Every day, Executive Chef Lindsey Ayala fires up a smoker outside the Crowne Plaza hotel in Crystal City and feeds the fire with hickory wood.
She is smoking meats “low and slow,” slathering them with scratch-made sauces and serving sides such as mac and cheese, collard greens, and cheddar cornbread for a new pop-up restaurant concept within the hotel called Tom Bones BBQ.
The food is available for delivery through on GrubHub and UberEats or can be picked up from Potomac Social Tavern at 1480 Crystal Drive. It is how Potomac Social Tavern, managed by B. F. Saul Company Hospitality Group, is looking to weather the limitations on indoor dining while still cooking food for restaurant patrons and hotel guests.
Ayala, a pastry chef by training who came to barbecue later in her career, said she tries to be faithful to regional barbecue styles from in Memphis to Missouri. Even Baltimore, her hometown, has its own horseradish sauce, although people may not realize it, she said.
“Anywhere you go on the map, I have the sauce for that,” she said.
She delivers region-specific tastes through her sauces, whether it is a South Carolina-style mustard sauce or an eastern North Carolina-style spicy vinegar sauce.
“Southern states are usually where you get serious barbecue, so when people come to Virginia, they think we’re Northerners who don’t know anything,” she said. “Hopefully, it’ll remind you of how they do it at home.”
Ayala dove into barbecuing when she developed recipes to help her father launch a family restaurant in 2014. The two ran the restaurant and sold their food at flea markets, farmers’ markets and church events. Not long after, however, he had to leave to attend to his health.
Now, Ayala is picking up where she and her father left off, smoking brisket for up to 16 hours a day on the pool patio of the Crowne Plaza (the pool is still closed as a COVID-19 precaution).
So far, Ayala said the new concept is going well enough that she needed to hire a second cook. Generally speaking, she said these pickup and delivery-only concepts — sometimes called ghost kitchens — provide restaurant owners with a good safety net, helping to generate extra revenue at a tiny fraction of the cost of launching a new bricks-and-mortar restaurant.
“I think this will stick around,” she said. “If this happens again, we need a safety net to get our food out there without people having to sit down and dine.”
The pop-up concept is a pilot program within the hospitality group, Ayala said. The other restaurant testing out the idea is O’Malley’s Pub inside the Holiday Inn near Dulles airport. There, she said, Chef Stephon Washington is operating a pickup and delivery concept for Caribbean-style food, inspired by his Jamaican roots, called Grandpa Hank’s Jamaican Kitchen.
“It’s an equally great story,” she said.
For Jeff Grass, CEO and Chairman of Ballston-based startup HUNGRY, a food distribution event in Arlington yesterday (Wednesday) had a bittersweet flavor to it.
While the company was able to prepare 6,000 hot meals for people in need at a drive-thru food distribution event at Central United Methodist Church (4201 Fairfax Drive) near its headquarters, it’s also a painful reminder that nearly one year after a global pandemic began, many Americans face a food accessibility crisis.
“On the one hand, it makes you feel good to be able to do something and it was nice to see how appreciative people are,” Grass said, “but seeing so many people coming by and needing a free meal highlights just how big and prevalent the challenge is. We’re Arlington, one of the richest counties in the country, and yet so many people are in need of food assistance.”
The company was able to distribute most of the 6,000 prepared meals in an event that ran from 1:30-3 p.m., and the remaining couple hundred that were left over were given to a local shelter.
Grass said he didn’t have an estimate on how many people attended the food drive, saying “it was car after car,” but that the company mostly limited the meals to ten per vehicle. HUNGRY had no protocols set up to screen for income levels, saying that anyone who showed up the the event was considered in sufficient need of a meal.
The handful of nicer vehicles, Grass said, were also a reminder of how much the pandemic had turned some lives upside down.
“I didn’t feel like it was up to us to challenge people,” Grass said. “Some people did drive up in nice vehicles, but everybody’s got their own challenges and stories, and everybody seemed to really appreciate it.”
The food distribution events had the added benefit of supporting the local chefs using the platform, particularly catering chefs who were some of the earliest victims of local business impacts.
