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How a foundation of family values has created the US’ most popular Middle Eastern supermarket Harlem Foods

Middle Eastern supermarket Harlem Foods has developed a loyal community of customers and it’s all thanks to the leadership of brothers Aleh Akel and Mohamad Akel and their family. With a focus on creating a community in which people of every ethnicity feel connected to their home through food, the supermarket continues to grow, all while maintaining its promise of delivering fresh, high-quality products to its customers.

Hi Aleh, can you start by introducing yourself?

Hello! My name is Aleh Akel, my brother Mohamad Akel and I have been in business together for as long as I can remember. We are a family of Palestinian descent, born and raised in Chicago. We decided to pick our family up in the early 90’s and move to Bridgeview, a village located in the Southwest Suburbs of Chicago (approximately 15 miles from the Chicago loop).

Our community in Bridgeview, also known as Little Palestine, is a hub for Middle Easterners. Mohamad and I are business partners, family, and best friends, which has been the blessing that has made it so easy for us to build our success together. Family has always been an important priority in our lives. We both became fathers, Mohamad to Maiyyar (9) and Noah (6) and myself to Khamis (15), Adam (9) and Zayn (4). We are also uncles to our niece Dunya (7) and our nephew Laith (3). The principal of upholding family standards of practice like loyalty, trust, honesty, became our standards for business as well.

Our vastly growing community in the southwest suburbs essentially became a huge center for culture, religion, family and education. This meant that the products we all knew and loved from our various home countries that were so hard to find (like Halal meats, pita bread, etc.) became more in demand. It just seemed appropriate that our neighborhood, like most ethnically influenced communities in Chicago, received its own ethnic grocery store.

Thus, in 1992 my father decided to take initiative and open up Harlem Foods. At first it was a humble little store of 900 square feet, with lots of demands to meet. It is now a full-fledged supermarket, expanded to over 5,000 square feet ensuring more room to fit all of our products from around the world. Over the years with the support of our loyal customers, our reputable name became widespread not only in the Chicagoland Area, but within the United States!

Where are you located?

The Southwest Suburbs of Chicago. About 1 mile off I294.

What kind of products do you sell?

We offer a range of products and brands in every department. From fresh meat and poultry hand cut by our expert butchers, to baked goods, to standard produce, as well as special middle eastern produce favorites like green almonds and chickpeas. We have a wide range of fresh spices, dates, sweets, various types of wheats and rice etc. and we also carry specialty products like Hookah Tobacco, concentrated oils, candy from overseas and Halal vitamins. We also carry Middle Eastern home products like tea cups, serving trays, pots and pans, and even custom made middle eastern grills for specialty cooking.

Throughout the years, our family has continued to provide fresh quality products. From fresh roasted coffee to fresh bread and meat, we make sure to please every customer. Our products range from different countries. Many products are imported from countries such as Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Brazil, and many more. We provide a variety of products from all over the world so anyone can feel like they are at home with familiar foods.

The freshness of our food is what has given us such a good reputation throughout the years. When it comes to Middle Eastern cuisine, the quality of your ingredients is integral to the quality of your meal and experience. We bake over 350 dozens of fresh Pita bread every day (which typically sell out before the afternoon). We also hand craft and serve fresh cheese, spinach, minced meat, chicken pies, falafel, and other Middle Eastern specialty foods. All served fresh for our customers. We also provide bread for the local middle eastern restaurants in the area that count on the quality of our goods for their business.

What is your favorite thing about middle eastern food?

The variety of the flavors, textures, colors, etc. Each season brings forth a handful of dishes specific to those months because of the in-season fruits and vegetables of the time. So, getting the chance to experience the seasonal dishes is always quite exciting. This has also become something our customers wait for as well. The versatility of simple ingredients like chickpeas, olive oil, and even nuts go so far in Middle Eastern Cuisine, there’s never a dull meal to be had!

Do you have any plans for the expansion of your business in the near future?

We currently distribute homemade products to different regions in the U.S. such as Miami, Florida, Atlanta, Georgia, San Antonio and Texas just to name a few. Future chains are in the works in the U.S. We hope to continue this amazing business and we’ve been so lucky to expand time and time again due to our loyal customers. We look forward to upholding the Harlem Foods promise of quality, freshness, and family-like interactions for all our customers, old and new.