Press Club

Morning Notes

The sky is reflected off glass office windows in Ballston (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

It’s Bike to Work Day — “Bike to Work Day is back… This free event is open to everyone. Arlington will have ten pit stops and BikeArlington will host five pit stops in Rosslyn, Ballston, Columbia Pike, Shirlington, and Clarendon.” [BikeArlington]

Unleashed Dog Leads to Bluemont Brandishing — “At approximately 4:45 p.m. on May 18, police were dispatched to a report of a person with a gun. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was walking in the area when an unleashed dog ran towards him while barking. A verbal dispute ensued between the victim and dog owner, during which the suspect, who is known to the dog owner, became involved. The victim continued on his route, during which the suspect reapproached and allegedly brandished a firearm and threatened the victim.” [ACPD]

Metro Restoring Some 7000-Series Cars — “A seven-month train shortage that has brought lengthy waits for commuters is closer to ending after Metrorail’s oversight agency approved a request to reinstate some rail cars that were pulled from service because of a rare wheel defect. Transit officials submitted a plan to the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission to restore a limited number of 7000-series cars.” [Washington Post, WMATA]

Slight Increase in Homeless Population — “Though down by more than half compared to a decade ago, Arlington’s homeless total rose from 2021 to 2022, according to new data. ‘There’s work to do,’ said Arlington County Board member Matt de Ferranti, parsing the new data during the May 17 board meeting. The… homeless count (conducted Jan. 26 with data recently released) revealed a total of 182 people living in shelters and on the streets in Arlington, up 6 percent from 171 a year before.” [Sun Gazette]

Op-Ed: Arlington Could Be National Model — “Arlington’s Missing Middle draft framework is extremely ambitious and might serve as a model for the entire country if the county board gets the policy details right to enable new construction.” [GGWash]

Group: ‘Missing Middle’ is ‘War’ — “With the release of the Missing Middle Phase Two Report on April 28, and the accompanying consultant analysis, the county is declaring war on single-family areas of Arlington… Developers, who have essentially run out of room among our 26 square miles, have pushed for Missing Middle up-zoning that will be politically and legally impossible to unwind, even if it falls short of stated goals or produces negative results.” [Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future]

Big Development Kicks Off in F.C. — “West Falls, a major mixed-use development near the West Falls Church Metro station, broke ground Thursday, less than a week after the development team closed on $391 million of financing. In this first phase of its long-planned development, the project, spearheaded by D.C.-based Hoffman & Associates and joined by real estate giant Trammell Crow Co., will comprise five buildings totaling about 1.2 million square feet.” [Washington Business Journal, Patch]y

Veep Coming to Falls Church — “Kamala Harris coming to [Meridian High School in Falls Church] tomorrow to talk electric school buses? The school didn’t name Harris in an email to parents about the event tomorrow, but they said it will stream live at [whitehouse.gov].” The event is scheduled for 3:40 p.m., which means motorcades through Arlington are likely this afternoon. [Twitter]

Plan for Yellow Line Bridge Work — “The City of Alexandria is preparing for a Yellow Line shutdown in Alexandria later this year due to bridge and tunnel rehabilitation and bringing the Potomac Yard Metro station into the system… Blue Line trains will be running frequently from the airport with a replacement ‘Yellow Line’ route running to New Carrollton during the September-October.” [ALXnow]

It’s Friday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 90 and low of 65. Sunrise at 5:53 am and sunset at 8:20 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

A pedestrian crosses Wilson Blvd. near a protected bike lane with artificial sunflowers (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fish Kill in Four Mile Run Last Week — “Anyone visiting lower Four Mile Run in the last several days should have noticed many dead fish, large and small, along the streambank and floating out in the water, the result of a pollution incident that occurred some time Thursday, May 12.” [Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation]

Rumor: Board Members May Not Run Again — “My spies in the Arlington Democratic infrastructure say odds favor neither County Board member up for election in 2023 actually running for a third term. And if Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey do skedaddle (and just as they’d start earning some bigger bucks …), the field would seem to be wide open.” [Sun Gazette]

