Store of the Month: Olive Tree Marketplace

Further Olive Tree Cultivation

The Olive Tree Marketplace in Staten Island is the first store to operate under that banner, but it won't be the only one for long: The construction of another location is already well underway.

"We are developing as we speak a project in Denville, N.J., that's under construction right now, and that should be done in about three months," Olive Tree Marketplace co-owner Dave Shehadeh tells PG during a store visit at the end of January. "It's going to be the same concept, same banner."

David J. Lee, president of Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based Creative Space Design, who worked on the Staten Island location, is now busy with the Denville store, which Shehadeh promises "is going be bigger, so we're going to have even more variety" than in the inaugural market.

When the next store finally opens, one particularly promiment customer will be eager to pay a visit. "Dean Janeway, [CEO] of Key Food, he lives five minutes away from our [Denville] location, so he's pushing for us to open up as soon as possible," says Shehadeh. "We're going to open up in his backyard, so to say."

The chance of future locations beyond those two is looking good as well. "A lot of builders right now that own shopping centers, they're all coming to us and they want us to open the same-concept store in their shopping center," confides Shehadeh.

Planting a Family Tree

Olive Tree Marketplace may be a Key Food banner, but the idea for the concept sprang straight from the minds of the six Shehadeh brothers, co-owners of the store with gourmet chef Hani Qassis.

An early challenge was "finding the name to fit with the concept," admits Dave Shehadeh. "My brother Wally came up with the name 'Olive Tree,' with what the olive tree provided for different cultures. You know, the olive tree could live for thousands of years, and it provided food for dozens of cultures. So that was the reason behind our concept."

According to Shehadeh, the tree "represents life, it represents peace, it represents all the good things in today's world and culture," freighted as it is with mythological, biblical and political meaning. The Staten Island store even features olive tree saplings in pots as a design element.

Along with the symbolism, a key part of the concept involves Qassis’ Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, much of it created, naturally enough, with olive oil. "We met on a few occasions," recounts Shehadeh of how he connected with the chef. "I heard a lot of good things about him, and the same thing, he heard a lot of good things about us, because we have four existing Key Foods in Brooklyn. What we wanted to do is make something new. We [wanted to] come out [of] the box and give the people something that they couldn't get from anyplace else. We wanted to make a new brand, a new line."

Deli/prepared food and fresh produce loomed large in Lee's design plans as points welcoming shoppers into the market. "That was our main focus in designing the store," he affirms, adding: "The name of the store is Olive Tree, so we tried to bring some olive color, some nice green color, and we tried to upscale the store. And then we had some olive tree graphics." Lee also designed the signage and aisle markers to harmonize with the concept.

When it came to the actual construction of the store, the owners settled on an existing site, but they redid things their way, in service to their guiding idea. "This store was probably doing a third of what it's doing now, business-wise, and it was a rundown store, basically," recalls Shehadeh. "We knocked walls down; we opened up the store. … We basically gutted it out and rebuilt it from scratch. The only thing that we kept was the floor, because it has radiant heating. The floor's in good condition. Everything else went."

Additionally, aided by funding from such entities as NYCERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority), the Shehadeh brothers and Qassis had all the lighting fixtures in the store changed to LED lighting, and oversaw the installation of brand-new energy-efficient refrigeration. "We’re going green, as an olive tree should," quips Shehadeh, who notes that despite the daunting scale of the project, it was completed in just a matter of months.

Although Key Food executives weren't involved in the development of what Qassis refers to as "a convenient gourmet supermarket," "they gave us the support that we asked for," says Shehadeh, adding that the chief advantage of being part of the co-op is that "they fight for us to make sure that we get the right prices, that we get the cheapest available prices in the industry. It's all about buying power."

Catering to Customers

As if its vast, ever-changing prepared food selection wasn't enough, Olive Tree Marketplace also offers an extensive catering service. "We do a full line of catering for any holiday," says co-owner Dave Shehadeh, presenting the store's catering menu, which includes gourmet heroes, cold and hot platters, buffets feeding up to 20, entrées, side dishes, and even gluten-free selections.

Gourmet chef Hani Qassis, also a co-owner, is justifiably proud of the service, which has attracted plenty of business in the short time the store has been open. "We're very busy, with a lot of orders already," he notes. "We did one [catering job] already for $3,000 for almost 120 people.” Along with the food, prepared according to Qassis' exacting specifications, Olive Tree Marketplace can provide a wait staff, bartender and busboys to help the catered event go off without a hitch.

"We give 'em all the service,” affirms Qassis. "That's what we do for the customers. That's what you see here."

Another amenity offered by the store is free local delivery. "There's a lot of elderly people [in the area] that call in," says Shehadeh, whose store also provides free parking in a 12,000-square-foot lot, a loyalty program with its own branded cards, and a 5 percent discount for New York City police officers and firefighters, senior citizens, and students with IDs. When asked about Olive Tree Marketplace's delivery radius, he responds in a way that shows his commitment to the community transcends mere geography: "They ring, we bring."