“We’re in late January, past the holidays, it felt like the right time to do it,” Grass said.
It was the second major food donation initiative in January for the company. The first was a food delivery operation last week to National Guard troops posted in D.C. for presidential inauguration security following the riot at the Capitol earlier this month.
(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) A new Arlington-based ghost kitchen from a pair of prominent restaurateur siblings is now smashing and slinging patties.
Serving up smashed burger patties, crispy chicken sandwiches, and fries, ordering is currently available through the usual delivery apps: UberEats (50% off first order), Doordash, Grubhub, and Postmates.
The delivery area includes Arlington and parts of D.C and Fairfax County, Ian Hilton tells ARLnow.
The idea for Gee Burger, Hilton says, came while “stranded” during the pandemic at Cafe Colline with his chef Brendan L’Etoile, who he’s worked with since 2007. They workshopped burgers that would deliver well, and focused on one similar to another they had previously served at the now-shuttered Gaslight Tavern in D.C.
“It is a very quick process of smashing two patties on a flat top grill, giving them a nice crispy edge,” Hilton says, “It’s a nice juicy burger that travels well and can be cooked very quickly so that you can get it to people in short order.”
In fact, he says the burger can be cooked so quickly that it only takes four minutes to fulfill an order, meaning “we can wait till that driver is basically at our doorstep before we even fire up the order.” Plus, with a relatively localized delivery area, burgers are able to arrive at home kitchen tables hot and looking as if they were just served by a waiter inside of the restaurant.
“The idea is… to make it so that once it gets to somebody’s house, we would be proud of of having our name on it,” says Hilton.
In October, Hilton was forced to close a number of his popular District bars and restaurants due to the pandemic. Even while adjusting to take-out, delivery, and ghost kitchens, Hilton makes a point to say that this is not going to change the brothers’ core focus of creating places where people can socialize and be together.
When the pandemic subsides, his hope is that he will be able to move back to providing those experiences.
“I know that people will return to restaurants,” Hilton says.
In the meantime, he understands that people have grown accustomed to getting pretty much any food delivered to their homes and knows that it’s on restaurateurs to adapt to that.
The hope is that Gee Burger outlasts the pandemic since it’s easy to make, portable, and, so far, popular.
As for his favorite order: “It’s definitely the Kickin [Gee burger]. I just love spicy foods,” says Hilton. “Chef Brendan has this house-made kimchi and housemade pickled jalapeños that goes on that burger that I just can’t get enough of.”
Then, he adds, “Unfortunately, I probably shouldn’t eat more than one week.”
Photo courtesy of Gee Burger
Restaurant Delivery Popular in Arlington — “When WTOP asked UberEats what the top neighborhoods for deliveries are around D.C., it ranked the top five, based on number of orders in 2020. They are Northeast D.C. (it did not specify a specific neighborhood), Shaw, Adams Morgan, Arlington County’s Lyon Park (a dense residential neighborhood south of Rosslyn) and Pentagon City.” [WTOP]
County Board to Elect New Chair — “The Arlington County Board will elect its 2021 Chair and Vice-Chair during its Monday, January 4 virtual Organizational Meeting, and Board Members will lay out their priorities for 2021. The new Chair will succeed 2020 Chair Libby Garvey and will serve for one year.” [Arlington County]
Arlington Housing Market Stays Hot — “Arlington County remains the most expensive D.C. suburb, with a median selling price of $660,000 in November, up 20% from last November, according to Long & Foster data. The number of homes that sold in Arlington last month — 221 — was 23% more than a year ago. The good news for potential buyers in Arlington is that the 530 active listings at the end of November was up 122% from November 2019.” [WTOP]
Gelato Comes With ‘Woke’ Facts — “Most ice cream pints display little more than nutritional information and ingredients, but Amore Congelato founder Thereasa Black wasn’t about to waste an opportunity to advance her company’s social justice mission. Each pint contains ‘stay woke’ facts printed on the side that cover pitfalls of the U.S. criminal justice system. Pick one up at her storefront in Arlington or at Glen’s Garden Market.” [Washington City Paper]
Alexandria Restaurant Partners, which owns Mia’s and Palette 22, announced on Monday that those in and around Shirlington can now get pizza, giant meatballs and classic dishes delivered via UberEats and GrubHub from Mia’s “ghost” location, in the kitchen of Palette 22.