More Big Changes at DCA — “Reagan National Airport is about to go through a massive rebranding. Because of recent expansions, the airport will be split into Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Terminal 1 will be the original airport building housing the A gates. Terminal 2 will house the newly named B, C, D and E gates. More than 1,000 signs in and around the airport will be changed starting June 4.” [NBC 4]

Arlington Apartment Buildings Bought — “Cortland, one of the largest apartment owners in the U.S., is making a huge entrance to Greater Washington, acquiring four Arlington multifamily properties in an expected $1B investment. The Atlanta-based investment firm acquired a newly developed 23-story, 331-unit apartment building in Rosslyn and a 534-unit building in Pentagon City, Cortland announced Wednesday.” [Bisnow, Washington Business Journal]

County Honors Trees, Volunteers — “Mother Nature is smiling! Arlington County recognized five individuals who volunteer at Bon Air Park as recipients of the 2021 Bill Thomas Park Volunteer Award and highlighted its 2022 Notable Trees — both which honor the people and natural resources that preserve Arlington’s green spaces — during the Arlington County Board’s recessed meeting on May 17.” [Arlington County]

Wawa Coming to Falls Church — “Philadelphia-area convenience store chain Wawa is under contract to ground-lease the shuttered Stratford Motor Lodge site in the city of Falls Church, which it will replace with a roughly 6,000-square-foot store — but no gas pumps… The motor lodge closed last fall, the Falls Church News Press reported.” [Washington Business Journal]

Four Mile Run Dredging Approaching — “Alexandria and Arlington will start clearing debris and dredging Four Mile Run in September, and the project will close sections of [an Alexandria] park from the public for four to six months. The City and County maintain a shared flood-control channel in the lower portion of the nine-mile-long stream, and have partnered to dredge Four Mile Run since 1974.” [ALXnow]

It’s Thursday — Rain early in the morning, then clearing later in the day. High of 82 and low of 61. Sunrise at 5:54 am and sunset at 8:19 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

The U.S. Air Force Memorial and surrounding construction at twilight (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Cristol Calls Out Displacement ‘Lie’ — “Time will tell, as it always does, but Arlington elected officials say the public and some activists are mistaken if they believe there will be wholesale displacement of residents of the Barcroft Apartments complex in South Arlington. At a May 14 meeting, County Board Chairman Katie Cristol – not one normally known for getting rattled while on the dais – decried as a ‘lie’ the displacement rumors at the sprawling, 1,334-unit apartment complex.” [Sun Gazette]

Crash Last Night on GW Parkway — From Alan Henney: “Another auto went over the wall on the northbound side of the GW Pky prior to the Key Bridge in Arlington. Amazingly driver is out uninjured after his auto slid down the embankment.” [Twitter]

Marymount University Commencement — From Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S.: “It was my tremendous privilege to give the commencement at @marymountu, a university that like many around the U.S. hosts Saudi students. It was my absolute honor to receive an honorary doctorate, thank you to the faculty and Dr. Becerra for this special day.” [Twitter, Sun Gazette]

Metro CEO and COO Resign — “The WMATA Board of Directors has accepted Paul Wiedefeld’s decision to make his retirement effective today. In addition, Chief Operating Officer Joe Leader has resigned, effective immediately.” [WMATA, DCist]

New Skyline Development Proposal — “Madison Marquette has filed plans to convert two Baileys Crossroads office building into live/work lofts, advancing a vision to resuscitate the huge multibuilding cluster known as Skyline Center. By repurposing the mostly emptied office spaces — which meet planning and code requirements to serve as apartments and/or offices for small firms — Skyline can once again become ‘the gravitational center for the area.'” [Washington Business Journal]

Body Cams for Falls Church Police — “Police officers with the City of Falls Church will now be equipped with body-worn cameras beginning this month.” [WJLA, City of Falls Church]

