Owner praises team for ‘collective positive effort’ through challenging times
by Eric Pereira / staff writer
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed grocery stores across the country to bring more convenience to their customers. As a result, Phoenicia Specialty Foods in Houston sees opportunities in the realm of pre-packaged meals, said Ann-Marie Tcholakian, manager and owner.
“COVID triggered us to offer a lot more mix-and-match prepared family meal options, for customer convenience, sustenance, economics and the sheer fact that it’s very hard for families to cook every meal on their own, all the time, with today’s schedules and challenges,” she said. “We don’t think that need will change post-pandemic.”
Tcholakian added that individually packed and personalized gourmet boxes for events have created a new market for Phoenicia.
“This will likely continue to be something select customers and organizations search for and request now that the Pandora’s box has been opened,” she said.
Their pre-packaging approach applies to salad and olive bars as well.
“If we have an opportunity to build out another store location, we would highly consider more enclosed sandwich, salad and olive bars with full-service personnel assistance, so customers may customize some items more,” she said.
In regard to other features that may remain post pandemic, online ordering is a definite. She said the pandemic pushed Phoenicia to bring in online grocery shopping and catering, along with restaurant delivery service offerings.
“Online grocery/ curbside/ delivery/ shipping definitely helped us capture sales that we would have otherwise not had,” she said. “It will definitely help us keep more competitive in the arena.
“I’m very interested to see how our shipping department will grow as we have more web presence and established clientele who are searching for specialty food items in places around the nation where our items are harder to obtain.”
Tcholakian said protective barriers will remain in the stores “indefinitely” and barriers for catering services are anticipated throughout the end of the year and beyond.
“We believe the Houston community has shown great support of Phoenicia Specialty Foods and other independent colleagues who have worked hard to provide exceptional personalized service and provide comfort to neighbors in a very nauseating time,” she said.
“For that, we may have further carved out a niche to differentiate ourselves, and be seen as gems in some peoples’ eyes, living in a city which appreciates local color and character. This said, the independent grocery business, being up against big chains, will always face challenges and be on an up-hill climb, even after shining through to post-pandemic.”
Experiencing a pandemic and a recent winter storm has further proved the resilience of the Phoenicia’s team. Tcholakian compared COVID-19 to an industry whiplash.
“We kept people employed. We provided exceptional service. Many customers have offered their thanks,” she said. “Local news sources have kept up with us throughout to share our mask policies and procedures, and we even had a food critic review our curbside grocery service.
“Everyone on the Phoenicia Specialty Foods team knew they were contributing to something important and positive to sustain jobs for their colleagues and provide a safe haven and something positive for the community. We are nothing without all of this collective positive effort through these challenging times.
“The good attitudes, the additions made, the adjustments, the efficiencies harnessed and the transformations made to the business, in such a short period, when we step-back and look is something to be proud of.”