A new version of the neighborhood corner store

Posted on Fri, 11/01/2019 - 12:30pm

By Ron Cohn

Malibu MarketMalibu Market, at the newly renamed Malibu East Plaza’s main intersection, held its long-awaited grand opening on Aug. 21. Crystal chandeliers, shelves lined with good wines and a fully stocked deli counter with food service announced that a big step beyond mere convenience was being taken.

In the months since then, husband-and-wife team Benjamin and Jasmine Pourkhalili, along with their third partner, Kamal Chhabria, have incrementally refined their offerings and surroundings. Their complement of grocery and household necessities is gradually expanding, along with the amount and variety of prepared foods made in-house. Benjamin says their goal is to be a “neighborhood market, open when you need us to be, with grocery staples, fruit and vegetables, bakery goods and more.” They are emphasizing quality and service, he says, with their big plus being boutique wines, high-end spirits, craft beers as well as fresh, excellent homemade food – “things you don’t find,” he said, “in the ordinary grocery store.”

Their hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and if you call down, they can deliver anything you want upstairs to your home “for a small delivery charge of five dollars,” he said.

The wines and spirits are a main area of expertise for Benjamin. He has been in that business for decades, owning as many as five wine and liquor stores in and around Chicago at one time. He still has two Galleria Liqueur shops, one in Old Town and one in Wrigleyville on Southport. He was also a partner in Peggy Sue’s, the popular ’50s-style diner on Broadway in the ’90s.

Benjamin came to this country from Iran in 1979 at the age of 19 and has worked in the food and liquor business ever since. He and Jasmine married in Iran in ’95 and she joined him in Chicago the following year. Although she has enjoyed cooking for gatherings and has done some catering, it was only once their sons, now 19 and 21, were grown, that Jasmine began to put her love of cooking and skill in the kitchen to work full time here at the Malibu Market.

Their menu lists nearly 20 classic favorites – BLT, turkey, tuna, etc. – and Mediterranean/Persian-inspired specialty sandwiches, all made to order. Daily specials include cuisine as hearty as lamb shank and half a baked chicken. They have vegetarian dishes, pasta selections, salads, soup, Indian entrees and appetizers, as well as breakfast sandwiches and an assortment of muffins, scones and croissants. High-end Peet’s coffees are always being brewed.

Beth Robinson, who writes the restaurant reviews for the Dialogue, gave a “thumbs up” to the dinner she and her husband picked up there. “Freddy and I went down in search of Indian food. At the deli counter, we found out that Indian food had to be preordered but several other interesting-looking dishes were available, so we went home with baked eggplant in a tomato sauce for me and roasted chicken for him. Both dishes were accompanied by a large portion of Persian rice. This made for a satisfying dinner with plenty of rice left over for the next day.”

To provide a pleasant, informal place to enjoy a breakfast, lunch, snack or even dinner, the Malibu Market has placed small tables and chairs along the windows in the front hallway and outside on the patio. Jasmine, however, stresses they are not a restaurant. “We don’t have the traffic to be a restaurant. We want to be a place where neighbors can have a bite together, but mostly where they can pick up food for today or tonight or the last minute.” She says her ultimate goal is to establish the catering business, “not just for these two buildings, but for the people and businesses in this area.”

The face of Malibu Market, as much as Jasmine’s and Benjamin’s, is that of their longtime employee Raj Soni, who is on duty at the counter nearly every hour of every day, it seems, and is now backed up by a new hire, Alex.

Helen Lambin, another Dialogue writer contributing to this article, commented that the staff is “very welcoming and helpful,” and gives it good marks overall. “The store is well laid out, makes a good use of space, is attractive, and offers a lot of options, not only food and spirits, but some over-the-counter meds and toiletries. And even greeting cards.”

Benjamin says the fact that there was no store in this location for over a year has made their first months challenging. “People got accustomed to going elsewhere. It just means we have to make customers happy and hope the word gets around.”

Longtime resident and former Board member Neil Warner, editor of the Dialogue, summed up his impressions this way, “Malibu Market has created an inviting space with an expanded selection of wines and frozen foods for a last-minute meal. Other than the most specialized items, you can find almost anything at this store, including a wide array of ethnic foods. Most impressive, though, is their deli, with freshly made salads and prepared entrees. Their lamb shank with dill rice is a treat that you’ll rarely find at a convenience store, and the veggie samosas and the spaghetti with meatballs are other good options. Although it took awhile for Malibu Market to put all of the pieces in place, the finished product has made it all worthwhile. I hope that our residents and the neighborhood support it.”