At the start of the pandemic, Arlington Kabob co-owner Susan Clementi spent 20 hours a day trying to coronavirus-proof her restaurant. She did not have time, or the financial knowledge, to navigate the Paycheck Protection Program.
When she tried to hire legal help, the application fees amounted to $5,000. Clementi realized she had to do it herself.
Arlington Kabob was denied funding, but what frustrated Clementi the most was seeing restaurants that had a dozen locations receive loans.
“I felt very, very small,” she said.
Her experience during the first round of PPP played out across the nation.
The Small Business Administration and the banks issuing the loans were criticized for awarding funds first to bigger companies while overlooking smaller and minority-owned businesses. For round two, the SBA opened applications for small-scale, local lenders this week, and is expanding access to all eligible lenders next Tuesday.
ARLnow spoke with a handful of restaurant owners who are waiting for the green light to apply. All of them said that if they get relief, their first order of business will be paying staff.
“Sometimes I have to go into personal money to pay my employees,” said Vince Johnson, the owner of Mexican street corn stand Shuck Shack in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall. “I didn’t sign up for that.”
Sloppy Mama’s BBQ owner Joe Neuman said he would use the funds to cover wages and pay bills that he may not be able to afford in three weeks.
“We’re just trying to minimize losses, knowing that another round of PPP would be coming through at some point,” he said.
Those who applied last year struggled to navigate the application forms and process. After Neuman’s wife spent 14 hours on it, their accountant took over and submitted it at 11 p.m. the night before funds ran out, the BBQ joint’s owner said.
“We got real lucky,” he said.
Jessica Yanez is in a different boat. She is preparing for the grand opening of Los Chamacos along Columbia Pike. For her, the PPP loan would help cover wages until the county issues the last permit.
“We’re trying to open as soon as we can,” Yanez said. “We have people working for us, that’s why [Arlington Economic Development] told me about the PPP program.”
Some restaurant owners benefited from the significant office population, and remote work has tanked their catering revenues. Clementi said her Lee Highway location is supporting her November 2019 expansion into Courthouse, which thrived briefly on office lunches. Meanwhile, Neuman said his restaurant’s dinner sales have increased and sustain the near-total hits to his lunch-friendly Ballston Quarter location and catering outfit.
Some owners are taking on risks in a risky time. Yanez said she and her husband, Benedicto, had an opportunity and “had to take it.”
One year after Johnson opened, he acquired a food truck to serve people who are out and about. He is still figuring out how to run a food truck, but so far, the business is not what he thought.
“We’re seeing more people in the malls. People are not really paying attention to COVID-19 anymore, sad as it is,” he said, adding that this will prolong economic instability for eateries.
Although they face many hardships, these Arlington restaurateurs are dedicated to their communities and their roots.
“We decided to open this restaurant because we know the neighborhood,” Yanez said. “It’s a good neighborhood.”
Johnson is trudging through an application and inspection process to bring his truck to military installations.
“Being a vet myself, it was part of my plan putting this together,” he said.
Clementi thanked her customers for their support and has been providing discounts and free meals to first responders.
“We have to make everyone feel stronger by being there for each other,” she said.
More Snow Than Last Year? — “Winter officially starts in just two weeks (by the Dec. 1 meteorological definition), and, as such, we present our annual seasonal outlook… Overall, we expect slightly below-average snowfall, though around the median… 10 to 14 inches (compared with a 15.4-inch average, 11-inch median).” [Capital Weather Gang]
Sailor Sentenced for Child Exploitation — “A former U.S. Navy Seabee was sentenced today to 109 months in prison for transporting images of child sexual abuse. According to court documents, Martin Nieves Huizar, 37, of Arlington, was previously assigned to the U.S. Secretary of State’s overseas travel communications detail.” [U.S. Dept. of Justice]
Construction Crane Coming to Ballston — “Fans of bocce ball at a county park in Ballston will not find themselves displaced, although they soon may see a big crane swinging above their noggins. Arlington County Board members on Nov. 14 approved a request allowing the crane to operate within the government’s air rights above Glebe & Randolph Park. It will support redevelopment of the Harris Teeter site at 600 North Glebe Road.” [InsideNova]
Board Approves New Town Square Name — “The Arlington County Board today approved naming Green Valley’s Town Square for civic activist John Robinson, Jr. Robinson, often called the ‘Mayor of Green Valley,’ fought for decades against racial injustice and inequality in northern Virginia.” [Arlington County]
Shaved Ice Truck Coming to Arlington — “The pandemic did not dampen Noel and Jasmine Bourroughs’ first summer running a mobile Kona Ice truck in Fairfax and the City of Falls Church. In fact, their first season of operating the franchise was so successful they decided to expand. By next March, the couple anticipates opening two more trucks that serve Arlington and McLean.” [Tysons Reporter]
Plane Flying Circles Around Pentagon — A small, single-engine plane registered to a government contractor was flying circles around the Pentagon last night, at an altitude of around 5,000 feet. [@InTheSkyDC/Twitter]
Alexandria Cancels Winter Sports — Alexandria City Public Schools has canceled its winter sports season, a week after Arlington Public Schools reversed course and decided to play most winter sports. [ALXnow]
Roasted corn stand “Shuck Shack” will soon be serving local residents on wheels.
