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Kanwar Sandhanwalia in front of the boarded-up Bandito's

The Suffering of Kanwar Sandhanwalia

Bandito's owner thought he'd be closed for six hours. That was nine months ago.

by Sabine Bickford

From the May, 2018 issue

"Take everything with a grain of salt, because I am frustrated," says Kanwar Sandhanwalia. His family owns Fourth Ave. Mexican restaurant Bandito's, which has been temporarily closed since August.

Sandhanwalia says developer Barbat Holdings originally told him Bandito's would need to close for just six hours to accommodate the ambitious Montgomery Houze project, which is adding three floors of apartments to the formerly two-story building. They amended the time to two months shortly afterwards.

Sandhanwalia put his employees on paid leave and put up a sign in the door letting his customers know Bandito's was closing until October. He figured he would make the best of the time off and travel with his family. The developer had promised to renovate the restaurant's interior during the construction and give him a lump sum to cover some of the lost business, so he saw it as a win-win.

But Sandhanwalia's dream soon careened into nightmare territory.

"I was on the phone with them kind of asking 'What's going on?,' and it was 'delays, delays, delays,'" he says. "Every month it was 'next month.'" He was crushed when he found out that he couldn't open by Cinco de Mayo, his biggest day of the year.

In April, Sandhanwalia told us that the latest date he had heard from Barbat was June. He has continued to update his voicemail message but says he's scared to check the more than 700 messages that have built up. "I hired a professional disc jockey from Detroit [to do the voicemail message], and I have to pay him every time ... We've had to change it eight times."

Incredibly, Sandhanwalia has been paying all of his employees full-time wages out of his own pocket since the closure. "What am I gonna do? I'm a human being. They have families too," he says. "I don't wanna lose good employees."

The lump sum he got from Barbat was only enough for the first two months, and he's since taken over

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$90,000 out of his life savings to support his family and employees. He's hoping he can recoup some of that if the condos bring new customers and new life to the block he calls "Ann Arbor's abandoned child."

Some frustrated diners have reported the restaurant as permanently closed on Google, which Sandhanwalia has had to correct multiple times. He says a big reason he contacted the Observer is to get the word out.

After all the delays, he's hopeful that Bandito's reopening is finally in sight. "The health department just approved us," he says. In early April, workers had just begun rebuilding the interior of the restaurant. "It's getting there," Sandhanwalia says cautiously.

The newest sign out front announces the June timeline. Someone has written "yay!" on it in pen.    (end of article)

[Originally published in May, 2018.]


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