NEW ALBANY — Before Mike Sajaja and his family opened Aladdin’s Mediterranean & Middle Eastern Cuisine in New Albany five years ago, many residents in the area hadn’t heard of labneh or foule mudamas or kibbeh.
Now, they know what it is, Mike says with a pinch of pride in his voice. But with that, came a problem: His customers wanted their eastern favorites for themselves. In their cabinets.
Sajaja’s long-time-coming solution? A corner store and juice bar stocked with all the homemade, signature items that Aladdin’s fans love, located right next to the New Albany restaurant in its Underground Station, 37 Bank St., home.
The miniature market opened last week, and the Sajajas are slowly stocking it with new items. The natural juice bar will open within the next couple weeks (if not before, Mike said).
Currently, the store contains many of the traditional jarred vegetable mixes and dairy products that Mike’s wife, Zein Sajaja, learned to make from her mother.
She’s an expert, Mike said.
Zein has taken her olive recipe (with natural lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and a hint of jalapeños) and her labneh formula (a rolled yogurt ball with pasteurized whole milk, olive oil and salt) that she typically makes for the restaurant and has multiplied her ingredients to fill the market’s wooden shelves.
The market also contains boxed, bottled and canned grocery items, including vegetable masala, orange blossom water and medammes fava beans imported from countries across the Middle East (from Jordan to Syria), as well as non-alcoholic bottled malt drinks and Zein’s homemade feta cheese.
Next week, imported sweets will start flowing into the shop, including date cookies and different flavors of baklava — all the foods for which Southern Indiana residents used to have to make trips to Louisville.
Soon, Mike’s daughter, Nancy Sajaja, will open a juice bar in the market — another business that’s more common in Kentucky than New Albany.
Every day, Nancy will cut up fruit and vegetables for her juices, including apples, kale, spinach, ginger and lemons (and that’s just for one drink). She plans to serve all kinds of combinations: tropical (pineapple and mango), traditional (apple and orange) and inventive (orange and carrot combined).
They’ll be available with add-ins, including honey, natural sweeteners and protein powder. For those who want something more (i.e. different altogether), the juice bar will also serve milkshakes. (Nancy promises to use fresh fruit for the flavored ones, though).
The Sajajas think Nancy’s concept fits in well with the Aladdin brand.
“All our food is natural and fresh,” Zein said.
“It’s food that’s good for you,” Nancy added.