Eddie’s of Mount Vernon has Ashish Bhandari’s heart.

The 33-year-old is well-versed in the business world. His father-in-law runs Nepal House South Asian restaurant — which is how Bhandari met his wife — and he has managed the property for them since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally from Nepal, Bhandari has also opened liquor stores and a deli in Annapolis, and managed a Pulaski Highway car dealership.

But there is something about Eddie’s. Dennis Ritcher, who owns the property on West Eager Street, told him so when Ritcher was looking for a new operator to run the former neighborhood staple. Ritcher met with Bhandari several times, inquiring about how much time he could commit to the grocery.

“This property right here is about business, definitely,” Ritcher told Bhandari. “But it’s also for the community. So we want to make sure that it’s a 100% success.”

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Bhandari has been hard at work getting Eddie’s ready for opening in the summertime. He is taking the same care he did with the deli, which also had a lot of public sentiment tied to it. He kept much of the same merchandise but added a modern touch. He wants to do something similar with Eddie’s, adding more of a variety of produce, opening the store up with bigger windows and adding an international food aisle. Bhandari also wants to make sure that when the store is ready to open, it will be accept SNAP benefits.

Bhandari has been working under the guidance of Dennis Zorn, Eddie’s former operator. Zorn, who closed the store last June, said staffing issues and shoplifting had been major concerns and driving forces to his retirement.

It was Bhandari’s “entrepreneurial spirit” that got the backing of Jack Danna, president of Mount Vernon — Belvedere Association, among many of the community members looking for a new tenant ever since Eddie’s closed. Bhandari understood the power in the name and what it meant, Danna said.

It “speaks to his testament to the community and why I think the store will be successful,” Danna said.

Baltimore Banner: So, why buy the name? What is the power of the name in the community?

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Ashish Bhandari: Usually, when I go and do other businesses, I choose the name. But here I felt that [the name] was so much connected with the sentiment of people. So I just thought, ‘Let’s keep it as it is.’ Because it already has the brand built.

Baltimore Banner: Can you tell us more about the process moving forward?

Bhandari: We’re assessing what to keep and what to get rid of. … So we’re hand picking those items and then once that is done, then we’ll start doing the layout and the façade is already in process. We have a vision in our mind.

Baltimore Banner: Can you say anything about that?

Bhandari: There’ll be glass windows where we can see from the outside people walking and out. Then I wanted people to see the other corner, not make the shelves pretty high on the produce side so that you can see what’s on the deli.

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Baltimore Banner: You said you’ve talked to Dennis Zorn about some of the struggles he had with the store. How are you keeping that in mind moving forward?

Bhandari: I think the biggest challenge he had was retaining the employees and the local shoplifting issues — that really gave him a hard time. I’m thinking how those things can be controlled and I think the openness of the store with the glass make this place look safer from outside. And I’m having mixed feelings about having a security guard that is armed, but if things are needed to that extent, I’m willing to.

Baltimore Banner: Can you share a little bit more of the products that you’re gonna bring?

Bhandari: The biggest piece that I learned from Dennis Zorn, the former owner, was people here love the local products, not the commercial products, but the local products. So I’ve been researching a lot on this lately. Like cheese, dairy products, ice creams, and even craft beers.

Baltimore Banner: How does this business and this investment compare to the other businesses you run?

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Bhandari: I will be focusing more on how we can do business as well as make the community happy here. I mean, there’s so many things involved, a lot of hats, bigger hats involved like Jack [Danna,] Dennis Ritcher, my father-in-law. So like I said, the pressure is really high on me right now. But I’m pretty optimistic that things will work out.

I see a bigger opportunity here. … I think this one is going to be a pretty big venture in terms of learning, in terms of experience and in terms of business growth.

Baltimore Banner: Have you been getting a lot of requests?

Bhandari: I was just at Nepal House and people were coming with requests of what they want. … I was really happy. Even this morning just before coming here, there was a suggestion for me to maybe keep the hot warm food there. So I’ve been getting feedback.

Clara Longo de Freitas is a neighborhood reporter covering East Baltimore communities. Before joining the Banner, she interned at The Baltimore Sun as an emerging news and community reporter. She also has design and illustration experience with several news organizations, including The Hill and NPR.

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