It’s Tuesday — Clear throughout the day. High of 77 and low of 59. Sunrise at 5:55 am and sunset at 8:17 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Metro Delays Due to Safety Snafu — “Metro’s Chief Safety Officer reports that nearly half of Metro’s 500 rail operators have lapsed recertification… In consultation with the Board of Directors, Metro management is taking immediate corrective action to remove from service 72 train operators who became out of compliance prior to May 2021. This will result in a temporary reduction in Green and Yellow line service from every 15 minutes to every 20 minutes due to an operator shortage.” [WMATA]

APS Changes Bell Schedules — “The School Board in Arlington, Virginia, voted to lengthen the school day by a little less than 10 minutes and to rearrange school start and end times in the first change to the county school system’s bell schedule in more than two decades. At its Thursday meeting, the board unanimously voted in favor of the adjustments.” [WTOP]

Psaki Spat With Arlington GOP — Outgoing White House Press Secretary (and Arlington resident) Jen Psaki “acknowledged that there have been instances in which she shared information with the Secret Service about threats… She said that no one has physically come to her home, but added, ‘There is a circulation of my address among the Arlington Republican Party.’ The Arlington GOP in a statement to The Hill said it ‘has not publicly disseminated any Biden Administration official’s home address.'” [The Hill]

Rosslyn Tunnel Congestion Revisited — “The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) is pressing leadership of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority not to forget about congestion at the Rosslyn tunnel. In a May 6 letter to (outgoing) Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld, NVTC chair Carek Aguirre urged the transit agency to ‘recognize the strategic importance of moving swiftly to design a solution to relieve train congestion’ at the tunnel.” [Sun Gazette]

Wakefield Rowing Storms State Tourney — “At Saturday’s regatta… the Warriors stood just as deep as any other school on the Occoquan River and stepped into the dynasty conversation themselves, with the boys’ and girls’ top varsity eight boats each rowing to titles.” [Washington Post, Twitter]

Trucker Protest Returning — “The People’s Convoy is slated to be in D.C. by Tuesday, as they’re currently in Ohio. Further, a convoy leader tonight took to the microphone to try and squash fear over being hit with eggs in the city, saying: ‘I happen to like eggs.'” [Twitter]

DCA Using UV to Zap Covid — “Reagan National and Dulles International airports now have ultraviolet disinfection technology to combat the spread of viruses including Covid… The airports authority’s statement of work specifically called for the technology to disinfect the air in 39 spaces at National and 73 spaces at Dulles, including ticketing and baggage claim areas, security checkpoints, transit platforms and gate hold rooms.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Real Estate is Really Expensive — “There may be an end in sight at some point for rising single-family home values in Arlington. But so far, it hasn’t been reached. The average sales price of the 100 single-family properties that went to closing in April was $1,348,813. That’s up 14.5 percent from a year before.” [Sun Gazette]

Missing Falls Church Teen — “City of Falls Church Police seek information to help a teen return home. Abigail… is 16 years old and was last seen at her home in the City at about 3 a.m. on Sunday after an argument with family. Abigail is about 5 feet tall, has black brown hair and a nose ring.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Monday — Rain and storms, some severe, in the afternoon and evening. High of 77 and low of 64. Sunrise at 5:56 am and sunset at 8:16 pm. [Weather.gov]

Photos courtesy Will Wiard, Geoff Collins, Dave Statter and Kelly Harrington

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Morning Notes

Kayakers on the Potomac near Key Bridge (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Driver Crashes into Trooper’s Cruiser — A Virginia State Police trooper was radioing in a license plate during a traffic stop on I-395 near Shirlington when his cruiser was rear-ended. The trooper finished giving the tag number before telling the dispatcher about the crash. [Twitter]

Circulator Strike Continues — “The first day’s negotiations between a bus drivers union and the operator of D.C. Circulator since workers began striking were unsuccessful through Wednesday evening, increasing the prospects of a potentially lengthy outage of the city’s only public bus service.” [Washington Post]

