Arlington’s own Pupatella was recently named one of the best pizzas places in Virginia by Food & Wine Magazine.

“The only thing more authentically Neapolitan than the pillow-like pizzas practically flying from the oven at Pupatella in Arlington is [owner] Enzo Algarme himself,” reads part of the story’s blurb.

Reached by phone while visiting their parents in Naples, Italy, owners Enzo Algarme and Anastasiya Laufenberg tell ARLnow that they are “incredibly grateful” and “honored” for the distinction. In fact, they were not aware of the story until ARLnow reached out.

The married couple opened their first restaurant in 2010 on Wilson Blvd in the Bluemont neighborhood — from which they nearly moved last year — after getting their start selling pizza from a food cart.

Since, they’ve opened four more locations including another in Arlington along S. Walter Reed Drive, one in Reston, one in D.C., and their most recent in Richmond.

Expansion is continuing, the owners confirm, with additional locations in the Mosaic District and Springfield planned for the coming months.

Laufenberg says they owe their popularity and the ability to grow, even after a rough pandemic year, to their customers. While it was a challenge those first months, says Laufenberg, they’ve been able to gain nearly all of their business back recently and have rehired staff they had to let go.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the neighborhood,” says Laufenberg. “Our customers didn’t forget about us and have left huge tips for our staff.”

They’ve also recovered by focusing on delivery and take-out, but additionally realizing the need to shift to more outdoor seating.

“One of the biggest ways the pandemic changed us…is our commitment to building out nice, large patios,” says Laufenberg. “People are still scared to eat inside, so having big outdoor patios is a way to help with that.”

Both the locations on Wilson Blvd and S. Walter Reed Drive now have expansive outdoor seating.

Last year, 90% of Pupatella’s sales were from delivery and take-out, she says, but now that ratio is closer to 50/50 with more folks dining outside.

Of course, Pupatella’s popularity is overwhelming due to the quality of its pizza, which has earned it numerous other awards and honors over the years.

“Every region, city in Italy has their own pizza, but everyone knows that Neapolitan pizza is the original,” says Laufenberg about their style of pizza. And that has a lot to do with the wood-fired oven used to them.

All of the ovens used at Pupatella restaurants are certified by the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, meaning they adhere to two-century-old Neapolitan techniques.

The oven bricks are even built using volcanic ash from Mount Vesuvius, which last erupted in 1944.

The ash provides the bricks the ability to retain heat very well, explains Laufenberg, which allows the oven to heat up fast and cook the pizza very quickly.

“There’s still ash left… we don’t know when it’s going to run out,” says Laufenberg.

Back in 2010 when they first contemplated opening their own business, Laufenberg admits she and Algarme were scared. Building a Neapolitan pizza business is expensive and very labor intensive, after all.

Even training staff to use the ovens is difficult and requires a steep learning curve — hence, why a number of employees have been with them since nearly the beginning. But more than a decade later, even with a pandemic, it is paying off.

“You always wonder ‘is it worth it to go the extra mile? Will people know the difference?” she rhetorically asks. “Well, that extra work is worth it and people have noticed.”

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Rep. Don Beyer announced yesterday that he has requested federal funds to go toward a health initiative and two parks projects in Arlington County.

If approved, the funding would fund repaving a section of the Bluemont Junction Trail and repairing replacing a key pedestrian bridge in Glencarlyn Park. It would also purchase vehicles needed by a mobile response team that would respond to behavioral health crises rather than police.

The money would come from the Fiscal Year 2022 Community Project Funding Program, which provides targeted funding for local projects nationwide. Representatives were able to submit requests for up to 10 projects but there is no guarantee of approval. Beyer also requested money for projects benefiting the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church as well as Fairfax County.

“The infrastructure requests would enhance pedestrian routes in the region, support [electric vehicles] and other environmentally friendly initiatives, fund mental health resources, and support a pilot program for the deployment of body-worn cameras for the Alexandria Police Department,” Beyer said. “These are worthy projects deserving of federal funding.”

For the Bluemont Junction Trail, Beyer requested $325,000 to repave a segment of the trail and adjacent connector paths, improvements that the county identified during a 2018 trails assessment.

“The current trail pavement and connectors are in deteriorating condition with limited or poor access from adjacent and intersecting streets,” the announcement said.