“We’ve had tremendous success with Mia’s to-go in Old Town, and thought, ‘This has legs,'” said Dave Nicholas, a founding partner of ARP. “So we decided to help people in Arlington who can’t reach us all the way in Old Town.”
The expansion of Mia’s, which also has a dine-in location in Orlando, follows a nationwide trend.
These delivery-only spaces with no dine-in options began sprouting up as food delivery businesses such as UberEats and GrubHub took hold in the economy, but really took off during the pandemic. The coronavirus accelerated their growth as more Americans use delivery, RestaurantDive reports.
In addition to operating from the back of bricks-and-mortar restaurants, ghost kitchens also can operate from mobile trailers, like the one that currently set up in a Clarendon parking lot.
Nicholas defines a ghost kitchen as one where customers do not know where the food is made, but they recognize the brand. ARP had mulled over the idea for years, but the pandemic and government-imposed restrictions sped up its development.
ARP operated its first ghost kitchen around Easter, when 150 full-family meals were made in Mia’s Old Town Kitchen for another ARP restaurant, The Majestic, while it was still closed.
“We’re a couple of weeks into it, and the response is awesome and sales are growing every week,” Nicholas said. “We’re not even doing pick-up: It is a true ghost kitchen.”
He predicts ghost kitchens will be a long-term necessity for the industry, and could help restaurants make up for lost time and money when dine-in returns to full capacity.
“People believe in our brands and know what we do, so it doesn’t matter where the delivery driver picks it up from or if you pick it up,” Nicholas said.
Delivery-only menu items offered by Mia’s include:
- Giant meatball ($14)
- Chicken Parmigiana ($19)
- Roasted Mushroom Lasagna ($19)
- Rigatoni à la Bolognese ($20)
- Bucatini Cacio e Pepe ($18)
- Five different pizzas, including Margherita, pepperoni, and sausage and peppers ($7.5-$8)
Hours of operation are:
- Monday and Tuesday: 12-9 p.m.
- Wednesday to Friday: 12-10 p.m.
- Saturday: 3-10 p.m.
- Sunday: 3-9 p.m.
Photos via Mia’s Italian Kitchen
Expensive Bike Parking Spaces — “Metro has spent nearly $20,000 per bike parking space at three bike facilities, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has found. Metro has spent over $5.9 million on the construction of 304 bike spaces at the three facilities… located at the College Park, East Falls Church and Vienna Metro stations.” [NBC 4]
Short Waits to Vote in Arlington — “Eager to avoid waiting in line while casting an early ballot? Try to avoid peak times and you should be fine. ‘Wait times are minimal,’ said county elections chief Gretchen Reinemeyer, with the exception of early morning and occasionally at lunchtime. Other than that, voters have been experiencing waits of 10 minutes or less, and ‘most people are just walking straight in to vote,’ she said.” [InsideNova]
Voters Flocking to Ballot Drop-Boxes — “Arlington has set up nine dropboxes for the secure collection of ballots at points across the county, representing another option for those who neither want to vote in person nor wish to trust the U.S. Postal Service with their ballots. That network has proved ‘very popular,’ Arlington elections chief Gretchen Reinemeyer said.” [InsideNova]
Biden Leads in New Va. Poll — “Former vice president Joe Biden leads President Trump 52 percent to 41 percent among likely Virginia voters, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll — roughly double Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in the state in 2016. Biden’s advantage cuts across most demographic groups, with regional strength in the Northern Virginia suburbs and the Richmond area.” [Washington Post]
Local Nonprofit Featured on GMA — “Lights, camera, action! We had a wonderful experience filming with the Good Morning America team last week. The piece aired early this morning… We were thrilled by an unexpected and very generous gift from Amazon.com to help our residents weather the pandemic.” [Facebook, Vimeo]
Police Investigation Bill Signed into Law — “Gov. Northam has signed my bill (HB 5072) to empower the Atty Gen to conduct ‘pattern or practice’ investigations of police forces that appear to be violating constitutional rights, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, or racially biased policing.” [@Lopez4VA/Twitter]
Pupatella Now Available for Delivery — “UBER EATS Now available at all locations – DC (Dupont Circle), both the Original Wilson Blvd spot and South Arlington, as well as Richmond too! We’ve partnered up with UberEats to bring you some of the best pizza around.” [@PupatellaPizza/Twitter]
Local Beer Biz Figure Dies — “Ben Tolkan, a popular figure in DC’s beer industry who was the subject of a Washingtonian feature story, died late Saturday night after a five-and-a half-year battle with cancer. He was 37.” Tolkan is survived by his wife, Abby, an Arlington County public school teacher. [Washingtonian]
It only exists online, but a new fried chicken restaurant has launched in Arlington.