Marymount Planning Child Care Center — “Marymount University is setting up a new child care center on campus in a renovation project that it said is designed to fill a critical, and deepening, local workforce need as those with young children return to the office. The Marymount Early Learning Academy for children aged 3 to 5 will open in the summer or fall of 2023, reviving the idea of an on-campus preschool that the university used to run in the 1990s before it closed down.” [Washington Business Journal]

Sexual Battery Incident in Pentagon City — “500 block of 12th Road S…. at approximately 11:40 p.m. on April 29th the male victim had entered into the elevator of a secure residential building when the unknown suspect followed behind him. The victim exited the elevator and walked down the hallway, during which the suspect grabbed his buttocks. The suspect then fled the scene.” [ACPD]

Air Force Colonel on Trial — “An official with the California National Guard charged with indecent exposure in Arlington in March is scheduled to go to trial in Arlington on July 18… the suspect entered the business and exposed himself to female victims, according to the ACPD.” [Patch]

Falls Church Lowers Property Tax Rate — “On Monday night, the Falls Church City Council approved a $112.8 million Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) that invests in public schools, core government services, walkability and traffic calming, environmental sustainability, and more, all while reducing the real estate tax rate by 9 cents… To mitigate the 11 percent overall increase in real estate assessments, the adopted budget includes a decrease in the real estate tax to $1.23 per $100 of assessed value.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Cinco de Mayo — Mostly cloudy, with a high of 67 and low of 56. Sunrise at 6:07 am and sunset at 8:06 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Clouds over Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

New Football Coach for Wakefield — “For someone who has never previously been a high-school football head coach, Darrell Weeks’ vast and diversified experience in the sport certainly makes him qualified. Now his chance has come. On March 30, the 45-year-old Austin, Texas, native was announced as the Wakefield Warriors’ new head coach during an after-school gathering in the high school’s town-hall area. Weeks, a special-education and math teacher at Wakefield, has been out of coaching since 2010.” [Sun Gazette]

Target Opening Delayed — “The new Target at Pentagon Row didn’t open today. Opening has been pushed back a week to April 10. No carts yet.” [Twitter]

ACPD Looking for Missing Man — “MISSING: ACPD is seeking assistance locating Shaun… [age] 39. Described as a White male, 5’7″ tall and weighing 145 lbs. He was last seen on the afternoon of March 15 in the 1400 block of S. Joyce Street” in Pentagon City. [Twitter]

Honor for Clarendon-Based Axios — “@axios Congrats on being named on @Comparably’s Best Places to Work in Washington, DC Metro Area 2022 list.” [Twitter]

Peter Chang Responds to Award Nod — “‘We were surprised this time it’s the outstanding chef category, not the regional. It’s such an honor to be recognized among all the talented chefs,’ Peter Chang told me in an email through his daughter, Lydia Zhang. When Zhang informed him of his nomination, he says, his response was, ‘OK, what’s next? We have a business to run here.'” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Clarendon Bars Win ‘Fake ID Awards’ — “Last night, @ARIArlington recognized two security guards and management of two restaurants (@dontitova & @BarBaoVA) during ACPD’s sixth annual Fake ID Awards. The recipients were recognized for their excellence in detecting false identifications and preventing underage drinking.” [Twitter, WTOP]

Amazon Pledges Millions More for Housing — “As it seeks county approval for the next phase of new HQ2 construction, Amazon is pledging a $30 million contribution to support affordable housing in Arlington. The figure was revealed in county documents posted online this week, as Amazon’s latest HQ2 development proposal is set to go before the county planning commission on Monday.” [WJLA]

Nearby: Armed Robbery in Falls Church — “City of Falls Church Police seek two men who are suspected of armed robbery. At about 3:30 today, police responded to a tobacco and vaping shop in the 1100 block of W. Broad St. for a report of an armed robbery. Store employees told police that two men entered the store, one showed a handgun, and demanded valuables. There were no injuries. The men seemed to arrive and leave by foot.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 57 and low of 37. Sunrise at 6:49 am and sunset at 7:36 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