Separately, the county is using capital funding to improve where the trail intersects with N. Kensington Street, N. Emerson Street and N. Buchanan Street.

Beyer requested $800,000 to replace the Glencarlyn Park pedestrian bridge lost during the July 2019 flash flooding. So far, only the Lubber Run Park bridge has been replaced, although the Glencarlyn bridge was also included in Arlington’s adopted 2021 Capital Improvements Plan.

“Of the six pedestrian bridges lost in the flooding event, the most important one for connectivity is the bridge in Glencarlyn Park,” Beyer’s announcement said. “This bridge connects the main park area, dog exercise area and neighboring communities to the west of Four Mile Run to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. The bridge connection is important as both a commuter connection and for recreation and leisure walks on the W&OD Trail.”

On behalf of Arlington County, Beyer requested $390,000 to purchase two medically-equipped vehicles to be used by a team tasked with responding to mental health crises. Arlington’s Police Practices Group recently recommended that the county transition from dispatching police to such incidents to sending out a specialized mobile crisis response unit.

“The requested funds will support a ‘Help not Handcuffs’ approach to ensure that persons in behavioral health crises receive the most appropriate assistance needed when and where they need it,” Beyer’s announcement said. “A behavioral health response vs. a law enforcement response will increase community-based mental health care, decrease emergency department use, reduce inpatient admissions, divert from the criminal justice system and supports racial justice.”

In its lengthy report, the Police Practices Group also recommended procuring specialized vehicles or retrofitting existing ones for the mobile crisis unit.

The vehicles would supplement $574,000 in the county’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget to support an enhanced mental health crisis response program in the Department of Human Services. That allocation would fund a physician’s assistant, nurse, clinician, transport van and operating supplies.

Photo via Flickr pool user Tom Mockler

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The County Board is set to consider a set of projects that would upgrade sidewalks and improve a small park.

Of the four, three focus on pedestrian improvements with an eye toward walkability for Arlington Public Schools students in the Bluemont, Columbia Heights and Fairlington neighborhoods. The fourth would fund improvements to 11th Street Park in Clarendon.

These upgrades, at a cost of roughly $2 million in total, were given a thumbs up last December by Arlington’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee. This group identifies needed improvements such as sidewalks, street beautification, street lights and parks and recommends them to the County Board.

At the intersection of 6th Street N. and N. Edison Street in Bluemont, the committee proposes to widen some corners and build out the sidewalks as well as upgrade landscaping and accessible ramps.

“It’ll be very visible to cars that people are crossing,” project representative Nick Pastore said during the December meeting. “That will help slow the rate of speed of cars going around those corners.”

Drivers take these residential roads “at a pretty decent speed” to avoid N. George Mason Drive between N. Carlin Springs Road and Wilson Blvd, he said.

At the intersection of 12th Street S. and S. Scott Street in Columbia Heights, nearu Columbia Pike, NCAC is requesting $500,000 to conduct a feasibility study for improving the intersection by extending the street corners, and making improvements to the crosswalks, landscaping and accessible ramps.

“This improved crossing will help students walking from nearby S. Courthouse Road to Hoffman-Boston [Elementary School] safely cross a busy road,” said Kristin Haldeman, director of multimodal transportation planning for Arlington Public School, in a letter to the county.

She added that the extra curb space “will provide more room for students in the area who attend Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School to wait for their bus at the intersection.”

Columbia Heights Civic Association member Sarah McKinley welcomed the project for the neighborhood of apartment buildings and condos, saying the committee has been criticized over the years for mostly benefitting single-family neighborhoods.

“Here’s an example of an NC project that can benefit both types of neighborhoods,” she said.

In Fairlington, the committee proposes a sidewalk, curb, and gutter along the north side of S. Abingdon Street between 31st Street S. and 31st Road S. — near the STEM Preschool and the former Fire Station 7.

Fairlington representative Ed Hilz said these changes would improve walking paths for students getting to Abingdon Elementary School.

“Currently, there’s a staircase that is not very convenient to negotiate for children,” he said.

Finally, a green space at 11th Street N. and N. Danville Street in Clarendon would get new furnishings, park signage and path lighting. Additionally, the lawn will be aerated.

“I think this park is heavily used so all these upgrades will be a tremendous benefit for the community,” project representative Alyssa Cannon said.

