In 1987 Wajdi Wadi opened a little 800 square foot Halal grocery store on Central Ave. in Minneapolis. He had come from Kuwait to Moorhead State University where he graduated with a degree in Finance and Marketing in 1985.
Over the years the face of what would become the “Holy Land” brand has changed but not the drive behind it. The Holy Land Website describes the company thus, “The history of Holy Land is the story of a dream. A dream that has been realized using the principles of hard work, family, tradition and Islam as its cornerstones. The families dream began over 100 years ago with Grandfather Abu Saeed. He brought to the dream the time tested recipe of making pita bread.”
Wadi is an ethnic Palestinian. His passion for his culture runs deep and drives the company. “I don’t want you to just come and eat, I want to share my culture through my food. . .I want to give my customers a feel of the Middle East, this is the story of Holy Land.”
Currently Holy Land has two locations, the original at 2513 Central Ave and one in the Mid-Town Global Market at Chicago and Lake. In addition to his groceries, each location has a restaurant. The “Holy Land” brand also has a bakery on Washington Ave. in Minneapolis (soon to move to 1617 Central) and produces enough hummus (a Middle Eastern garbanzo bean spread) and other salads and dips to keep the local community well stocked through Cub, Kowalski’s, Whole Foods and all the natural foods co-ops.
Wadi obviously takes pride in the quality of his foods. His meat products– beef, goat, lamb and chicken are all 100% natural, farm raised, anti-biotic and hormone free. “It’s almost organic but then I would have to charge the customers more,” Wadi explained “I want to offer quality foods at regular prices.” Wadi added that his goal and promise is to offer his selections at 25-35% cheaper then “big chain stores.”
But even the big chain stores cannot offer the same selection. The produce selection is a sight to behold. Customers can buy fresh almonds for $1.79/ lb., fresh green garbanzos, figs, cherries and cucumbers in varieties hard to find here. “There is a huge demand for our produce.” Currently Holy Land is contracting directly with growers in California to supply the types of produce typical for Middle Eastern cuisine.
This drive and attention to detail has made Holy Land a success, “We have expanded beyond the Middle Eastern, Muslim community.” Stop by at any meal time and it is obvious that the stores have a diverse customer base. In a recent survey 66% of customers are American. Often the people who come to Central Ave. from outside the area come specifically for Holy Land.
With sales expected to reach $12 million this year Wadi has been rewarded for his dedication and hard work, but still the drive to give back runs deep. In a 3 part expansion project Wadi will add a new Hummus factory that will create another 25 jobs (to his already 120 employees). Next to the factory he has purchased a run down house that will be torn down and a new community room be set up. This will include banquet facilities (that may be rented out) a play room and possibly a library and senior space.
Bordering Holy Land on Lowry Wadi has also purchased 4 run down houses that will be torn down and replaced with 32 units of mid-level housing with retail space on the ground floor. “The stores will reflect Holy Land,” Wadi said, “I want to give the feel of the Middle East.”
In his new restaurant, each table has a story about a specific aspect or place in Middle Eastern Culture. But his love of culture also spreads to his adopted culture. “We became the first bakery to export bread to the Far East.” He explained that on his promotion trips distributors didn’t know where Minnesota was. “When I came home I completely changed my bread bag.” Now the bag says, “Made in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.” On the back of the bag Wadi features information about Minnesota including the explore Minnesota website. “I am introducing Minnesota to the world.”
For those who haven’t yet tried Holy Land stop by the International Market at the State Fair. “This is the first year we’ll be there. People wait years to get in but they [State Fair Committee] approached us.”
And a special feature you’ll want to check out in the new on-line ordering for lunch and dinner that includes take out or delivery, anywhere in the state of Minnesota www.holylandbrand.com