Smokecraft Modern Barbecue, which opened in July at 1051 N. Highland Street in Clarendon, announced this week that it has also opened “Etta Faye’s Chicken Shack.”
The Southern-style eatery is a “ghost kitchen” — you can’t go there, sit down, and order food. Instead, you can only order it for delivery on Uber Eats or DoorDash, or for pickup on the Smokecraft online ordering page.
Etta Faye’s started taking its first orders Wednesday evening.
Ghost kitchens are a hot concept, attracting investors and media buzz. Last week ARLnow reported that a trailer in a Clarendon parking lot was operating as a ghost kitchen; Etta Faye’s, however, appears to operate out of the Smokecraft space.
Among the items offered are several varieties of fried chicken sandwich, as well as sides like a pimento cheese and biscuit crostini.
More from a press release:
The award-winning Smokecraft Modern Barbecue team is excited to announce Etta Faye’s Chicken Shack, a ghost kitchen concept now available for Arlington residents and visitors to enjoy via carryout and delivery.
Etta Faye’s Chicken Shack is an homage to Executive Sous Chef William Burke’s grandmother, a no-nonsense woman who was unapologetically herself. Crafted around two of Burke’s favorite childhood comfort foods, fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits, the concept is inspired by Burke’s southern roots, growing up cooking with his granny.
“During tough times like these, I always find comfort thinking of my grandmother’s food as a kid,” said Burke. “This menu is an ode to her and I’m hoping to share that same comfort with others.”
The menu boasts seven different sandwiches as well as salads, sides, and a ‘chuck it bucket’ for four. Enjoy offerings like a pimento cheese and biscuit crostini with pickled onions and hatch peppers, a fried green tomato BLT, a fried chicken sandwich with harissa hot sauce on a potato bun, a sweet BBQ fried chicken sandwich, and more. The ‘chuck it bucket’ feeds four for $24, complete with fried chicken, two sides, slaw, biscuits and fries. Sides include everything spiced tater tots with smoked garlic sauce, mac and cheese, and baked beans, among others.
For more information on Etta Faye’s Chicken Shack, follow the concept on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Orders will be available for delivery on UberEats and DoorDash, or for pickup at www.smokecraftbbq.com. Check out the Smokecraft Modern Barbecue website for the full menu of offerings.
You may have noticed it while going by: a seemingly random blue trailer in the middle of a decaying parking lot between the Clarendon Whole Foods and the PNC Bank.
What you might not have realized at the time is that your next meal might be coming from there.
The trailer belongs to REEF Kitchens, which is part of a company focused on turning thousands of underutilized, urban parking lots around the country into food and logistics hubs. It serves as a “ghost kitchen,” producing meals for a number of virtual “restaurants” available on food delivery platforms like Uber Eats, Doordash, Postmates and Grubhub.
A full kitchen crew works out of the trailer, which is positioned to be close to a large, dense population and convenient for delivery drivers, who don’t need to double park or dodge dine-in customers while picking up meals.
