Who are we meeting: Hanadi “Hannah” Bouchahine. Owner of Hannah’s Kitchen, 3530 Main St., Stratford.
Hannah and her husband, Andre, have lived and worked in Fairfield County for 23-plus years. Andre is the clubhouse manager at the Greenwich Water Club and Hannah runs the day-to-day business at the deli. They opened “Hannah’s Kitchen,” a deli and catering business, at Paradise Green two and half years ago.
The Bouchahines emigrated to the United States from Lebanon in the 1980s during the country’s civil war.
EH: Hannah, tell me a little bit about how you and your husband became business owners in Stratford.
HB: It was my husband, Andre! It has been his dream to own a business for years. We saw this in a newspaper and he said: “I don’t have to give you a job. You can do it.” We didn’t know it was going to be 60 hours a week.
(She leaps up to help another customer. “Coleslaw?” she asks. “Yes, coleslaw.” Hannah goes to fill the order and the customer tells another: “I don’t know what they do, but I’ve had a lot of coleslaws, and no one can touch theirs.”)
EH: When you moved here from Lebanon, how did you choose Connecticut?
HB: We moved here for college. I came here 29 years ago. Andre came here to go to school at Manhattan College in the Bronx, then got job in at a country club in Greenwich.
I went to Mercy College but didn’t finish because I got pregnant. I always thought I would go back to finish, but you know how that is. Anyway, I said, I can always take continuing ed classes. And I have. I don’t need to get a degree.
We bought a house in Trumbull because we couldn’t afford Greenwich. We looked at all the towns around -- we were looking for six months! Sandy (the oldest daughter) was in first grade when we moved up here. She’s 28 now, and just got married. We have Sandy, Ashley, who is in college in Boston, and Andy who is 18.
EH: You’ve lived here for 30 odd years and have even raised your own family here. Politically Lebanon has changed since you left. Have you ever considered going back? Was there ever a time? You have a lot of family there.
HB: I only went back just once, six years ago and (she shakes her head). It wasn’t the right time. In that area of the world, it’s very volatile. We wanted to go back this summer as a family after the wedding, but it wasn’t a good time.
My oldest, Sandy, wants to go live there. It’s a very beautiful country, but it isn’t always easy. The first time she went, she was 14. She loves it there. My mom and dad and sisters and my husband’s family are all there. Both my husband and I each have a brother and sister here, and now we have son-in-law, so that is our family here.
Of course, we have many cousins all over America. We are always visiting them. They also came here during the civil war in the 1980s. And when Sandy got back from her honeymoon, right away I said: How about a baby?
EH: What do you love, and what do you dislike, about the food business?
HB: I love the people, and would say more than 90 percent of the people are nice. You do get, though rarely, a disgruntled customer. But for the most part, people are friendly. And we’ve made a lot of friends here. Everyone has been so nice to us.
What I don’t like is the long hours. It has been two and a half years we’re here. It’s not the hours you are open: it’s the prep time and the paperwork and the shopping. I close at 5 during the week, but I don’t get home before 7 or 7:30, and I leave the house 6:30 a.m.
Of course, one day you hope to afford to and have people you can depend on so you don’t have to work so hard, but not at the beginning.
EH: How do you differentiate yourselves from other delis?
HB: I’ve had customers tell me they came here for the food and they keep coming because of us. (big smile) We try to offer some Eastern food here. So we have something the others don’t have. We do [homemade] hummus and falafel and a kafta burger. And pretty soon we will start baking again, offering the baklava. It is popular. We sell more of the traditional items than the deli items.
And we deliver, which I don’t know if others do that. Mostly to schools and teachers.
EH: You are known for your outgoing nature with your customers. New Englanders can be a cool bunch. How do you maintain such a friendly attitude all the time?
HB: That is just me! I don’t try. I like people. I can’t imagine being in a workplace without people. I have to be with people. Even when I didn’t work, I was volunteering the kids, just to be around others.
People say, “You sound like an advertisement for Stratford.” I love Stratford. They all come in here: the fire department, teachers, policemen. They are all so wonderful. I know them all by name now.
(During the interview, a bustling, smiling booster from Bunnell High School stops in and asks Hannah if she’ll donate a gift certificate for a football fundraiser. Hannah hops up to oblige. The Bunnell mom finds a good spot in the display window to hang her poster.)
HB: We don’t advertise in newspapers or TV or anything like that. We invest those funds in the school yearbooks, fundraisers and that kind of stuff. That’s how we “advertise.” Things that support the kids.
EH: What’s one item your neighbors should try when they come into Hannah’s Kitchen?
HB: People really love the turkey sandwich with coleslaw, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese. A customer came in, about two or three weeks after we opened. He asked for it. Said he had it at a deli in Stamford and we should try it. We put it on our special board and people really seem to love it. It’s on our permanent special board now.
I personally love the chicken cobb salad. I don’t eat beef, but people love our burgers. We make the patties fresh, to order. Not frozen, of course. Also the “Fireman’s Wrap” is popular, with spicy chicken, pepper jack cheese, honey mustard, and lettuce and tomato, of course.
EH: And my favorite thing is the baklava.
We have three questions we ask each neighbor in our “Have you met…” series. Here they are!
EH: If you could be or do anything else, what would it be?
HB: That one is easy. I would -- how to put it? -- I would be an antique dealer. Though I am not sure if I could sell anything! That is my first love. I worked for seven years in New York at a place with 20 dealers. Gosh, I loved that.
On Valentine’s Day, Andre says: Where are we going? And I say we are going antique shopping! And he can’t say no. Last year, when we went, as we came out he said: “I didn’t have a beard when we walked in there!”
EH: What three words would your friends use to describe you?
HB: Hmmm… friendly. They would probably say, “bubbly,” and I guess, how would you say that I never say no to anybody? Would “helpful” be the word for that? Or dependable?
EH: If you could change one thing about Stratford, what would it be?
HB: I don’t live here, but for others, I hear a lot of people complain about taxes. My brother and sister-in-law live here and they talk about it often.
Also, I would like them to keep the Shakespeare Festival Theatre. I told ] to put me on the volunteer list for their next event.
EH: Thanks Hannah!
Hannah's Kitchen - 3530 Main St.
Monday - Friday: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturdays: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. CLOSED SUNDAY
Call ahead to order 203.870.8172 FAX: 203.870.8173
Is there someone you think your Stratford neighbors should meet? We'd like to meet them too. We are open to suggestions! Drop me a comment here!