Money for the projects will come from the 2016 and 2018 Community Conservation bonds.

Images via Google Maps

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A man collapsed at the Safeway store in Bluemont this morning and later died.

The man was in his 60s and collapsed near the pharmacy counter, according to initial reports. Medics reportedly performed CPR and rushed the man to nearby Virginia Hospital Center.

Arlington County police were on scene at the Safeway (5101 Wilson Blvd) around lunchtime today, investigating the man’s death. The death investigation is routine procedure after an incident like this and, according to a police spokeswoman, foul play is not currently suspected.

“At approximately 11:02 a.m. police were dispatched to the report of a cardiac arrest inside a business in the 5100 block of Wilson Boulevard,” said ACPD’s Ashley Savage. “Upon arrival, an adult male was located suffering from an apparent medical emergency. He was transported to an area hospital where he was pronounced deceased.”

“The Arlington County Police Department is conducting a death investigation,” Savage continued. “Based on the preliminary investigation, the death does not appear suspicious.”

Arlington County police are investigating a number of businesses break-ins along Wilson Blvd, west of Ballston.

Thieves broke into businesses in the Bluemont and Dominion Hills neighborhoods early Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The first series of burglaries happened either at or near the Dominion Hills Centre shopping plaza.

From a crime report:

BURGLARY (series), 2021-02160033/02160034, 6000 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 4:12 a.m. on February 16, police were dispatched to the report of an alarm. Upon arrival, it was determined that the unknown suspect(s) attempted to force entry to a business unsuccessfully, causing damage. While investigating, police located a second business, which the suspect(s) forced entry to, causing damage. Nothing was reported stolen from either business. There is no suspect description(s). The investigation is ongoing.

A similar burglary on the same block earlier this month targeted local watering hole Meridian Pint.

On Wednesday morning, meanwhile, thieves broke into a small strip of businesses in the Bluemont neighborhood, along the 5500 block of Wilson Blvd.

Readers tell us that a restaurant, a salon and a barbershop were among the businesses burglarized.

“Yen Beauty/Don Barber and King of Koshary appeared to have had their glass front doors smashed in,” one reader told ARLnow yesterday. The Arlington County Police Department typically does not reveal the exact addresses or names of businesses that were the victims of crimes.

More from ACPD:

BURGLARY (Series), 2021-02170023/0114/0115, 5500 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 5:34 a.m. on February 17, police were dispatched to the report of a breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that unknown suspects forced entry into three businesses, causing damage. Two cash registers, electronics and an undisclosed amount of cash were stolen. The investigating is ongoing.

Photo via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Local Unemployment Rate Improves — “Arlington’s jobless rate continued to improve in October… the county’s unemployment rate of 4.1 percent in October represented a decline from 4.5 percent in September, according to data reported Dec. 3 by the Virginia Employment Commission. Despite the improvement, the county’s jobless picture has significant more room for recovery. A year ago, the jobless rate stood at a rock-bottom 1.7 percent.” [InsideNova]

Custis Trail Roundabout ‘Fully Open’ — “The Custis Trail has reopened under I-66 near Arlington’s Bon Air Park as overhead work on I-66 progresses for VDOT’s Transform 66 Inside the Beltway Eastbound Widening Project. With the underpass re-opened, the new trail roundabout is fully open and the detour is no longer needed… Lighting is planned to be installed in early 2021.” [VDOT]

New Pedestrian Beacons in Bluemont — “Happy to see this safety improvement in the Bluemont neighborhood… rectangular rapid flash beacons have been added on Wilson near Safeway. So, a light now flashes when you’re trying to cross. Makes a big difference!” [Twitter]

Tiny Glass Houses at Ambar — At Ambar (2901 Wilson Blvd) in Clarendon, “guests can now reserve one of the 10 fully enclosed new glass tiny houses, that can seat up to six people for dining in warmth, safety, and privacy. They are totally self-contained, with heat, lighting elements and music selections for each host’s personal preference while dining at Ambar.” [Press Release]

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Not once, not twice, but four times, vandals have targeted a Black Lives Matter sign in front of the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington near Ballston.

Church officials were first alerted of the vandalism on Saturday morning, and presume that the destruction occurred overnight.