Sunset behind homes along 14th St. N. in Westover (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Road Improvement Project Discussion — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Tomorrow night: Virtual gabfest on the latest design for THE Ohio Street Safety Project at 12th Road North and 14th Street North.” [Twitter, Arlington County]

Indecent Exposure in Shirlington — “4000 block of Campbell Avenue. At approximately 7:29 p.m. on March 17, police were dispatched to the report of an indecent exposure. Upon arrival, officers located the suspect and took him into custody without incident. The investigation determined that approximately 20 minutes prior, the male suspect entered into the establishment and allegedly exposed himself to the female victims.” [ACPD]

Nearby: New Signs in F.C. — “Forty-two vehicular wayfinding signs have been installed to identify City boundaries for visitors driving into the City, and guide visitors driving to visitor-oriented destinations (City Hall, Downtown, Eden Center, State Theatre, etc.) and public parking. The City also plans to remove older signs that would conflict with the new signs within the next two weeks.” [City of Falls Church]

It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 62 and low of 46. Sunrise at 7:10 am and sunset at 7:23 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The annual fish fry at St. James Catholic Church in Falls Church (courtesy photo)

Locals looking for a good fish fry this Lenten season will have to cast their nets outside Arlington.

People won’t have to go far to indulge for Fat Tuesday — which is today — whether that’s with King Cake from Bayou Bakery or Cajun food at Ragtime. But getting to a fish fry may involve a drive into Falls Church or Fairfax County.

Catholics and some other Christian sects fast on Ash Wednesday (tomorrow) and certain days during Lent, the 40-day period leading up to Easter. Traditionally, that involves abstaining from flesh meats, such as chicken, beef or pork, on Fridays.

Over time, the fasting tradition turned into the church fish fry, often run by a local Knights of Columbus chapter to benefit charity or a parish to support their various ministries. The menu typically includes baked and fried fish, French fries, coleslaw, mac and cheese, other assorted sides and dessert.

But Midwest and Northeastern transplants to the D.C. area have noted their beloved fish fries aren’t as popular in and around D.C.

“I found that fish fries are mostly up north, as I have a lot of family up that way,” says Myles McMorrow, who sits on the board of Arlington’s chapter of the Knights of Columbus on Little Falls Road. “[For] me, personally, I have never heard of a fish fry in the D.C. metro area and I grew up here.”

He says the local Knights observe Lent by dropping meaty meals from its council restaurant’s menu. Some local churches in the Diocese of Arlington host meatless soup suppers, including St. Agnes Catholic Church in Arlington.

Those who are Catholic, curious or culturally homesick are told their best bet for finding a fish fry is to drive deeper into Virginia.

Fish fries are mostly a Midwestern and Rust Belt phenomenon because European Catholic immigrants relied on the abundant fish of the Great Lakes to observe their religious fasts. Over time, the tradition may have blended with an African-American tradition of gathering together for fish fries, which began on plantations and continued after Emancipation as families moved North.

Churches in the Diocese of Arlington had to sacrifice Lenten gatherings in 2020. In 2021, options were sparse, but this year, a number of parishes have resurrected fish fries and soup suppers.

The closest for Arlingtonians is hosted by St. James Catholic Church in Falls Church. It was started in 2010 by a group of parishioners that included a homesick Ohio native.

Every year, hand-battered fish and scratch-made potatoes, hush puppies, coleslaw and carrot cake reel in pilgrims from D.C. to Fredericksburg. People can buy T-shirts emblazoned with the year’s slogan, which is always a fish pun. (This year’s is that the 13th annual fish fry “is trout of this world.”)

“I remember this couple who drove in from D.C.,” says parishioner Karen Bushaw-Newton. “They said, ‘We just heard there was a fish fry and we came to check it out.’ We know a lot of the parishioners who come — and we have a lot of regulars and families — [and] we have people like that couple who just wanted to see what a fish fry was like.”

