Walk into Hampden’s Good Neighbor café and shop and it feels like everything was meant to be photographed for Instagram — from the Japanese ceramics to the hand-painted mirrored entrance sign and obligatory selfie spot, to the stools and chairs by Danish brand Hem. Topped with edible flowers and other colorful ingredients, even the toasts on the food menu were made to sparkle on camera.
The store represents the culmination of a lifetime of design inspirations for co-owner Shawn Chopra picked up on his travels. Chopra, who opened Good Neighbor with his wife Anne Morgan in May, was first struck by Le Corbusier’s concrete brutalist buildings and rattan weavers in his mom’s hometown of Chandigarh, India. Patrons will find the same hard and soft edges in the cafe enveloped in concrete with rattan on the ceiling. Good Neighbor incorporates Baltimore businesses into its worldly aesthetic, including Bramble Baking Co. pastries, Jinji chocolates, Goodwood Design furniture and Personal Best Ceramics. An old-school record player, design and art books, spices and even some beer and wine round out the eclectic selection of items for sale in the former Sirkis Hardware store on Falls Road.
“It’s basically creating the effect of going to your neighbor’s house and sitting down for a nice, simple but fun meal that your neighbor prepared, talking about books and design,” Chopra says.
The couple moved to Baltimore from Ottawa 10 years ago so Morgan, who is of Egyptian heritage, could attend dental school at the University of Maryland. Chopra also worked in healthcare, as a physical therapist, prior to opening the store.
“I always loved design and architecture and I never got to do it,” because his immigrant parents pushed him toward a stable healthcare career, Chopra says. “We’re excited to be able to do what we wanted for many years.”
In normal, non-pandemic times, the space would host customers who can curl up with a book in one of its cozy reading nooks while sipping iced Vietnamese espresso and enjoying thick slabs of brioche topped with labneh and peaches from chef Durian Neal. For now, guests can enjoy the food and drink in the verdant outdoor space, which has 20 seats. Steps from the patio lead to the Greenhouse at Good Neighbor, which quietly opened this month as owners Alyssa Zygmunt and Amanda Fennell Andrews put the finishing touches on the store that sells plants, flowers and design services.
But the store’s opening comes at a tough time for retail businesses, whose challenges were compounded with Covid-19, which has prompted shoppers to make even more of their purchases online from home. Beloved home goods store Trohv recently closed its brick-and-mortar store and was just one of longtime Hampden businesses to buckle under the weight of the pandemic. Making their business venture even more challenging is the fact that the couple welcomed their first child in June.
“It’s scary. We didn’t know what to expect,” Chopra says. “Weekends have been really busy. We can’t complain. We’re keeping the team as small as possible so we can afford everyone.” The shop’s multiple revenue streams, which include a liquor license to sell beer and wine, also give it a cushion. I think we’ll be okay on the other side of things.”
Later this month, the business owners plan will extend the hours on Fridays and Saturdays so guests can enjoy chaat and other Indian-inspired small plates on the patio. Eventually, they would like to host socially distant conversations with artists and other creatives. “I give Chef Durian flavors and he takes that and runs with it,” Chopra says.
He says Good Neighbor’s primary goal is to offer a welcoming space for the community with good food and drinks and the retail is secondary. “We’re excited to do something new. We don’t know where we’ll be in six months, but we think we’re off to a decent start.”
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