He graduated from business school in France and then moved to Dallas to complete his MBA. Patrick loved Texas and traveled to Houston fairly often because he loved Houston’s international flair. While in the city, he learned a lot about different cultures and entranced by Houston’s spell, he decided, with the loving encouragement of his father, to move to Houston. After graduation he landed a job as the buyer for a German company that specialized in building materials. The career move began Patrick’s traveling adventures; he traveled to Brazil, Italy and all around Europe. Once the company split, Patrick found himself looking for new opportunities – one came in the form of a lovely Armenian woman from Iraq who had very close ties to the Armenian community and was close to Bob and Arpi Tcholakian. He married his sweetheart in 1982 and as he says fondly, “Sometimes in life, things turn out good.”
A new grocery chain had moved into Houston from France and it seemed a perfect spot for him until the chain closed its Texan doors. In short order, Patrick moved to France where he found a position with Leroy Merlin, one of the largest European distributors of home improvement products. There was a lot of travel associated with the job and Patrick made over 30 trips to Asia alone! He returned to the states in 1998 to manage Leroy Merlin’s American offices, headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.
In early 2000, Patrick’s wise words, “life is about timing,” rang true. Life-changing experiences defined his path. His much-loved father passed away, his wife was involved in a major car accident and his Leroy Merlin contract would soon end in Chicago. In a decision to slow down and travel less, Patrick and his wife moved to Houston. In the city, Patrick worked on several ventures, but found nothing fulfilling to him. Around this time, his son, looking for a job, applied at Phoenicia Specialty Foods and Patrick discovered his fascination with the store and its concept. After a conversation with Bob and Arpi, Patrick found himself with a job! With his incredible buying experience, his accounting acumen and his jovial, kind nature, he has become an integral part of Phoenicia’s management team.
When asked about a few of his favorite things, Patrick mentions a love of French food, model airplanes and shish kabob.
MKT BAR Manager and YUMMY! Coordinator
Gloria Brown, soon to be Giannelli, grew up in Chicago and attended Eastern Illinois University where she studied Dietetics and Nutrition. While in college, she met her future husband and in short order, found herself moving to Texas. The Lone Star State held all the things she loves: the warm climate, amazing people and plenty of family to make sure she doesn’t get homesick! It didn’t take long before she became a part of our Phoenicia family.
With her wedding date coming up quickly, Gloria glows as she talks about her upcoming nuptials; she tried on over 300 dresses before she chose an exquisite Enzoni dress that makes her look like a princess! Aside from the fact that she will be getting married in the church that she attended all her life, Gloria shared a story about her engagement ring that encompasses the beauty of her and Nate’s story. After dating for a couple of months, they went to St. Louis, and on a whim, went into a jewelry store to window shop. Nate casually asked her if any of the rings were a favorite and when she chose one, he went back the next weekend, bought it and kept it hidden for 2 ½ years! During their drive to Texas, he hid it in the spare tire carrier of the car, petrified that if they had a flat tire, he would have to propose. When Gloria (and her mother) asked what took so long to give her the ring, he said he was waiting for the perfect moment.
Gloria recounts how she has had to juggle her wedding planning with a very busy MKT BAR. You can feel her passion for MKT BAR radiating as she discusses the upcoming bands, special tastings and unique events. She loves the challenges and excitement at MKT BAR and especially loves meeting new and interesting people. With an enthusiastic smile Gloria said, “No two days are ever the same!” With that same excitement, she thinks our executive chef, Matt Johnson, is an exceptional chef. Her favorite dish is the Squashed Pizza, which she pairs with a glass of Pasion Bobal.
Gloria’s love of travel will challenge Nate’s honeymoon destination planning. They have traveled as far as the Dominican Republic and her favorite spot is Hawaii. No matter the destination, when they return, they will begin building a new house and filling it with kiddos. Gloria flashes a beatific grin and with a twinkle says she’d like five kids! Whew!
Come to MKT BAR, share Gloria’s enthusiasm and be counted as one of the amazing people she meets daily!
Jolly-YUM Grille Master
With a warm, kind nature that makes everyone feel welcome, Richard works as a Customer Service Specialist in our hot grille downtown. He enjoys a simple life that began in Cincinnati, and after a few detours, brought him to Texas.
One of those detours was a move to Flint, Michigan, in 1977. After attending a friend’s wedding, Richard decided he liked the area and was going to stay. With only the clothes in his suitcase and $10 in his pocket, he never looked back as he began to carve out a life in a new city.
Richard quickly landed a job with General Motors, and in short order, met the woman of his dreams. He was introduced to his future wife, Terry, through a former girlfriend. They were married in 1979 and started their family. While his family was thriving–blessed with one son and two daughters–things were winding down at General Motors. Richard and his family moved to Atlanta, where they lived for several years until Terry became homesick for her family, who was beginning to settle in Texas. They made the big move to Texas and Richard decided to explore his passion for cooking.
Newly arrived in Houston, Richard worked for Pappadeaux and after a two-week training period, was placed in one of their busier restaurants. He decided Pappadeaux wasn’t for him and longed for a better place to work. He had driven by Phoenicia several times and had left an application, but had yet to hear back from anyone. He was becoming anxious. Once while driving by Phoenicia, he pointed out to his wife, “I interviewed there and they never called me!” Then, as Richard fondly recalls, divine intervention stepped in and changed his life. No sooner were those words out of his mouth than his cell phone rang. Phoenicia called to ask if he would like a job!
With that foretelling phone call, Richard knew Phoenicia was where he needed to be and started working right away. He recalls how different the environment was from any job he’d ever had, and embraced his diverse surroundings. He learned to appreciate different cultures and is thankful for the friends he made from all different walks of life. Now an eager ambassador, Richard helps people step out of their comfort zone to try food with which they may not be familiar. His boundless energy and exuberant personality make him a shining star at Phoenicia!
Richard loves the Tcholakian family and counts them among his blessings. Very proud and honored to work for them, he glows when he talks about his encounters with each family member.
Hands down, Richard’s favorite dishes are Arpi’s salad with chicken shawarma and BREAKFAST. He especially likes our grits and eggs and encourages everyone to come visit him early for breakfast downtown.
The only flaw Richard seems to have is a love for the Cincinnati Bengals. Maybe a Texans’ winning season will sway him?