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Spicing up the West Side

A taste of Pakistan in the Queen City

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 12. 2013 1:06AM
Zaydoun Alatbeh of Manchester prepares food during a lunch-time rush at the The Spice Center on Valley Street in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Two friends since their kindergarten days in Pakistan want to bring a taste of the world to the West Side.

Business partners Jawed Ali Shaikh of Hooksett and Ali Faraz of Raymond are putting the final touches on Ali Baba Wholefoods Festival & Treasures at 590 Second St., south of Queen City Avenue.

"We're saying 'open sesame' to the world of flavor," Faraz said, invoking the words uttered by the Arabic literary character, Ali Baba.

The business will offer 10,000 square feet of wine, gifts, dry goods and prepared foods.

"Our target market is Americans and beyond," Shaikh said during a tour last week. "We're trying to bring foods from around the world but on American standards and authentic."

The partners already are looking to expand elsewhere.

"We're already negotiating for properties in Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire," and possibly the Seacoast, he said.

The West Side shop will open on Thursday, Oct. 24, with 75 workers already hired, including 35 full-timers.

"It sounds like it's going to be a great location," said John Dumais, who heads the New Hampshire Grocers Association. "It's going to be large enough to have a large variety."

Ethnic stores are on the rise, he said, partly fueled by refugees settling in New Hampshire. State figures showed 4,150 refugees resettled in the state over a 10-year span ending in September 2012.

"We have a big diversity of population in the state," Dumais said. "A lot of those cultures want their own food products that aren't mainstream, so there are niches for those kinds of stores to satisfy that clientele."

More than 70 languages are spoken in the city's school system, school officials have said.

The two men also are expanding another store they own, Spice Center, a market offering foods mainly from the Middle East and southeast Asia, on Maple Street.

The businessmen, who earned freshly minted master's degrees from Harvard University this year, are more than doubling the current 3,000 square feet they rent near Gill Stadium.

Spice Center focuses on ethnic foods while Ali Baba will focus on foods with fewer added chemicals.

Ali Baba, furnished with chandeliers from Morocco, will feature indoor and outdoor seating areas. It obtained a liquor license and will offer drinks with names, such as a Drunken Camel (a margarita made with seven types of liqueurs) and a Snake Charmer (think Long Island ice tea).

Ali Baba is two years in the making: a year of researching and scouting potential locales and a second year of renovations and execution.

The store will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

At Spice Market, store shelves are lined with tea from India, pistachios from Turkey, wasabi from Japan and tobacco from Dubai.

Store manager Alaa Kareem, an Iraqi refugee who arrived in the United States in 2009, said flaxseed oil from Egypt is a top seller because customers use it to fight off viruses.

People from Arabic cultures make up the store's largest demographic of customers.

Fahad Almojel, a sophomore at Southern New Hampshire University who came from Saudi Arabia, picked up shawarma sandwiches, which are like a Middle Eastern gyro.

"He has unique stuff brought from the Middle East," Almojel said.

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