Downtown Charleston is home to several corner stores but few have the rich history that Charlie’s Grocery does. Opened in 1996 by Charlie Dabit, the Jasper Street grocery store has kept nearby residents and college students in stock with the essentials and more. Anyone who has ever experienced Charlie’s knows there is an impressive deli within. Beyond the Boar’s Head and large selection of homemade salads and jumbo pickles, there is one of Charleston’s most delicious treats, falafel. While falafel can be found at a few restaurants downtown and beyond, Charlie’s is arguably the best. The Charleston Daily (CD) sat down with Abe, Charlie’s eldest son who is now at the helm of day to day operations. We talked history, falafel and the future.
CD: Tell me about Charlie’s.
Abe: Charlie’s is our family’s store. We have been in business going on 18 years in April. The Jasper Street store was opened in April of 1996 and we recently opened a second store at the corner of Spring and Rutledge.
CD: Looks like you are running the Jasper Street store now. Where is Mr. Charlie?
Abe: My father is still around. Every morning he is at our Spring Street location. He’s very much a part of the business still. He has given a lot of the responsibility to me and my brother though.
CD: Enough small talk. Tell me about the falafel.
Abe: (laughing) What do you want to know?
CD: What makes it so great? Whose recipe is it?
Abe: It’s just really fresh. The falafel is my mother’s family’s recipe and it hasn’t changed. It’s really simple. There is a basic ratio of chickpeas, onions, cilantro, and spices but there is no real measuring. It’s based on taste.
CD: So it’s a secret…. Would you ever considering opening a restaurant?
Abe: Yeah, especially with Middle Eastern food including falafel. Charleston kind of lacks in that area, but we have a few places around like Tabbuli and Manny’s. We have definitely considered opening a restaurant.
CD: What is the strangest thing a customer has requested?
Abe: That’s a toughie… Actually, pig’s feet! We used to carry them in jars. We had to talk my father into dropping them. People would request them, and there you are, reaching in, grabbing a pig’s foot, stuffing it in a bag and sending them on their merry way. Disgusting.
CD: What is the biggest challenge Charlie’s has experienced?
Abe: Finding trustworthy, good help. My father is very old fashioned. It’s very difficult to walk away and allow someone else to do this job.
CD: What does Charlie’s mean to your family?
Abe: Charlie’s is ours and we take care of it like it is a child. It’s everything to us.
On that note, I dove into the falafel pita Abe had carefully prepared for me. The pita was generously stuffed with flattened orbs of fried falafel and refreshing cubes of cucumbers, tomatoes and onions. The falafel were crispy on the outside and tender inside. Where so many falafel are dense, these were light and bouncy. The optional hot sauce was no joke, even for me. The creamy hummus was a welcome option and it gave the sandwich a layer of depth that made it a satisfying meal. This falafel, like the many others I have enjoyed from Charlie’s, was perfection.
Charlie’s original corner store and deli is located at 1 Jasper Street. Charlie’s second location is open at Spring and Rutledge. Their hours are Monday – Saturday 9am-8pm and Sunday 10am -6pm. Falafel and other sandwiches can be ordered ahead from the Jasper Street location by calling: (843) 853-0351