Editor’s Note: Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.
One by one, he would walk in and see every restaurant, every coffee shop, every boutique had a different method for gift certificates; Some took as long as 15 minutes to provide one.
“I saw it as really ripe to be automated,” Robertson said. “The whole concept needed to be redone. I was doing software managemnt for years, and all of those experiences made me think ‘I could do better than that.’”
Two years ago, Robertson “just quit the day job and decided to do it.” He launched GiftRocker, with no outside funding, and brought in veterans of the local retail scene — head of business development Michael Scruggs in 2011 and Vice President of Sales Michael Rosen a few months ago — to try and revolutionize the way small businesses handle gift cards.
Rosen and Scruggs are gregarious sales types with connections all over the area. While Robertson is engaging when talking about his company and product, he is most comfortable building the product itself, and letting his work do the talking.
“As a technology guy, building the product, that was fun for me,” Robertson said. “It’s like a long crossword puzzle.”
GiftRocker is a tool for businesses to create customizable gift certificates, sold online, on mobile or in store. It can also be used for pre-selling event tickets and designing and creating promotions, among other services. The biggest distinguisher between GiftRocker and well-known sites that offer comparable services, like Groupon or Eventbrite, is each service is offered as an extension of the client’s brand, not GiftRocker’s.
The GiftRocker icon is just subtly placed at the bottom of each gift certificate page, which, despite being hosted by GiftRocker.com, are designed to strongly resemble the client’s website.
The GiftRocker team has already brought its services to about 30 Arlington businesses, and approaching 100 in the greater Washington, D.C., area.
One of the businesses Robertson has partnered with is House of Steep at 3800 Lee Highway in Cherrydale. Owner Lyndsey DePalma is about to celebrate her one-year anniversary of running the store, and started offering gift cards with GiftRocker last October.
“I tried traditional gift cards and it not work out for me,” DePalma said. She was managing a spreadsheet that was getting unmanageable. Now, about 30 percent of her gift card sales occur online. “I just remember reconciling my books after the first round of online orders and saying ‘where did all this money come from?’”
Before GiftRocker, Scruggs was working for the group that owns Lyon Hall, The Liberty Tavern and Northside Social in Clarendon. Now, the three restaurants are all GiftRocker clients, coming on board after Backyard BBQ, Giftrocker’s first customer, and Lebanese Taverna, GiftRocker’s first “anchor client,” as Rosen puts it.
“The system is really a victory for consumers,” Rosen said. “There’s so much noise in the marketplace in this area. Cutting through it is very difficult, and we have a tool to do that.”
They’re still operating remotely — out of their homes in Arlington and various coffee shops — but nimbly enough to adapt to each client’s needs. GiftRocker’s next step is to expand nationally, but Robertson, Scruggs and Rosen are still deliberating over how to do it.
“When we figure it out, we’ll tell you,” Robertson said.
(Updated at 1:20 p.m.) Vice President Joe Biden stopped by Liberty Tavern (3195 Wilson Blvd) in Clarendon this morning to film a segment for a TV news show.
Biden was one of the guests on the MSNBC show Morning Joe, which filmed a roundtable discussion on gun reform at the restaurant.
It’s not the first VIP visit for the Clarendon restaurant. President Obama dined at Liberty Tavern on October 27, 2011. Biden, for his part, is no strangers to popular Arlington eateries. He had lunch at Metro 29 Diner on Dec. 7, 2012.
Biden and his security detail arrived at Liberty Tavern around 11:00 a.m., Clarendon Patch reported via Twitter. The Vice President left at 12:15 p.m., flashing a big smile and a thumbs up to a crowd that had gathered across the street. Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski stood outside O’Sullivan’s, across from Liberty Tavern, to see Biden’s departure.
Liberty Tavern co-owner Mark Fedorchak said Biden and the other guests were served pastries and coffee from Northside Social, which he and his brother Stephen also own.
Fedorchak said Biden “was very conversational” and talked with him about their mutual northeastern Pennsylvania roots. As it turns out, Biden used to enjoy going to the Scranton-area Circle Drive-In Theatre, which is owned by the Fedorchaks’ uncle.
That wasn’t the only incidental connection between Biden and Liberty Tavern’s ownership group. Restaurant co-owner and local developer Brian Normile got a chance to apologize to Biden for accidentally driving a ball into his golf foursome during a recent trip to Kiawah Island, South Carolina.
The Vice President apparently didn’t mind. According to Fedorchak, Biden wrote a gracious note on a menu before leaving the restaurant.
“Next time lunch, thanks for the hospitality,” it said.
