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‘The Freshman’ Launches Pop-Up in Crystal City Shops Ahead of Main Venue Opening

The Freshman is, both figuratively and literally, a little underground.

The restaurant comes from Nick Freshman, who’s also behind Spider Kelly’s in Clarendon. The Freshman is not planned to fully launch in its permanent home at 2011 Crystal Drive until 2020, but in the meantime the eatery has had a quiet “soft launch” across the street in Crystal City Shops.

The pop-up officially opened this morning (Thursday), at the north end of the shops at 2102 Crystal Plaza, in the former Au Bon Pain space

“We’re in plans and permitting across the street,” said Freshman, “but that process… it takes a long time, even opening in a place that used to be a restaurant. You plan and design and it could take a year.”

The plans to open The Freshman got pushed further back as the building underwent both interior and exterior renovations. Freshman said he had the equipment and a team ready to go but nowhere to set them up.

Their main location and the former Au Bon Pain are both owned by JBG Smith, so when Freshman approached the company about the idea of opening a pop-up in the empty space, the property owner was on board.

The pop-up does not offer The Freshman’s full menu. Freshman estimated it was about 40 percent of what’s to come, with dinner and cocktails planned for the main site, but the pop-up currently serves up coffee and breakfast and lunch options that Freshman said the area seemed in desperate need of.

“There’s no point in doing it if we don’t do it well,” Freshman said. “The challenge is worth it because the community is dying for a viable alternative to [existing] breakfast and lunch options.”

The breakfast and lunch offerings include a tofu scramble with vegan cheese, plus sandwiches or salads for lunch. Prices range from $6 for an egg and cheese sandwich to $14 for a Reuben sandwich.

An unofficial “soft opening ” for the restaurant started on Monday, the same day that Arlington was hit with heavy storms from which the county is still struggling to recover.

“We’re underground, so for a while it looked like we might be underwater, but we stayed totally dry,” Freshman said. “We saw more of a surge [of customers] than expected. But even in dry weather, people use this corridor. If you don’t work or live here, you don’t know about it, but if you do it’s a critical part of your movement.”

Currently, Freshman says the pop-up is planned to stay open through the end of the year, but the stay is largely dependent on how fast or slow progress is across the street.

“Right now, we’re meeting people and listening,” Freshman said. “Every night, we’ve been making tweaks to the menu, but that’s normal opening stuff.”

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