When COVID-19 hit, the fish fry turned into a drive-thru that, on some Fridays, served more than 1,000 meals in three hours.

“I highly encourage anyone and everybody to come. We don’t ask your faith when you come in the door — it’s just a way to come celebrate,” Bushaw-Newton said.

For those who want to go farther afield, there are a number of other Northern Virginia fish fries, though each would require a longer drive in Friday rush hour traffic. Below are a few of the options.

Read More

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Morning Notes

Soccer practice at Long Bridge Park (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

New Organ Debuts Tomorrow — “The new organ [at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Virginia Square] cost $1.2 million… Opus 28 arrived in Arlington on Oct. 3, 2021. For three weeks, Pasi put together the 500,000 parts that constitute it. He spent the next two months ‘voicing’ the organ: doing the painstaking adjustments necessary to make everything sound just right.” [Washington Post]

Reminder: Pizza Boxes Can Be Composted — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “There’s No ‘I’ in Food Scraps: Arlington viewers of ‘The Big Game’ can give 110% and go all in in the green curbside cart: pizza crusts and boxes, wing bones and greasy napkins. You won’t be denied.” [Twitter]

County Helping With Museum Renovations — “As efforts begin to renovate its museum, the Arlington Historical Society is working to embrace close collaboration where possible with the Arlington County government. Whether that will turn into a financial partnership remains to be seen, but county staff will be providing their knowledge to help the renovation move ahead.” [Sun Gazette]

Public Defender Pay Bill Fails — “A measure to equalize pay between staff of Virginia prosecutors and those working in public-defender’s offices died in a House of Delegates subcommittee. The measure, patroned by Del. Alfsono Lopez (D-Arlington-Fairfax), would have required localities that supplement the compensation of staff in its office of commonwealth’s attorney beyond state minimums to do the same for staff of a public defender’s office, if a locality has one.” [Sun Gazette]

Nearby: Scammers Impersonating Police — “Officers have received reports from community members who stated that callers contact them claiming to be members of a police department or sheriff’s department. The law enforcement impersonator may… tell the community member they missed a court appearance or jury duty [and] state they need to send money or a warrant will be issued for their arrest or they may turn themselves in to jail.” [City of Falls Church]

Snow Possible This Weekend — “Light to moderate snow could fall in the D.C. area on Super Bowl Sunday. But it’s still not clear whether it will snow hard enough or be cold enough for it to amount to much and have serious effects on the region.” [Capital Weather Gang]

It’s Thursday — Sunny, with a high near 55 today, and wind gusts as high as 21 mph. Sunrise at 7:04 a.m. and sunset at 5:40 p.m. Sunny again tomorrow, with a high near 57 and wind gusts as high as 22 mph. [Weather.gov]

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Seafood restaurant Chasin’ Tails is swimming out of Arlington and about a mile down the road to Falls Church, co-owner Au Dang confirms to ARLnow.

The decade-old restaurant that’s inspired by backyard crawfish boils is heading to Founders Row, a new development just over a mile from its current location at 2200 N. Westmoreland Street in Arlington’s East Falls Church neighborhood. The move is expected to happen possibly in June, depending on permits, with the closing and opening of the restaurants happening simultaneously.

The move was first reported by the Falls Church News-Press.

While it’s not a big move distance-wise, Dang says setting up in the new development is a good opportunity for the restaurant.

“We saw an opportunity at up and coming Founders Row,” he says. “It wasn’t anything about the current situation. It’s just an amazing spot in Falls Church.”

The development will actually be home to three restaurants from the same ownership group, Happy Endings Hospitality. Chasin’ Tails will be joined by Roll Play, which currently has a location in Tysons, and Vietnamese restaurant Nue.

All three are different concepts and will have “separate experiences,” Dang notes.

Dang and his co-owners, which includes his brother, aren’t completely leaving Arlington, though. They still own the Happy Eatery food hall in Rosslyn, which opened in late 2019 under the slightly longer and more risque name “Happy Endings Eatery.”