Photos by ARLnow.com except as noted
Career Fair Coming Next Week — Registration is now open for the second annual Arlington Employment Center Fall Career Fair. The career fair will allow job hunters to “meet with over 50 area top employers with jobs in IT, administration, education, construction, banking, retail, healthcare, transportation and more.” It will be held on Tuesday, Oct. 23, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at George Mason University’s Founders Hall (3351 Fairfax Drive). Registration is free. [Arlington County]
Liberty Tavern Makes Fall Dining Guide — Clarendon’s Liberty Tavern is the sole Arlington entrant on food critic Tom Sietsema’s 2012 Fall Dining Guide. The guide lists 40 of Sietsema’s favorite restaurants around the region. [Washington Post]
Elevation Burger Still Expanding — Arlington-based Elevation Burger is celebrating the opening of its 30th store. The burger chain’s main corporate office is located in Ballston and an Elevation Burger restaurant is located at 2447 N. Harrison Street, in the Lee-Harrison Shopping Center. [Restaurant News]
Flickr pool photo by Mark C. White
The sister establishments will be holding a joint anniversary event at Liberty Tavern (3195 Wilson Blvd) tomorrow night (Thursday, April 12). From 4:00 p.m. until close, the restaurant will be offering two specialty cocktails from its opening menu — the “Pursuit of Happiness” and the “Industrial” — for $5. Starting at 9:00 p.m., at the bar and lounge, Liberty Tavern will also be offering complimentary Liberty pizza, Lyon Hall frankfurters and Northside Social confections.
The 2011 RAMMY award finalists have been announced, but only two Arlington restaurants made the list.
Clarendon’s Liberty Tavern was nominated for Best Upscale Casual Restaurant and Lyon Park’s EatBar was nominated for Best Neighborhood Gathering Space.
In a fractional victory, Tiffany MacIsaac of Neighborhood Restaurant Group — which operates EatBar, Tallula and Rustico in Arlington, along with restaurants in the District and Alexandria — was nominated for Best Pastry Chef.
Five nominees were announced in each of 14 categories. Among the categories in which Arlington did not have a nominee were Best New Restaurant, Best Mixology/Beverage Program and Hottest Restaurant Bar Scene.
Last year Arlington had four RAMMY nominees. Each went home from the award ceremony empty-handed.
Flickr pool photo by Chris Rief
Despite Arlington’s burgeoning culinary scene, the local restaurants nominated for the 2010 RAMMY awards were shut out at tonight’s ceremony. The annual awards dinner, organized by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, was held at the Marriott Wardman Park in Northwest D.C.
The Arlington nominees who went home empty-handed were:
- EatBar (Neighborhood Gathering Place of the Year)
- Eventide (New Restaurant of the Year)
- Liam LaCivita — The Liberty Tavern (Rising Culinary Star of the Year)
- Josh Short — EatBar/Tallula/Neighborhood Restaurant Group (Pastry Chef of the Year)
Our Northern Virginia neighbors fared better at the ceremony, however.
2941 Restaurant of Falls Church won for Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year and its pastry chef, Anthony Chavez, won for Pastry Chef of the Year. Alexandria’s Vermilion Restaurant was named Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year.
The winners in the remaining categories all hailed from the District.
The 44-year-old Italian eatery closed last month after owner Ermanno Tonizzo decided to sell the restaurant and retire. We hear that the new owners are trying to decide whether Alpine will remain a restaurant or will be transformed into something else.
It’s not clear what other form the property may take — a bar or a coffee shop would not be out of the realm of possibility — but so far the new owners have been very tight-lipped about their apparent acquisition.
Liberty’s Stephen Fedorchak had no comment about the group’s plans. Without explicitly confirming that a deal was made, he said it would be “months” before anything regarding Alpine is revealed.
Note: See our latest news on Lyon Hall here.
Lyon Hall is announcing its presence to the world. The French-style brasserie, located a block from the Clarendon Metro, just erected some retro-themed outside signage. It has also launched a presence on Facebook and Twitter.
The owners, who first made their mark in Clarendon with Liberty Tavern, hope to open Lyon Hall by the end of the month. Their other Clarendon development, Northside Social, is expected to open around the same time.
Perhaps trying to distance itself from similar but pricey DC establishments like Brasserie Beck, Lyon Hall is promoting itself as a “casual and affordable” neighborhood restaurant.
Lyon Hall will feature seating for 231, including an outdoor patio and a private dining room. Food will be of the “French brasserie fare” variety, with a heavy German influence. The menu will include burgers, steaks, schnitzel, a variety of sausages and a raw bar.
The drink menu will feature 20 wines by the glass, 40 wines by the bottle, 20 beers on tap and a “wide variety” of bottled beers from France, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic.
The restaurant is named after Frank Lyon, who developed the 1940s Streamline Moderne building in which Lyon Hall is housed.
Liberty Tavern’s owner is expanding his presence in Clarendon with two new storefronts, expected to open in a few weeks. Northside Social, a high-end coffee shop and wine bar, will be located at Wilson Blvd and Fairfax Dr, across from Silver Diner. Lyon Hall, a “European-style brasserie,” will be located at Washington Blvd and N Highland St.
Washingtonian has the details on two of Liberty’s new culinary hires, both of whom hail from well-regarded Manhattan restaurants.