Anyone on a diet who steps inside Khaled H. Khaled’s recently opened store Nutcracker in Fairfield might find themselves putting their self-imposed food restrictions aside.
Nutcracker offers a wide selection of gourmet snacks, including nuts, dried fruits, sweets, trail mixes and Middle Eastern mini-pastries, along with freshly brewed Turkish coffee — and, needless to say, it is more than challenging to exit the store without succumbing to its tasty temptations.
For Khaled, Nutcracker offers an American continuation of his Egyptian family’s business — his grandfather opened the original Nutcracker in Cairo in 1960, which his father continued to operate. Khaled left Egypt for the U.S. in 2012 and held various jobs, including a gas station manager and an Uber driver before deciding to go into business for himself earlier this year.
Khaled is eager to point out the multinational and multicultural aspects of his inventory, including bottled spices from Jordan and Lebanon, sunflower seeds from Israel and candies from Malaysia and Thailand.
And while many food retailers have complained recently of supply chain disruptions and rising prices on commodities, Khaled has not faced those problems — most of his baked goods are freshly made in small batches at a Brooklyn factory, while he has contracted with an importer who has brought goods from overseas without incurring exorbitant costs.
Khaled has studied accounting in his Egyptian homeland and was eager to make a better life for his family in the U.S. But when he initially settled in a predominantly Arab community in Bayonne, New Jersey, he felt that he was not becoming assimilated into his new country.
“I stayed just one year,” he said of his Garden State residency. “It was not good for me because everybody was speaking Arabic.”
Khaled relocated his family to Fairfield, where his family was fully immersed in the American society — his daughter enrolled in Ludlowe High School and later graduated from Southern Connecticut State University.
“This was different,” he said of his Connecticut surrounding. “Everybody speaks English.”
When he decided to reboot his family’s business in Fairfield, Khaled settled on the former site of Carpet City and Flooring Center at 1555 Black Rock Turnpike that had been vacant for five years. Nutcracker is part of a small shopping plaza that includes two restaurants, a barber shop and a hookah store, thus ensuring a steady customer flow.
Khaled admitted that it was a learning experience to determine what he needed to bring Nutcracker to life, particularly in dealing with local health codes for a food retailing operation.
“This was my first time,” he said about becoming an entrepreneur. “I had no experience here.”
Yet Khaled was adamant in determining that Nutcracker would focus strictly on retail sales and not double as a café. Although there is a small section within the store with seating, Khaled insisted that any customer presence there was brief.
“You can take coffee and relax, but it is usually just for 15 minutes,” he said.
As for his family in Egypt, Khaled is considering a return visit after a long absence now that Nutcracker is up and running.
“It has been 10 years since I’ve been there,” he said. “Maybe I can go next month.”