REEF currently has only one location in Arlington, but is scouting out more here and around the D.C. area.
“Our Neighborhood Kitchen on Wilson Blvd is REEF’s first, and currently only, Neighborhood Kitchen in the Arlington area,” said a PR rep for the company, in response to inquiries from ARLnow. “REEF currently operates two parking facilities in the Arlington area and close to 80 locations in the greater DMV… I think it’s fair to say we’re growing quickly and are adding new locations all the time.”
Each kitchen cooks for 5-6 restaurant brands, serving up to 80-100 delivery orders per day and offering 20-35 minute delivery times. The trailers — along with waste bins and portable bathrooms — require 6-8 parking spaces apiece, in addition to utility connections, according to a slide deck obtained by ARLnow. The company sometimes groups multiple trailers together in the same parking lot.
REEF currently employs 10 people in Arlington, the rep said, though that is significantly fewer than would be required to run five separate bricks-and-mortar restaurants. Fewer employees, close proximity to a critical mass of potential customers, and the lack of a physical building means more sales and lower costs, something that’s hard for restaurants struggling through the pandemic to compete with — particularly given the fees collected by the delivery apps.
But REEF says it is looking to unlock opportunities for restaurants and local entrepreneurs through its model.
“REEF Neighborhood Kitchens leverage the power of proximity through the company’s network of parking lots to allow food entrepreneurs, local restaurants, and national restaurant brands to open and quickly expand their delivery businesses,” said the rep. “Neighborhood Kitchens help to reduce the barriers and costs associated with traditional brick and mortar restaurants either by helping to expand an existing restaurant’s delivery radius, or by allowing food entrepreneurs to get their business off the ground without the barriers to entry of the traditional restaurant industry. ”
He added that the kitchens follow stringent food handling, cleaning and COVID-19 safety protocols, and that customers “benefit from the added convenience of expanded delivery areas and quicker delivery.”
REEF, which released a video (below) that shows its holistic vision for turning parking lots into bustling neighborhood logistics hubs, says its model represents the future — a reimagined melding of technology and the physical world.
“We believe a parking lot can be more than a place to store a car,” the company said in a presentation. “A parking lot can be a hub for the community, connecting people to the businesses, services, and experiences that make a neighborhood thrive.”
Every Friday evening since late May, the restaurants has invited diners to watch a Zoom conversation between owner Andy Shallal and a featured guest, free of charge.
The restaurant, which has seven locations in the D.C. region, normally hosts in-person poetry, art and discussion-based events. Now, with the pandemic pausing such gatherings, Shallal said the dinner parties are meant to continue the “meeting of the minds” that Busboys and Poets used to facilitate.
“We’re a place where art, culture and politics collide and we don’t want to lose that,” Shallal said. “We want to continue that collison.”
Most of the parties’ featured guests have spoken at previous Busboys and Poets events, Shallal said. Recent guests include author Alice Walker, filmmaker Michael Moore and Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Shallal said conversations usually cover a speaker’s background and upcoming projects as well as their thoughts on current events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the national reckoning on race and November’s election.
Viewers are encouraged to order meals through Busboys and Poets’ pickup or delivery service to accompany the conversation. Shallal said popular takeout items have been the blackened salmon and the chicken panini, as well as signature cocktails.
Busboys and Poets has also been holding open mic nights and poetry slam competitions through Instagram Live. Hosted by one of the restaurant’s regular poets, amateur poets log in to the livestreams and present their work. Shallal said he hopes these programs maintain a sense of community between artists and art consumers while they are forced apart.
“These are moments when people want to feel connected,” Shallal said. “[People] don’t want to feel like they’re alone. I think these types of virtual conversations and programs that we do help people to recognize that they’re not alone, that there are many, many people out there who are longing for this kind of interaction.”
The next virtual dinner party is Friday, September 11 at 6 p.m. Reverend William Barber II, a pastor and civil rights activist, will be the featured guest.
Image via Google Maps
Ballston’s SER is no stranger to adversity.