The last decade hasn’t come without its challenges for Louisiana-inspired Chasin’ Tails, but it’s all led to this point of expansion, Dang says.

“We had hard lessons to learn,” he says. “We’ve taken all the knowledge we’ve acclimated to make improvements in interior design and overall branding. This is the best we have to offer.”

Initial funding for Chasin’ Tails came from the $8 million Au and his brother Di won playing poker.

For longtime customers, Dang knows this may be an adjustment but anticipates they make the trip across the border and join them in Falls Church.

“We thank you so much for the support,” he says about the restaurant’s customers. “But we hope they visit us in Falls Church.”

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

Enabled Intelligence, a startup founded by a longtime Arlington resident and father, is redefining what inclusion of people with disabilities in the workplace looks like.

And it does so while solving a long-standing labor problem for government agencies and contractors trying to automate their operations with artificial intelligence, says CEO and founder Peter Kant.

Enabled Intelligence employs Americans with disabilities and veterans to do data annotation — teaching computers what images or sounds to look for as they are programmed to sift through large data sets — for government and government-adjacent groups.

“It’s technical, repetitive, problem-solving, somewhat compulsive and relatively asocial work,” he said.

This work has to be done by “puzzle solvers who always want an answer” and U.S. citizens to ensure the data stays secure, Kant says. But government groups, which can’t send data annotation overseas like private companies, often struggle to find people to do the work. Kant ran into this problem while leading SRI International, a research institute with a location in Rosslyn.

So he turned to a “highly skilled, underutilized workforce” within the U.S.: people with certain cognitive differences, who have an edge over neurotypical people, and veterans from intelligence and defense agencies, who have helpful subject-matter expertise.

These two groups face barriers to skilled work because of their disabilities, he said.

“Some were bagging groceries but had a computer science degree from Radford University, and because of their neurodiversity, were not working anywhere else,” he said.

Today, 14 of Enabled Intelligence’s 20-person team have disabilities.

“This is not just a company just for people with disabilities, it’s a mix of people neurodiverse and [neurotypical] people,” Kant said.

Enabled Intelligence team photo (courtesy photo)

The mix helps people with disabilities integrate while demonstrating to people without disabilities that cognitive differences can be assets, he said.

Case in point: New annotators were identifying photos where at least 20% of a vehicle was in the frame. The trainer, who had 15 years’ experience teaching this work, explained that when it comes to close calls, they should play it safe and include the photos.

“One of the annotators, literally just looking at a Powerpoint slide in the training room, said, ‘No, no, no, it’s 17%,'” Kant said.

The trainer said it was close enough to include, but the team member insisted it shouldn’t be included. After the meeting, the photo was measured and sure enough, 17% of the car was in-frame.

Another employee is a whiz at computers who was working at a grocery store while pursuing her cosmetology license. She couldn’t keep up with these two jobs, however, due to a brain injury that was giving her seizures.

At Enabled Intelligence, she has quickly moved up the ranks. After getting her start identifying photos, she has been promoted to identifying audio files in a different language — which she has already picked up.

“She’s been a very valuable asset to us,” Kant said.

Kant says Arlington organizations have helped him hire employees and find advisors who understand how to work with people with cognitive differences.

He found employees through local nonprofit Melwood, which provides vocational training to people with disabilities. One of his advisors is Arlington therapist Ginny Conroy, who runs Social Grace, a local group that coaches people with disabilities and works with businesses to hire and retain neurodiverse employees.

Enabled Intelligence got its start in March 2020 but has been insulated from the worst of the economic impacts of the pandemic because government work has been relatively stable, he said. So far, Enabled Intelligence has booked $2.5 million in business and closed on a seed fundraising round that netted $1 million, lead by the Disability Opportunity Fund.

After being fully remote for more than a year, the company moved into its first, temporary brick-and-mortar office building just over the border in Falls Church (6400 Arlington Blvd). In the new year, Kant has his sights set on a permanent office so employees can handle more secure data and he can expand the company’s operations.

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