Ich Bin Kentishtowner: Ghassan O’beid, owner, Phoenicia Food Hall


‘Dishonesty really makes me go berserk because I think humans are intelligent enough to be able to tell the truth regardless of anything’



Ghassan at the deli fridge, where once garden furniture was sold. Photo: Tom Kihl
Ghassan at the deli fridge, where once garden furniture was sold. Photo: Tom Kihl

Phoenicia Mediterranean Food Hall is celebrating 10th years in business at the heart of Kentish Town. Having taken over vacant kitchen and garden emporium Chattlemania, they expanded into the defunct Blockbuster Video next door in 2006. Owner Ghassan took a gamble on opening such a large place, but grew cautiously without taking loans, instead following his dad’s mantra from the family business back in Lebanon: “if you can’t buy it, don’t buy it.” He chose Kentish Town as the location to open his dream food halls, having commuted through the area for years – plotting – to a job he had no passion for. Now the business, with its truly vast range of speciality products, is a much-loved local resource. Proof that, at least here, the death of the High Street has been much exaggerated.

When were you happiest?
Right now. The shop is established and business is running smoothly so I can relax. It certainly wasn’t like that in the early years.

What is your greatest life achievement?
The shop, of course. I didn’t know much about Kentish Town before we opened here, but I knew there were a lot of studios here and media people. My thinking was that I needed customers who have travelled well to appreciate what I’m going to do. That thought has proved to be true.

Where would you like to live?
Patshull or Bartholomew Roads. Nice and close too.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Keep walking. There is no point in stopping.

The vast pasta selection, where VHS tapes were once stacked.
The vast pasta selection, where VHS tapes were once stacked.

What is your earliest Kentish Town memory?
Driving through twice a day, using the back roads to escape the traffic. I always had in my mind the plan to own a mini-market, a place that I would enjoy going to. At that time there were only really Panzer’s in St John’s Wood and Shepherd in Primrose Hill. I wanted to do a completely different thing and then one day I saw the ‘for sale’ sign here.

What makes you unhappy?
Dishonesty. It really makes me go berserk because I think humans are intelligent enough to be able to tell the truth regardless of anything. We’re not in the Stone Age, especially in this country, so no one is going to cut your head off. There is no need to deceive.

Where do you hang out?
I used to be found in LA Fitness all the time, but they deceived me! I bought a membership on the understanding I could use a club near my home, which I couldn’t, so that was the end of that. I also hang out in shops for a chat with the owners, Morgan’s, Kall Kwik, Itta, Harry – it’s very important to keep in touch with everyone on the high street.

What’s your best local experience? Worst?
The best is meeting so many open minded people. There are a lot here. The worst is the frustrating obstacles to business. As soon as you see things moving up, the landloards, estate agents and the Council jump in. At the start, our rent was under £40,000 for the two shops, now we pay over £140,000. Then we pay £60,000 in Council Tax but we don’t get much for that, we even have to pay for our rubbish collection on top. If it wasn’t so high, we could have cheaper prices for our customers, but it’s like this all over the country.

Tell us a secret.
A few businesses in the high street have been sold to new owners. I know of two of them, confidentially, and if the paperwork goes fine they will be changing very soon. One of them is really not expected and will change to a totally different thing. The other will modernise…

What is your favourite dish and why?
I love aubergine. My favourite way is to do it lasagne style, using the aubergine instead of the sheets of pasta. The cheese, the bolognaise, the Béchamel sauce too, all on one plate? Woah!

What is your favourite smell?
Coffee roasting. I’d love to have space to roast our own beans here in the shop. One guy in Hornsey high street does it and you can smell it right down the road.

Describe yourself as an animal.
Bear. The picture I use for myself on my phone is a bear. Obviously my physical appearance is quite big but I’ve always felt like one.

188 Kentish Town Road. Find Phoenicia on our Nearby map

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  • Clare

    I love that place. The aubergine and chickpea in a wrap with greek salad is delicious and such good value. And those olives, amazing! I just hope the high street doesn’t fall foul to stupid rents and we become another high street full of chains. It’d be such a shame.

  • veetmaya

    Congratulaions on your anniversary Ghassan, great to have your shop there – hope you have continued support ….

  • Joanna Terry

    Ten years already?! Congratulations and many thanks for giving us such a great shop on our doorstep. You and your staff are wonderful.

  • Sue Odell

    Phoenicia! Totally the most FAB shop in Kentish Town! Fantastically well stocked with everything one could need, heavenly spices, delicious olives, incredible pastries, amazing butcher,wonderful friendly staff and it’s just round the corner…Happy 10th Anniversary Ghassan – you’re the best!!!!

  • Susie Clarke

    Pheonicia is Kentish Town Road’s finest asset in my book. I absolutely love it and feel really lucky to have it just around the corner. Congratulations Ghassan and the team- here’s to the next ten years!

  • Carol S

    I too love this place and the staff, just the best, sells almost everything I need and want. Congratulations

  • Michael Pavey

    We moved to the US from Kentish Town a year ago. Phoenicia is one of the things I miss most! And with someone as charismatic, dedicated and down-to-earth as Ghassan running the show, who could be surprised that the result is a wonderful local shop that’s the envy (and destination) of others for miles around!

  • Ella Phileas Hog

    I’ve always loved this place and it’s our go-to shop if we run out of ingredients at the Abbey! I find it pretty disgusting that Camden council are cashing in on someone’s resourceful business nature by charging so much rent and rates. I hope this doesn’t make it hard for them to keep going without pricing out loyal customers.

  • Kate

    My friend & I won a prize on the raffle at the Alma st festival this year. £25 worth of vouchers for Harry’s butcher, £25 for Earth & £25 for Phoenica. My friend went to use the Phoenica voucher 3 days after she had received it to be told it had already expired. She spoke to the manager, who she thought would tell her it was a mistake & of course she could use it, but no, he was really rude & said it was only valid for a week. The vouchers for Harry’s & Earth both last for a year. This suggests that Phoenica didn’t really want to donate to a community raffle at all & are in fact very mean spirited & I for one won’t be shopping in there again & the organises of the Alma St festival have been informed .

  • Alison lowton

    The best shop in Kentish Town bar none!

  • Tee

    Loved working with you Ghassan! A pleasure to shoot!