By MARIA D. JAMES — On Feb. 6 local residents Phil and Annie Esguerra witnessed their dream of running their own Vietnamese restaurant come alive. The couple are the owners of Riverdale Park’s newest restaurant, the Banana Blossom Bistro, located in the heart of Riverdale Park’s historic downtown at 6202 Rhode Island Avenue, Suite 116.

The restaurant is a bit different from the typical mom and pop Vietnamese restaurant. Phil says this was purposely done to create a place that was mindful of their daughter’s serious food allergy.

“Our daughter is allergic to eggs, and it was difficult to find food without eggs in it,” said Phil. “We wanted to created a place that was friendly to dietary restrictions.”

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Banana Blossom Bistro features several dishes friendly to dietary restrictions. The Esguerra’s daughter, who is allergic to eggs, inspired the owner-couple to develop dishes that could be easily modified for dietary needs. Photo courtesy of Banana Blossom Bistro
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Co-owners Phil Esguerra (left) and Annie Esguerra (far right) are pictured with Alan K. Thompson, mayor of the Town of Riverdale (center) at the special celebration hosted on Feb. 2. Photo courtesy of Banana Blossom Bistro

Annie, who manages the kitchen, works with a staff of 12. All of the dishes are made from scratch. First-timers who are new to Vietnamese dishes are greeted by staff who are eager to explain the menu. Diners walk through a serving line to select the dishes, which are then brought to the table after checkout.

The Esguerras selected the location for the restaurant because of its charm, the community and its central location. “We just saw and fell in love with this building and the strong sense of community — that’s what we’re all about,” said Annie.

When the California natives relocated to Hyattsville four years ago, their dream of carrying on the family business traveled with them.

“lt all started with my grandparents in Vietnam. After the Vietnam War, they escaped by boat and eventually ended up in San Jose, California,” said Annie. In the 1970s her grandparents opened one of the first pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) shops in that area, and it became the family business after that.

According to Annie, the name of the restaurant reflects the heart and soul of Vietnam. “Not a lot of people know the banana blossom is the flower of the banana tree,” she explained.

“Another name for the banana blossom is the banana heart. Banana trees are abundant in Vietnam. The same way the flower is the heart of the tree, we feel that hospitality and food is the heart of the restaurant.”

The Esguerras’ love of community is visible in the products and goods from local artists featured throughout the restaurant. Local graphic designer Kate Geyer designed the banana flower logo and coordinated the fun, modern Vietnamese- and French-inspired interior design. The wall color is that of the banana blossom. The tables are handcrafted by another local, Blake Salon. And one special table near the register was handmade by Alex Heitkemper of University Park. The pottery along shelves near the serving line was designed by local resident Leah Schaperow. Schaperow was contacted after Geyer saw her work her on lnstagram.

“All of the pottery was made [with] a handmade glaze,” said Shaperow. Her mugs sell for $38 and the tea cups for $22. Custom pho bowls and spoons are coming soon.

Nearly two years after signing the lease for the building and managing heavy renovations and delays, on February 2 the Esguerra hosted a special celebration and sneak-peek as a thank you to local contributors, residents and supporters. The Hyattsville Life & Times was in attendance as well as members of the Town of Riverdale’s city council, the mayor and Riverdale’s business association.

“We are so excited,” said Alan K. Thompson, mayor of the Town of Riverdale, who first met the Esguerras two years ago at Vigilante Coffee. “I’ve been peering into the window waiting for this day.” Thompson. [Recommended cut for print]

For now, the restaurant plans to maintain its soft launch hours, which is Tuesday through Sunday, from 4 to 9 p.m. Closed on Mondays. Plans for a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony are underway.

“Our goal is to have a thriving business, but at the same time, one of the things [that was] really important to us was having a place where people felt welcome,” said Annie. “We couldn’t have done this without our amazing team.”