A chef who opened a Lebanese grocery and deli in Brooklyn with the help of Start Small Think Big, a nonprofit organization that provides free assistance to startup entrepreneurs, is seeking to improve access to Middle Eastern foods in New York City.
Start Small Think Big is showcasing Edouard Massih and his specialty retail store and deli, Edy’s Grocer, as one of the small business success stories that the organization has nurtured. In honor of National Small Business Week, which begins today, SSTB has set a new goal to assist 15,000 entrepreneurs annually within the next 10 years.
Founded in 2010 in The Bronx by Jenny DaSilva as a pro bono legal advice provider for small business, SSTB has since expanded into other areas of expertise for startups, including financial and marketing services. It has worked with dozens of companies in the specialty food industry, including many small startups offering ethnic CPG food items, bakeries, restaurants, and specialty retailers.
Massih told SFA News Daily that Start Small Think Big offered financial advice that was particularly valuable for the launch of Edy’s Grocer, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. While running his first business, a catering company, which he still operates, he had always cared more about actually producing the food for events than whether or not he made a profit, he said.
“I am a chef, and I don’t really care about finances,” said Massih. “I just like to cook.”
Through his work with SSTB, he has learned the importance of financial planning and projecting sales and expense data.
Obtaining pro bono legal advice has also been important for the success of Edy’s, he said. As with finance, legal services were something Massih hadn’t had much experience with in his catering business.
Meeting with lawyers through SSTB helped Massih to take a more formalized approach to many of the aspects of his business.
“It helps to have a lawyer look over everything and give you that peace of mind,” he said.
SSTB lawyers encouraged Massih to execute formal contracts with business partners, as opposed to verbal or “handshake” agreements, for example, and also encouraged him to launch a new limited liability company, or LLC, for the Edy’s Grocer that was separate from the LLC he had created for his catering business, which was in his own name.
“There were just so many different things I had learned throughout the process,” he said.
Massih took over his grocery/deli space from a local deli he used to frequent that had closed during the pandemic. He’s been offering a menu of Lebanese prepared foods for breakfast and lunch, such as Kibbeh (described as a Lebanese meatloaf) and Veggie Man’oush (a Lebanese flatbread topped with Lebanese Za’atar paste and cucumber, tomato, and olives), among an eclectic assortment of other items.
The store also offers a handful of Polish prepared foods and grocery items, which had been a staple of the previous location and are a reflection the neighborhood’s Polish population. Local residents have embraced Edy’s offerings, however, he said, although he has had to provide some education about what some of the items are and how to use them.
Previously, Massih, who also lives in Greenpoint, said he had to travel to other parts of the city to buy Lebanese groceries, including to Kalustyan’s in Manhattan and Sahadi’s in Brooklyn Heights.
One of the challenges he has faced, however, has been procuring some Lebanese food products in the wake of the explosion at the Beirut port last year. Massih has been forced to seek alternative products from Egypt and Turkey, he said, although he noted that he recently began procuring some Lebanese items shipped through the port of Tripoli instead.
After a year in which business at Edy’s Grocer exceeded expectations, Massih is looking for additional opportunities to bolster the business, including a possible investment in additional refrigeration and the expansion of his products to other venues.
“I’m just focused on keeping customers happy and spreading the joy of Lebanese food,” he said.
Image: Edy’s Grocer/Edouard Massih