After each flood, owner Javier Candon said SER faced temporary closure and extensive cleanup at its 1110 N. Glebe Road storefront. Through these hard times, though, Candon said he could always see light at the end of the tunnel.
Now, following a three month closure of SER’s in-person dining and with sales still down 40%, Candon sees only dark.
“With the flood, it was devastating, especially because it happened one time after the other time. But even if you are closed, you know that you are going to reopen at some point,” Candon said. “With the pandemic… not knowing when things are going to come back to normal — if they come back to normal — emotionally is very hard.”
SER shut its doors in March when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered non-essential business to close. Restaurants were still allowed to offer takeout and delivery, but SER was only available on Uber Eats.
Candon said the eatery’s first actions were to join DoorDash, Postmates and Grubhub, where customers continued ordering popular items like paella. Additionally, liquor and wine pick-up became available on SER’s website, after being allowed by the state.
Without a need for workers to run in-person dining, Candon said SER also let go of almost all of its staff. Only a couple cooks, the chef and a couple managers were kept to manage takeout operations.
As the pandemic progressed, SER began to reopen in line with the state. Phase 1 permitted 50% outdoor occupancy with tables placed six feet apart, so Candon opened the restaurant’s patio space and started rehiring workers to staff it.
He also applied for a Temporary Outdoor Seating Area permit to expand patio seating.
Now that Phase 3 allows for indoor and outdoor seating with tables six feet apart, Candon said SER can seat about 70 people inside, or about 50% of its capacity, and around 80 people in its expanded patio space. He added that nearly all original staff members have been brought back.
Customers have been returning on Friday and Saturday nights, but Candon said SER’s overall business is still taking a sustained hit.
“Where we have been affected the most has been lunch business, since people are not back to the office,” Candon said. “Monday through Thursday night, we are down a lot because we used to have a lot of business in terms of happy hour and company parties and events. That’s not happening now and it’s not going to happen for a long time.”
SER received a PPP loan to help with rent, payroll and utility payments, but now has higher operational costs from spending on personal protective equipment, sanitizers and more staff to clean the building.
After the floods, SER’s insurance paid for income losses during the subsequent closures. Candon said the costs of staying open during the pandemic are not subject to the same relief, so SER is on its own if it hopes to stay afloat.
Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. Monday Properties remains firmly committed to the health, safety and well-being of its employees, tenants and community. This week, Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1000 and 1100 Wilson (The Rosslyn Tower).
If a Washington Nationals game just wouldn’t be the same for you without a hot dog, ballpark peanuts or other baseball cuisine, the new Best Ballpark Bites program may be a homerun. It aims to deliver gameday meals to those watching the games safely from their livings rooms.
“The Nationals want to bring the ballpark experience to you in the comfort and safety of your home,” the Nationals said in a press release. “Introducing Best Ballpark Bites Delivered, featuring classic gameday meals.”
The partnership is part of a continued shift towards no-contact deliveries during the pandemic, according to Hungry’s website. The Ballston-based company also was able to recently secure over $20 million in funding from donors like comedian Kevin Hart and former Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb.
The packages come in three optional sets:
- Enzo’s Pizza Pack — featuring a hand-tossed pepperoni pizza to bake at home, Old Bay dry rub and Buffalo wings, a pasta salad, two packages of cracker jacks and three Cokes
- Backyard Grill Pack — Two Hebrew Nationals Hot Dogs to be reheated at home, an Italian sausage and bratwurst to be grilled at home along with their respective condiments, tortilla chips, nacho dip, chili, Cracker Jacks and three Cokes
- Tacos and Nachos Pack — Nine chicken and black bean tacos, “NAT-cho” chips, corn salad, Cracker Jacks and three Cokes
All packs are $75 and designed to serve 2-3 people with contactless deliveries.
Alcohol orders are also included but will require the recipient to present ID on delivery. In addition to online ordering, the press release says orders can be placed via 1-888-8HUNGRY or emailing [email protected]. Orders have to be placed by midnight the day before the game for night games.
According to Hungry’s website, orders will include a free Nats bobblehead for a limited time.
Flickr photo by Stephen Yates