Saleh Safi is the proud owner of Jordan Valley Wholefood stores in Nicolson Street, opposite the Festival Theatre.
Safi moved from Palestine in the 1970s as a result of a ‘bit of luck’ as his family were far from wealthy. Studying in England he gained his A levels and swiftly moved to Edinburgh in the late 1970s to study civil engineering at Edinburgh University.
He continued with his masters in 1984 on a part time basis due to meeting his future Scottish wife and starting a family. Safi has seven children ranging from 9 – 27 years old and 1 grandson.
He started his PhD in engineering in 1985 but had a ‘lightbulb’ moment when passing a shop in Potterrow, which is now the Nile Valley restaurant.
Safi knew nothing about running a restaurant or shop so it came as a surprise to him when he bought it on the condition that he deposited a lump sum and paid the rest up 4 years later, all on the strength of a handshake. Safi laughs “I knew nothing about cooking, I had to phone back home for takeaway recipes”. He ran ‘Al Helal’ till 1990 but had to call it a day as it wasn’t exactly making much profit.
Not to be deterred by his first business venture experience, in 1991 he rented his current premises at 8 Nicolson Street as a delicatessen , renaming the shop ‘Jordan Valley’. The shop has evolved so much over the years to meet market trends. Safi recalls in the 1990s that coffee was very popular, but now he stocks a wide range of teas, mainly organic which have overtaken his coffee sales.
Safi explains that he stocks ‘a little bit from every country’ and upon looking through the shelves, he’s not wrong. There is produce from Turkey, Japan, Nepal, Morocco and China to name a few. You could spend a good couple of hours in Safi’s shop examining all the products and discovering new ones you hadn’t noticed before as regular customers often do.
Safi expanded his business by making ‘Jordan Valley’ products and now sells them in other Edinburgh shops such as Margiottas and Real Foods as well as his own. His products are also stocked in Glasgow and he has plans to expand his sales to the rest of Scotland. His factory is in Fife and is where all the shop’s cardboard is carefully recycled.
Whilst interviewing him, he took delivery of crates of his cakes and pies from his factory and made no hesitation in restocking the fridge in front of me as they literally flew off the shelves. The selection of pies and pasties is amazing, with all tastes catered for (vegetarian and vegan included). The shop also sells a wonderful selection of spices, everything you could possibly need to make a curry or any exotic dish. He sells a range of fresh sauces and dips (which he also produces) with his two top sellers being chili sauces.
Unique products to his shop include sechuan and lemon pepper, Turkish figs and Goji berries. His fresh food cabinet has a great selection of olives, falafel and fresh turkish delight. This counter is along side the eco household products that he sells after his daughter’s suggestion, again a sign he moves with the times.
One of his biggest sellers is his range of quinoa bars which are strategically placed beside the counter. Safi would think nothing of opening one for you to try. They are gluten free, sugar free and suitable for vegans but are delicious and come in a variety of flavours. Perfect for a snack, but also great for activities such as cycling and hill walking.
I spent almost 2 hours with Safi and there was a constant stream of customers coming into the shop, with no set demographic. People travel from across the city to stock up on his fabulous range, some of which are from their home countries.
His regular customers are aware of his weekly tasting nights and those who don’t know are told as he hands over their change. Held on Tuesdays from 6pm, Safi serves tea and offers tasting samples. He says he is sometimes there till the late hours as he gets talking and doesn’t ‘know where the time goes’. I laugh at this as I have spent the quickest two hours in his shop getting to know this extremely friendly and educated family man with lots of tales to tell.
When questioned about whether he would ever go back to engineering to use his PhD qualification, he laughs and says that his shop is where he belongs now. His official opening hours are 10am – 7pm Monday through Saturday but on Sundays Safi sometimes doesn’t open till 3pm as ‘it depends on my mood’. He stays open till the late evening, and probably gaining new passing customers in the process.
Safi has plans for his shop which include a complete re-haul with a cafe downstairs which looks up to the shop as a balcony. I have no doubt that this shop will continue to go from strength to strength with its’ loyal shoppers due to the friendly customer service from his and other family members that work there.
On one of the many occasions that I visited the shop before this interview, he was telling customers, ‘if you can’t reach it, I will’ and hopped up his ladder for access to the higher shelves.
Jordan Valley foods is well worth a visit, but make sure you take a big shopping bag as there are so many things to tempt your taste buds, you will want to buy them all.
Suitable for disabled ? Yes, the shop is on ground floor and room to manoeuvre