“It’s been a rocky history at this point,” said Scott LaGanga, an elder at the church, which is located at 601 N. Vermont Street in the Bluemont neighborhood.

First Presbyterian is at least the fourth church in Arlington reported to have a racial-justice sign vandalized this year.

The church has gone through four signs since one first went up on Oct. 4, LaGanga said. The sign read “Black Lives Matter” on a striped background imitating the Philadelphia Pride flag, which includes the colors for Gay Pride and Trans-rights flags as well as black and brown stripes to symbolize people of color.

“They’re clearly doing it in the dark because they have a certain viewpoint and don’t want to share that they have it,” LaGanga said.

After the first sign was stolen, the church invested in steel cables to secure it. Instead, vandals covered it in graffiti. Once, they crossed out the “V” in “Black Lives Matter” to read “Black Lies Matter,” LaGanga said.

This time, someone cut the sign out of the cables and took it.

LaGanga explained that the church has been more engaged in issues of racial justice, putting up signs and hosting a weekly outdoor vigil for an end to racial injustice. Acts of vandalism will not shaken the resolve of the church, he said.

“The church has taken a strong position on inclusion and racial justice,” said LaGanga. “It reaffirms the stance we are taking and the reason we’re going to replace the sign.”

(While the Black Lives Matter sign was destroyed, the church’s LGBT-friendly “God Loves Love” signs remained untouched.)

This time, LaGanga said the church is considering security cameras, which he hopes will catch whoever is targeting the sign.

“We’re so resolved that if someone wants to do it, they’ll do it on camera,” he said.

First Presbyterian has received strong support from people in the community, many of whom are neighbors but not members, LaGanga said.

“We were surprised in the uptick in support from others in the community who were upset by this,” he said.

The first time, the church submitted a police report, but LaGanga does not see much point in submitting more since there have been no leads to date on the vandal.

In the wake of the protests sparked by the police killing of George Floyd this summer, a rash of church signs were vandalized. Black Lives Matter sign were vandalized at Rock Spring Congregational church and at St. George’s Episcopal Church as well as a racial justice sign was vandalized outside of Clarendon United Methodist Church.

Acts of vandalism against BLM signage also occurred in secular spaces this summer, including S. Abingdon Street bridge over I-395.

Photos courtesy Mark Blacknell

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County staff are accepting public comments on some long-awaited safety improvements at three intersections along the Bluemont Junction trail.

Residents will be asked if the proposed changes would make them feel safe using the trail or driving across it. The engagement period is open through Friday, Nov. 20.

For years, users have said conditions are unsafe along the trail, which connects Ballston with the Washington and Old Dominion trail at Bluemont Park. It’s difficult for trail users and drivers to see one another at the intersections, until the former are already in the crosswalk.

Discussions and presentations on upgrades began last winter, but staff had to pause their progress this spring due to the pandemic. Work resumed this fall.

“Trail safety and access issues for the Bluemont Junction trail were first raised by the community in 2013,” the county project page said. “The project has evolved to focus on the three intersections included based on site visits, data analysis, and community input.”

The intersections are at N. Kensington Street, N. Emerson Street and N. Buchanan Street.

The Bluemont Civic Association, the Bicycle Advisory Committee and Pedestrian Advisory Committee provided input on the preliminary designs. The public comment period through Nov. 20 will inform the design plans that county staff will present to stakeholders for more comments once they are 30% complete.

“This project was identified as necessary to improve safety and accessibility at intersections where the trail and the street network meet,” the county staff project page said. “It will benefit people walking, biking, accessing transit, and driving.”

Where the trail intersects with N. Buchanan Street and N. Emerson Street, the trail and road are at different elevations and visibility is low, the survey said.

Although the trail is typically more heavily used than the roads, signs are limited and the street markings are worn out.

At N. Buchanan Street, staff propose using striping at the trail crossing to slow speeds and give motorists more time to see trail users, adding warning signs and possibly creating a raised crossing.

At N. Emerson Street, county staff propose raising the crossing, changing the angle of the approach to the trial and adding signs. 

Sightlines at the N. Kensington Street intersection are limited and nearby transit stops are not ADA accessible, the survey said.

They propose narrowing the trail crossing, adding ADA-compliant transit stops with boarding platforms, bringing the raised crossing up to trail grade, adding ADA-compliant tactile warning strips and improving the high-visibility crosswalk markings.

