Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

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]

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The kitchen of Palette 22 (4053 Campbell Avenue) in Shirlington is working double-duty as an outpost for Mia’s Italian Kitchen, which has a dine-in location in Old Town Alexandria.

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.

The company opened a second ghost kitchen in Alexandria, Touchdown Wings & Burgers, in the kitchen of Theismann’s Restaurant and Bar.

“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

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Morning Notes

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]

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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.

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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.”

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Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and arts space with a location in Shirlington, has been holding virtual dinner parties to replace its usual in-person gatherings.

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

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Ballston’s SER is no stranger to adversity.

Since its 2015 opening, the Spanish comfort food restaurant has flooded four different times.

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.

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnowStartup 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).

As the Washington Nationals play ball without fans in the stands, the team is turning to Arlington startup Hungry to bring the ballpark dining experience to homes.

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

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The cat’s out of the bag for to-go drinks with Virginians — and Arlingtonians in particular — expressing widespread support for keeping the practice around after the pandemic is over.

In a joint poll with the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association and the National Restaurant Association found that 78 percent of Virginians support making permanent current, temporary practices that allow restaurant customers to purchase alcoholic beverages with their takeout and delivery food orders.

“According to the recent data, customers are taking advantage of the order with approximately one in three Virginia adults who recently purchased takeout or delivery including alcohol with their order,” the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association said in a press release. “Additionally, 39 percent of restaurant patrons said the option of including alcoholic beverages with their order made them more likely to choose one restaurant over a competitor that does not offer alcohol sales.”

ARLnow’s own less scientific polling found that 91% of those who responded (2,839 people) were in favor of making delivery of alcohol permanent.

“The popularity of ordering mixed beverages to-go or for delivery shows that people want it,” said Sarah White, Operating Partner at Cowboy Café (4792 Lee Hwy) said in the press release. “We keep hearing from customers that it’s nice to order and enjoy a cocktail without getting dressed up and going to a bar. We keep hearing how happy they are to be able to relax in their own home and still feel like they’re receiving the full dining experience.”

Virginia allowed beer and wine to be delivered in March — relatively early in the pandemic — and eventually extended that to cocktails in April. Oklahoma has already made alcohol delivery by restaurants permanent, while many of the three-dozen states and territories that have allowed it temporarily during the pandemic are also considering making it permanent.

Staff photo by Vernon Miles

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The group behind Chasin’ Tails in East Falls Church and Happy Endings Eatery, a new Asian food hall in Rosslyn, has launched a new delivery service.

The company, Happy Endings Hospitality (HEH), says it launched “a virtual eatery featuring Vietnamese and Cajun comfort food,” calling the new service “Operation Deliver Happiness.”

“The new integrated menu features the most popular dishes from all eight [HEH] concepts since 2012,” the company said in a press release, noting that “they have greatly expanded their delivery areas to cover the majority of the metropolitan area.”

HEH says it was forced to lay off 208 employees and close all six of its restaurants in the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak. The new initiative allows them to re-hire some of the staff back, while helping those that were laid off.

“Sensing that food delivery and take out would soon become the norm, the team quickly mobilized and constructed a new menu with the help of volunteers from their staff,” said the press release. “They devised a plan which they named Operation Deliver Happiness whose mission is to safely deliver delicious food to guests while saving staff jobs and providing financial and food relief for their staff and the DMV community… Profits from Operation Deliver Happiness are used to support their recently laid off staff and those facing food insecurity in the DMV community.”

David Dang, a member of the family that owns the burgeoning restaurant group, said in an email to ARLnow they’ve been giving free meals to laid off staff members and donating to local food banks, all while launching the new “virtual eatery,” expanding its delivery area and trying to stay afloat.

The menu features “Boil in a Bag: Snow Crab Legs and the Sriracha Honey Jumbo Shrimp from Chasin’ Tails, 18-Hour Pho and Eggs Rated Banh Mi from Roll Play and Pistachio Milk Tea from Teas’n You and Classic Shoyu Tuna Poke Nachos from Lei’d,” among other popular items, along with a new Caramelized Pork Belly Mac & Cheese.

Orders for pickup and delivery can be placed online. Locally, the deliveries — free for orders over $50 — will originate from HEH’s locations in Rosslyn and Tysons.

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