Press Room

Phoenicia Team

  • Ruth: Phoenicia Dreams Come True!

    A member of the Phoenicia team for 21 years, Ruth has seen a lot of changes in the store during that time. She started at Arpi’s Deli and has worked in many of the departments at Phoenicia. She eventually made her way to manager of the hot grill, where she is happiest. While Ruth has worked with so many great people, her favorite will always be Richard Willis. She loved working with Richard and was sad when he moved to the Phoenicia Downtown location. Ruth feels a family bond with her teammates and considers them her “work family.” Also feeling a bond with customers, Ruth has been their acquaintance for many years, often seeing kids grow up and bringing in their own children!

    Ruth grew up in Mexico and remained there after her brothers had moved to Houston. She dreamed of coming to Houston and was so excited when she finally had a chance to move here, right away she began working as a cashier in a Mexican Café but she longed for more. She knew someone who was working at Phoenicia and they were very happy, they talked about their job in the most positive ways and it made her really want a job here but she wasn’t confident in her cooking or her language skills and was afraid it was going to be a challenge. When she finally applied, her desire to work was evident and she was hired, it was her dream come true! Ruth was excited in her new position and went to school to study and learn so she could be a stronger member of the Phoenicia Team.

    Though different cultures and languages can sometimes be difficult, Ruth really tries to connect with customers. She is sympathetic to language boundaries and will often use her version of sign language to direct or satisfy a customer’s needs. In her wildest dreams she never thought she would learn so many customs! One thing she notes is that every country and nationality can agree on one thing…delicious food! She laughs as she says that everyone loves Shawarma! Shawarma was the first food she tried at Arpi’s. It is the healthiest sandwich. She smiles sheepishly as she said that on her second day she saw falafel and thought “What is that?!?” she nibbled a bite and fell in love with them! Her love of food is contagious and she wants everyone to share her passion. If she notices that people seem hesitant to try a shawarma she will describe it in ways they may relate to, in fact she often describes it like a burrito! And even though Ruth has worked here for so many years she NEVER gets tired of eating Shawarma!

    Ruth dreams have been realized with a city and a job that she loves and she feels it just gets better and better. Ruth loves creating foods and is especially proud of the soup she makes for the hot grille menu, and she positively beams when she says, “I am proud of the job and I am happiest when Mr. Bob is happy!”

    Ruth’s eyes sparkle and her smile is huge as she talks about Phoenicia. “Something holds you here”, she comments earnestly. The Tcholakian Family, the customers, her co-workers and Mr. Bob… they make you feel special.

    Come experience the food and atmosphere that dreams are made of here, at Phoenicia!

  • Zohrab “Robert” Tcholakian

    Keeper of the Kingdom

    As owner and founder of Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Zohrab Tcholakian oversees operations and quality control. He is the creative lead and visionary in the growth of the family-owned business. Zohrab also contributes to the architecture and design of Phoenicia facilities.

    Upon immigrating with his wife Arpi to the United States in 1978, Zohrab held a position in architectural engineering at Bechtel Corporation. These skills have influenced his current position as he has contributed to the design of Phoenicia Specialty Foods West Houston, Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli, Phoenicia Specialty Foods Downtown and MKT Bar.

    Zohrab comes from a long line of family in the food business, working for his parents within their small corner shop market in Lebanon as a child. Both of his brothers are also in the food business and his three children currently hold management positions at Phoenicia Specialty Foods.

    Zohrab is a philanthropist to St. Kevork Armenian Church. In his spare time he enjoys cooking and spending time with his grandchildren.

  • Arpi Tcholakian

    Maestro Mama

    As owner and founder of Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Arpi Tcholakian has created a domain where devoted diners have flocked for her signature recipes since 1983. In addition to creating original recipes for Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli and the Phoenicia Specialty Foods prepared foods section, Apri oversees operations, quality control and manages Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli.

    Arpi is the force behind the delicious entrees, including the famed Phoenicia Shawarma Wraps, Arpi’s Salad and Arpi’s Walnut Baklava. In 2010, Phoenicia Specialty Foods renamed their Mediterranean eatery, Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli, as a tribute to the family matriarch for her tireless dedication to the business and the countless number of customers she has touched over the past three decades.

    Arpi is a graduate of American University of Beirut and is currently a philanthropist to St. Kevork Armenian Church. She has three children, all of whom hold management positions at Phoenicia Specialty Foods, and two grandchildren. In her spare time she enjoys gardening and the theatre.

  • Raffi Tcholakian

    The Gate Keeper

    Having worked at Phoenicia Specialty Foods since its inception, Raffi Tcholakian serves as Phoenicia Specialty Foods Operations Manager. In this position, Raffi manages the Phoenicia Specialty Foods IT network and software. He also oversees the market’s wholesale accounts, which total 1,000 servicing Texas and the surrounding states while managing Phoenicia’s Imports department. Prior to becoming the wholesale manager, he started the wholesale accounts division, expanded the West Houston market to a larger location and contributed to the addition of Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli.

