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Ravi Patel took over the popular convenience store formerly called Louie’s Superette after purchasing it from longtime proprietor Cheng-San Chen earlier this month.
Patel assumed operations of the Surrey Street beer-and-wine shop, which remains open amid the coronavirus crisis, on March 3.
He said the store — which sits across the street from Mather House — has been “very quiet” in light of the pandemic, which forced Harvard students to move out earlier this month.
“People are scared to come out,” he said.
Chen — known as “Louie” and beloved by many Harvard undergraduates — operated the shop on and off between 1987 and fall 2019. He said some students asked him to keep running the business until after graduation, but he decided he was “too old to run the store.” Some Mather House residents presented Chen with a goodbye card after he announced he would sell the store in the fall.
“I’m very happy to work for all the Harvard students,” Chen said. “[They] are all smart and young. I feel most of [them] will be the future leaders of the world in different fields.”
Chen came to the United States from Taiwan to attend graduate school after undergraduate studies in applied mathematics and a stint in the Taiwanese military. He holds a Ph.D in biophysics and worked for the now-defunct Digital Equipment Corporation before buying the convenience store from Louie G. Palucci — the shop’s namesake — in 1987.
Patel, the store’s new proprietor, said the shop was “jumping” for its first few weeks of operation under new ownership, though business has slowed.
Many Cambridge businesses have shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. Massachusetts Governor Charlie D. Baker ’79 announced Friday that all non-essential businesses in the state must close in order to mitigate the spread of the disease.
Louie’s Superette has faced a multitude of challenges over the years, including robberies, a devastating fire in 1993, multiple liquor license suspensions for allegedly selling alcohol to minors, and a 2005 ownership change that led to a months-long legal battle and Chen taking over the store again after a two-year hiatus.
Chen said the key to success for Patel will be fostering relationships with Harvard affiliates.
“I told the new owner that to be successful, he has to be interested in Harvard University and like the Harvard students,” Chen said.
He added that he misses being able to “talk to the future leaders” attending Harvard who visited his store.
“It’s not just money, it’s community,” Chen said.
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