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After asking customers for suggestions of places to move, Pupatella says it will be staying in Bluemont after all.

The Neapolitan pizzeria said today via social media that its landlord has agreed to not raise the rent — after initially trying to hike it by 40% — and Pupatella will thus be staying put at its original 5104 Wilson Blvd location.

The June 9 Facebook post asking customers to “help us to spread the word and find a new perfect spot” received 350 comments, suggesting a variety of new locations and tactics for negotiating rent. Pupatella today credited the community for helping convince the landlord to keep the rent steady.

Pupatella has been expanding: a second Arlington location opened on S. Walter Reed Drive in December and more outposts are coming to Reston, the Mosaic District and Dupont Circle in D.C.

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Arlington is the No. 1 best city to live in the U.S., according to 2020 rankings from Niche.com, and two Arlington neighborhoods are No. 2 and No. 3 on the website’s new list of the Best Places to Live in America.

Arlington, which is technically a county, has topped the Niche “Best Cities to Live” list since 2016.

The site calculates the rankings “based on crime, public schools, cost of living, job opportunities, and local amenities.” Niche previously lauded Arlington for high-quality public schools, low crime rate, abundant nightlife options and walkability.

In its rankings this year, Niche cites the following recent review of Arlington from a current resident.

Arlington is a very clean and open-minded town with educated individuals and businesses that are dedicated to producing less waste. Many stores and retail centers are modern and well-kept. It is a family friendly area with great public schools. However, traffic is prevalent and real estate prices are through the roof. But, living a healthy lifestyle is easy in Arlington with many healthy food options and amazing trails all over.

Arlington neighborhoods also ranked remarkably well on Niche’s 2020 Best Places to Live lists for both the state and the country, thanks in large part due to highly-rated public schools and walkability.

The Bluemont neighborhood, west of Ballston, is the No. 2 best place in the nation, according to Niche. Radnor-Fort Myer Heights, near Rosslyn and Courthouse, is No. 3. Ballston/Virginia Square is No. 12 in the U.S. and Clarendon/Courthouse is No. 24.

Within Virginia, Arlington neighborhoods dominated the top 25: Bluemont (1), Radnor/Fort Myer Heights (2), Ballston/Virginia Square (3), Clarendon/Courthouse (4), Waycroft/Woodlawn (6), Colonial Village (11), North Rosslyn (12), Lyon Village (13), Cherrydale (14), Arlington Forest (15), Dominion Hills (16), Arlington Ridge (18), Claremont (20), Columbia Heights (21), Aurora Highlands (22), Alcova Heights (23), and Ashton Heights (25).

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Morning Notes

Seattle Tax Could Advantage Arlington — “It wouldn’t shock us if Amazon started encouraging more of its executives to up and move their teams to HQ2, or a neighboring city in Washington state, now that the Seattle City Council has passed a progressive tax targeting the wealthiest companies in the city.” [Washington Business Journal]

Analysis of County Board Special Election — From @A_Hendel on Twitter: “Takis Karantonis received most of his share of the vote from South Arlington… In fact, almost no precincts north of I-66 cast 50% or more of their votes for Takis.” [Twitter]

Organizations Getting Big PPP Loans in Arlington — The American Diabetes Association, tech company ByteCubed, American Service Center, Bishop O’Connell High School and the Catholic Diocese of Arlington are among the Arlington-based organizations to reportedly receive $2+ million federal Paycheck Protection Act loans. [Patch]

Another Local Tech Firm Gets PPP Help — “Amazon.com Inc. may have posted record sales during the pandemic, but many third-party sellers on the platform foundered… Some of those sellers — like the Arlington-based Amify Inc. and Etailz Inc., based in Spokane, Washington — received millions of dollars worth of help from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.” [Washington Business Journal]

Water Main Repairs Today in Bluemont — “Thursday Emergency Water Main Repairs: Crews will replace 3 valves in separate locations tomorrow in Bluemont area. Some 100 customers have been notified of potential service interruptions 8 a.m.-5 p.m.” [Twitter]

Letter: W-L Renaming Happened at a Good Time — “The Arlington School Board’s renaming of Washington-Lee High School was autocratic, manipulative, adversarial and punitive. In retrospect, though, they unwittingly did the W-L community a favor.” [InsideNova]

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