    Raffi holds a psychology degree with a business minor from the University of Houston. In his spare time, Raffi enjoys training for the MS 150 and other cycling races. A lover of music, if there is classic rock playing in the market, Raffi is more than likely working in the back office. He is married with two children and is a charter member of SEARCH Homeless Services.

  • Ann-Marie Tcholakian

    Princess of Creation

    Biography coming soon.

  • Haig Tcholakian

    The Brother of Brews

    Phoenicia Specialty Foods Wine and Beer Manager, Haig Tcholakian, manages the buying of select wine and beers for the Downtown and West Houston locations as well as MKT Bar. In addition, Haig oversees the selection of MKT Bar menu items. His specialty lies in finding boutique wines and beers from around the world from areas lesser known for these products such as Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Americas.

    In 2006, Haig returned to the family business after he worked in the corporate finance group at Moody’s Investors Service in New York City. Prior to this, Haig was a risk analyst on the trading floor at Reliant Resources in Houston.

    Haig’s world travels greatly influence his position as the wine and beer manager. He has traveled to France to study Bordeaux wines, Lebanon and Syria to visit exporters and Japan for business and design ideas. Haig holds a Bachelors Degree in Finance from the University of Texas at Austin.

  • Adrienne Brown-Franklin

    Downtown Market General Manager

    Her laugh is contagious, her enthusiasm captivating. Like the downtown staff she leads, Adrienne aims to consistently deliver a great customer experience. How does she juggle a multitude of responsibilities and stay so darn cheerful? True love. Phoenicia’s a special place for customers because it’s special to Adrienne and her team. She prefers to describe herself as a steward, acknowledging that it’s easy to manage when you have the best employees.

    “I’m all about being upbeat and creating a memorable experience,” she says with hearty conviction. “When we enjoy what we do and work together, our store shows it and our customers feel great.”

    Nothing makes her happier than customers taking ownership of the store. Adrienne regularly witnesses customers showing around their friends and families, like Phoenicia is their own little secret. She’s especially tickled when they ooh and ah over delightful aromas that greet them in the store.

    For more than a month, Adrienne sampled Phoenicia’s culinary treasures–without eating the same foods twice. She recommends Labne yogurt as “wonderful to smear on anything.” Bayou City Sliders get a nod of endorsement, as does Steak & Tango Night from her husband. It’s just common sense to her. “All the food here is fabulous because the people behind it are absolutely amazing.”

  • Moses Abayan


    As manager of Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Moses Abayan is the lead buyer and employee manager. As lead buyer, Moses contributes to the purchasing of Phoenicia Specialty Foods’ more than 10,000 products specializing in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean imports and produce. Also in this position, Moses manages the 100 plus employees in the Phoenicia Specialty Foods West Houston location.

    Moses’ hobbies include spending time outdoors and playing tennis. During his free time, Moses enjoys spending time with his two sons and family.

  • Esin Comert


    As a manager of Phoenicia Specialty Foods, Esin Comert oversees the daily transactions of over 1,000 Phoenicia Specialty Foods wholesale accounts. In this position, Esin assists customers ranging from small and large grocery stores to restaurants by filling orders and managing the shipping and receiving of goods. Having grown up in Turkey, Esin uses her expertise in the region to grade select the international products.

    In her spare time, Esin enjoys cooking, travel and outdoor sports.

  • Milly Aponte

    Marvelous Manager Milly, Specialty Food Specialist, Downtown

    Milly is quickly becoming everyone’s favorite reason to shop downtown, her enthusiasm and her passion for Phoenicia are amazing and her product knowledge is unrivaled!

    She can often be found hunting down a certain spice or searching the shelves for a special food that the customer can only describe by appearance or aroma…she is a phenomenal Phoenicia Phoodie!

    Milly started eight years ago, as she remembers fondly, by asking her brother who was already employed here to find out if she could be hired. When he failed to get her an interview she boldly walked right up to the owner and told him, “You need to hire me!” and we are forever grateful that he did!

    Milly was born in Higuey, Dominican Republic a city known for its tourism and beauty. Growing up in Higuey gave her a passion for history and culture which is what she loves most about Phoenicia.

    Milly loves the history behind the foods we sell and even though she is a self proclaimed non-cook, she loves how dishes are made and what they represent to the cultures that enjoy them.

    Heath, a resident of One Park Place; loves Milly’s energy and passion for the job, He recently said, “Milly is the main reason I shop here, she has an amazing positive energy and she is one of the best things about Phoenicia”
    When Milly isn’t bustling through the store she like to relax by reading books, riding her bike, attending shows at Miller Outdoor theater or zipping around on her cute scooter!

    Milly was recently voted by all her co-workers as the “Yummiest All Around Employee” and we wholeheartedly agree, so stop by Phoenicia Downtown and see all the products that Milly’s heart sing!

