Convenience stores for connoisseurs
Northside Gourmet was so successful that Surti and Alasad have bought three more shops – one in Scott’s Addition, another on Oregon Hill near VCU and a third is planned for Jackson Ward. By 2023 they vow to have a chain of ten.
The Northside Gourmet is a small, neighborhood store with a big selection – from gluten free cookie mix, natural almond flour, cashews roasted in sea salt and raspberry-lavender jam to fresh produce, free range chicken, grass fed beef and hundreds of beers, ciders, ales and wines. At the request of a single customer, the owner even stocks $200 bottles of Dom Perignon. “Get it. We’ll buy it," Faisal Surti remembers them saying. "Sure enough I did, and I sell quite a bit of it.”
Surti and his business partner Dean Alasad opened their high-end mini-market last fall, in the midst of the pandemic, and it was just what residents of Barton Heights -- a rapidly gentrifying food desert -- wanted. “People were not going to the grocery store. They decided they needed to have something close by, in the neighborhood. So we decided to come up with the concept. We’re not a big box grocery store, but at the same time we’re not a typical convenience store.”
Even before they opened, Surti and Alasad surveyed neighbors to see what they’d like in a local grocery store. Now they keep a white board and encourage clients to write down anything they want that’s not on the shelves. Working with 17 different distributors, they’ll get the missing product, and Surti will let customers know when it’s in. “I think I have a God gift that I remember people’s face and the name very well, and I personally work in the beginning to build a clientele and a relationship with the customers, so they’re going to come to the store because they know me.”
Already there are ethnic foods like kimchee noodle soup, tika masala sauce, seaweed snacks and Cuban-style rice and beans. What they carry will also depend on the season with a rapidly changing cooler of alcoholic drinks. “So winter comes along and now more people will be drinking red wines or darker beer.”
Northside Gourmet even has a little machine up front to make customers’ coffee. “Starbucks has a new program called Starbucks Mini. We’re the first one on the east coast to get them at this location. It makes the coffee for them, and we use the Starbucks beans, and we are the only ones who serve the coffee with CBD infused.”
That’s right – the caffeine peps you up, and the cannabidiol calms you down – all for $5.75, and when the state says go, Surti expects to be selling cannabis too.
“I think it’s going to be a good market. We will be carrying some of the products, yes definitely.”
In the summer, it’s a popular spot for dessert, stocking all seventeen flavors of Nightingale Gourmet Ice Cream Sandwiches, and you can eat them on the patio outside while sitting in one of the rocking chairs the store provides.