It’s an early morning in September, and inside the grocery store
there’s a flurry of activity as produce tables are being tidied, delicate pastries are carefully arranged in display cases and kitchen staff prepare ready-to-eat meals. In a room at the back of the store, a gigantic pita oven is hard at work spitting out fresh flatbreads—dozens of them—while at a nearby table, Middle Eastern pizzas are being prepared. It’s all just a typical morning at Marché Adonis as staff prepare for the day ahead, a process they’ve been fine-tuning since the store opened in March.
The store, located in a busy commercial centre in Gatineau, Que., is the 12th location in the Marché Adonis banner, part of Metro, and the first one to be located in Western Quebec. (Others are located in Montreal, Laval and Quebec City, with two stores in Ontario—Mississauga and Scarborough.)
“There was a strong demand for the Gatineau area so we’re here,” says Michel Cheaib, executive vice-president of Marché Adonis, whose family started the chain soon after arriving from Lebanon in the late 1970s. “It’s also next to Ottawa [just over the bridge, in fact] so you get people coming from Ottawa, too.”
The store’s Middle Eastern heritage figures largely throughout the aisles and the company’s website likens shopping at Adonis to discovering a Middle Eastern zouk—a grocery store “with a thousand treasures.” Indeed, wander the aisles and you’ll find an array of specialties such as freshly made hummus, tabbouleh salads, Armenian lahmajoun pizza and manakeesh (topped flatbread also known as Lebanese pizza), while the ready-meal counter serves up favourites like shish-taouk, shawarma and falafel. There’s also an impressive selection of pastries including baklavas and maamouls (stuffed with nuts or dates), and a sizeable cheese counter with fresh cheeses like baladi, halloum and tresse (a salty, stringy cheese) as well as a large nut section and an olive bar where 20 varieties of olives are on offer. Of course, halal options are plentiful.
“It’s totally different from any other grocery store,” says Cheaib. As an example, he singles out one particular specialty: “We have fresh pistachios in our stores that you rarely find in other places.” Fresh pistachios, distinct from the dried variety most of us are familiar with, are widely used in Middle Eastern cooking and are currently finding new popularity among foodies.
And then there’s the aforementioned pita oven. The state-of-the-art contraption is a standout feature in the Gatineau store, occupying much of a large room behind the “pâtisserie” department. Staff oversee the entire pita-making process, from preparing the dough to bagging the final product when it comes off the conveyer belt. Large glass windows allow shoppers to observe all the action in the pita room, adding a touch of theatre to the shopping experience. Abdallah Baradhy, store manager and long-time Adonis employee, says on weekends the oven produces about 200 racks of pitas—both traditional white and whole wheat versions, as well as a sugar-free option, which he says has become a popular item with shoppers.
At 41,000 sq. ft., the latest Adonis store has come a long way from the small 1,000-sq.-ft. shop that started it all in Montreal 40 years ago. All that extra space provides lots of room to cater to more mainstream tastes and those of the banner’s expanding customer base.
“In the beginning our customers were mainly from the Middle East and those with a Mediterranean background, but now we do cater to everyone,” says Cheaib, noting that this means making more local and specialty items available. On this day, there are stacks of maple syrup and products made from it, along with a display that includes all the fixings for poutine—we are in Quebec after all. And, of course, there’s all the typical grocery items with familiar brand names, from Kraft Dinner to Nestlé Drumsticks and everything in between.
Large, meticulously maintained meat, fish and produce departments also deliver on “the Adonis experience,” which is all about freshness and quality. The store maintains control over these attributes by preparing food in house. All of the ready-meals sold at Adonis, for instance, are prepared by the store’s chefs and kitchen staff; and even in the produce department, all fruit for platters is cut fresh every day on site. “We don’t buy from a third party,” says Cheaib. “We do it all ourselves.”
Over the past seven years, Adonis has expanded from four to 12 stores. Cheaib credits Metro, which acquired a majority interest in Adonis and its Phoenicia wholesale business in 2011, for enabling the acceleration of the banner and helping promote it in Quebec and Ontario.
On a call with analysts last year, Metro CEO Eric La Flèche confirmed that Metro would complete its acquisition of Adonis but that it would continue to operate as a separate division. “It’s a good formula and we want to keep it growing,” he said, adding that Adonis was in a good position to grow by a couple of stores each year for “the foreseeable future.”
When pressed for details on future store open- ings, Cheaib laughs off the question with an “I can’t say right now,” then quickly adds, “I do suggest you stay tuned, though.”
This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s November 2018 issue.
Photography by Jessica Deeks