  • Massar Rahma

    General Manager - Arpi's Phoenicia Deli

    With a background as a computer programmer, Massar Rahma walked into Phoenicia Specialty Foods two years ago, looking for a stocking job that would tide him over until he found his dream job. Little did he know that dream job would be as general manager at Arpi’s Phoenicia Deli!

    When Massar began working at Arpi’s, he fell in love with the food and the different kinds of coffees they make. He was eager to learn how to make them and worked diligently to learn from other baristas until he perfected his techniques. His favorite coffee drink is the Vanilla Dulce de Leche–and he gets many requests for this goodness in a cup!

    At Arpi’s, he is the Massar of all! He can often be seen buzzing around the busy kitchen, helping on the registers, making coffee and always taking the time to help a customer who may be unfamiliar with Arpi’s delicacies. He laughs as he recalls one customer, who has since become a regular, who chastised him for making him taste an item. Now that customer comes in almost daily for it. The customer said, “It is your fault, Massar! You made me try it!” Massar loves the busy lunch times and has a following of regulars that come in so often, he knows their orders by heart.

    You can hear the joy in his heart when he talks about busy weekends when families are relaxing at tables and kids are playing games and laughing. This is Massar’s favorite time at Arpi’s. He beams with a humbling sincerity we when he talks about Arpi’s and how he wants customers to feel like Arpi’s is their home away from home.

    Come to Arpi’s and become one of Massar’s “regulars.” He will make you feel like you are home.

  • Richard Willis

    Jolly-YUM Grille Master

    With a warm, kind nature that makes everyone feel welcome, Richard works as a Customer Service Specialist in our hot grille downtown. He enjoys a simple life that began in Cincinnati, and after a few detours, brought him to Texas.

    One of those detours was a move to Flint, Michigan, in 1977. After attending a friend’s wedding, Richard decided he liked the area and was going to stay. With only the clothes in his suitcase and $10 in his pocket, he never looked back as he began to carve out a life in a new city.

    Richard quickly landed a job with General Motors, and in short order, met the woman of his dreams. He was introduced to his future wife, Terry, through a former girlfriend. They were married in 1979 and started their family. While his family was thriving–blessed with one son and two daughters–things were winding down at General Motors. Richard and his family moved to Atlanta, where they lived for several years until Terry became homesick for her family, who was beginning to settle in Texas. They made the big move to Texas and Richard decided to explore his passion for cooking.

    Newly arrived in Houston, Richard worked for Pappadeaux and after a two-week training period, was placed in one of their busier restaurants. He decided Pappadeaux wasn’t for him and longed for a better place to work. He had driven by Phoenicia several times and had left an application, but had yet to hear back from anyone. He was becoming anxious. Once while driving by Phoenicia, he pointed out to his wife, “I interviewed there and they never called me!” Then, as Richard fondly recalls, divine intervention stepped in and changed his life. No sooner were those words out of his mouth than his cell phone rang. Phoenicia called to ask if he would like a job!

    With that foretelling phone call, Richard knew Phoenicia was where he needed to be and started working right away. He recalls how different the environment was from any job he’d ever had, and embraced his diverse surroundings. He learned to appreciate different cultures and is thankful for the friends he made from all different walks of life. Now an eager ambassador, Richard helps people step out of their comfort zone to try food with which they may not be familiar. His boundless energy and exuberant personality make him a shining star at Phoenicia!

    Richard loves the Tcholakian family and counts them among his blessings. Very proud and honored to work for them, he glows when he talks about his encounters with each family member.

    Hands down, Richard’s favorite dishes are Arpi’s salad with chicken shawarma and BREAKFAST. He especially likes our grits and eggs and encourages everyone to come visit him early for breakfast downtown.

    The only flaw Richard seems to have is a love for the Cincinnati Bengals. Maybe a Texans’ winning season will sway him?

About Us

Phoenicia Specialty Foods carries more than 15,000 products with down-to-earth pricing from more than 50 countries. Fresh-baked artisan breads, European pastries, boutique wines and beers, quality meats and cheeses, fresh seafood and meat, hot grille items, catering, prepared foods, exotic produce and housewares are all available by Phoenicia’s buying power achieved from international imports.

Phoenicia Specialty Foods is a dream that started modestly nearly 30 years ago. In 1983, Bob and Arpi Tcholakian, formerly of Lebanon and of Armenian descent, opened Phoenicia Deli, a 2,500–square-foot Mediterranean-style delicatessen and grocery near Beltway 8 on Westheimer Road. In 1992, Phoenicia Deli rented out a lease space to store the many imported goods the Tcholakians were receiving. Soon, retail and wholesale customers started going to the storage space for a case of their desired hard-to-find specialty items and eventually this grocery section became a small specialty foods market. In 2006, the family further branched out and opened Phoenicia Specialty Foods, a 55,000-square-foot international food market across the street from the deli. The enterprise has continued to grow ever since and carries on with Phoenicia Specialty Foods Downtown.

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