It’s the stuff of North Baltimore legend. How in 1944, Victor Cohen opened Victor’s, a small market in the historic Tudor shopping center in Roland Park. How, after buying a grocery franchise from Eddie Levy, Victor kept the Eddie’s Supermarket name for his newer, = bigger store on Roland Avenue. How his loyal butcher shop customers insisted that Victor’s meat was better than Eddie’s, and to keep them happy, Cohen offered two butcher shops in his new grocery. Thirty-five years later, Eddie’s still has two butcher shops, Victor’s Prime Meat and Eddie’s USDA Choice Meat—side by side and virtually identical—a source of wonder and amusement to the uninitiated.
Eddie’s feels like the bar in “Cheers” where everybody knows your name. It’s friendly, old-fashioned. On a cold day, Carl Sanders opens the door for shoppers wearing an elegant, full-length cashmere overcoat. Lengthy and deeply personal conversations are held in the aisles. Flirtation is rife. One Roland Parker, who claims to visit three times a day, fears that “when the bomb hits, I will be in the deli line at Eddie’s.”
On the 70th anniversary of Eddie’s of Roland Park (no relation, by the way, to the Eddie’s of Charles Village or Mount Vernon), we spoke to Nancy Cohen at the second Eddie’s store on North Charles Street, which she bought in 1990. Victor Cohen’s daughter and only child, Nancy reflects on her decision to carry on one of Baltimore’s most beloved brands.
My earliest memory of Eddie’s is sitting on the window ledge at the Roland Park store eating Dad’s Oatmeal Cookies out of a huge gold tin.
I have a master’s in psychology from Loyola. But, in 1981, I decided to switch gears—going into the family business instead of going on for an advanced degree.
There was resistance at first. I’d been hanging around the store with my dad since I was a little girl, and when I began to take charge, some people had a problem with that.
Relying on instinct is something you learn with time. I pushed hard, against my dad’s advice, to buy the Charles Street Eddie’s, which has been a great success. And I made a mistake years ago in not buying a property—I won’t say where, but it’s one I still regret.
It is fun, mostly. I love being in the stores, sourcing new products, talking to customers, finding out what they want. Have you tried the Manoucher bread, by the way?
I found this olive oil in Tuscany and a wonderful cheese up in Vermont. We’ve always supported local vendors—Zeke’s Coffee, Berger Cookies, Vanns Spices—and local growers, too. If only it could just be about picking out the food!
But there’s so much more than supplying the groceries. It’s the real estate, the liquor licensing, the staffing, the training—and there’s more regulation every year. That’s the stress of being an independent.
Employee benefits are something I feel strongly about. We need to do good when we can. I really love my employees.
We look for people who like people. That’s my top hiring criteria. The skill set is second. I want to see a smile.
The customer has changed. People want to know a lot more about their food now, which is great. Personal service is still valued, but customers are in more of a hurry these days. Convenience is a priority.
People tell us they want tables outside of Eddie’s. We do, too. Roland Park is due for a major renovation—and that’s definitely part of our plan. We are starting renovations on the Charles Street store in early 2015.
The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins is a cause close to my heart. And my synagogue, Chizuk Amuno. We support the Roland Park community by providing the local schools with gifts. And we sponsor Little League teams, naturally.
What else? I’m an animal lover. I have an American bulldog named Dylan and a pit bull named Abby. They’re both rescues. And I adopted Siena—a big, beautiful Cane Corso.
I have an old farmhouse in Brooklandville, with some land. Of course it needs work. And it smells like dog.
—As told to Cynthia McIntyre