The Florida-based franchise opened its first Arlington location in the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City last October. The owner of the local stand announced the food truck addition on Instagram last week.
The restaurant declares itself the “home of the world famous Mexican street corn,” and its employees “cornistas.” Menu items include roasted corn with salt and pepper, Old Bay seasoning, lime-marinade and parmesan cheese, and more — nearly 30 corn flavorings in all.
Vincent Johnson, the owner of the stand, said mall customers responded well to its opening last year.
“Business was really good when we first opened. We got a really good, warm welcome from the community when we first opened. People were really interested in corn and that went well up until January, when the mall began to get kind of slow,” Johnson said. “And of course in March, the mall shut down.”
Since the mall has reopened, Johnson said he’s served customers from around the country.
“Pentagon City mall is an attraction when people come to the area, so we get people from all over the place. And now with the pandemic going on, we’re getting people that are from New Orleans, Texas, Chicago, and California that are coming to the mall and they’re all like ‘I just couldn’t stay in the house anymore. I’ve had enough and I just wanted to go somewhere,'” Johnson said. “It’s really interesting how people have had it with this pandemic.”
Johnson said adding a food truck was something he always envisioned.
“I had a friend who had his own food truck for several years and he did pretty well, so after I opened up in Pentagon City mall, it was kind of a natural progression,” Johnson said. “We’re getting really good feedback in the mall, but of course with the pandemic, some people don’t want to come in the mall, and the thing that I love about the truck is that I can go to where the people are and that’s something that I’m really looking forward to.”
The Shuck Shack food truck will have varying hours of operation, while the restaurant’s hours in the mall will remain the same.
“We have a general plan right now to do daytime, maybe start around 11 a.m., and then maybe around 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. during the week,” Johnson said. “We’re going to start in the downtown Arlington area and try to do lunch around the city. We’re going to add on to our staff and we’re going to have people working in the mall or working on the truck.”
The grand opening for the Shuck Shack food truck is planned for Wednesday, Oct. 14, at the mall in front of Zara and Sugar Factory. The time of the grand opening is still to be determined, but Johnson said customers can follow on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for more announcements.
Once the truck is up and running, Johnson said he’ll be able to serve “100 to 200 cooked ears every hour.”
Photo via Shuck Shack/Instagram
The annual Rosslyn Jazz Fest is not being held as the usual large public event this year. But it is returning in a different form next week.
Now called the Jazz Supper Club, it has been transformed into a virtual and socially-distant event. On Wednesday, Sept. 23 and 30, there will be outdoor jazz in Rosslyn — albeit in smaller settings. Groups will play at two outdoor dining venues around dinner time, with the performances live-streamed online.
The scheduled artists, locations and times are:
- Sept. 23: Irene Jalenti at the Rooftop Terrace at Sfoglina Rosslyn (1100 Wilson Blvd.) from 7 to 9 p.m.
- Sept. 30: René Ibañez & Cubano Groove at Amuse (1121 19th St. N.) from 7 to 9 p.m.
Reservations for the first night are now available online.
More from the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, which organizes the annual jazz festival:
Mark your calendars for the first ever Rosslyn Jazz Supper Clubs! With these curated experiences at Rosslyn restaurants, we’re reinventing our usual Jazz Festival format to one that supports virtual streaming and limits in-person attendance. To promote the safety of all attendees, guests are asked to wear masks when not seated and to practice physical distancing in accordance with Arlington County’s and Virginia’s guidelines.
Please review the Rosslyn BID’s and each restaurant’s individual COVID-19 policies and expectations before making a reservation. By making a reservation, you are agreeing to abide by the COVID-19 policies and expectations of the Rosslyn BID and each individual restaurant.
If you’re uncomfortable attending the Supper Clubs, we’ll be livestreaming each experience so you can enjoy the evening from home.
Photo via Jens Thekkeveettil/Unsplash
This content was written and sponsored by The Keri Shull Team, Arlington’s top producing residential real estate team.
Sometimes, nothing hits the spot quite like a taco. Classic, convenient, and always delicious, these cantina treats are a favorite for a reason — but who serves up the best tacos in Arlington? In this week’s Neighborhood Spotlight, join Peter Applegate, Caitlin Kamerman, and Drew Carpenter of the Keri Shull Team as they take you 3 of our favorite taquerias in Arlington!
Do you have a restaurant, bar or entertainment spot that you’d like for us to highlight in a future Neighborhood Spotlight post? Just let us know in the comments — we’d love to check it out!
Now, let’s get right into it and talk about the contestants!
Tortas Y Tacos La Chiquita
Located on Columbia Pike — just down the road from Bob & Edith’s Diner and right next door to the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse — is a hidden gem for authentic tacos in Arlington. Tortas Y Tacos used to be a food truck in the area, but they opened up a storefront about 3 years ago and have been slinging salsa there ever since.
In addition to their authentic tacos, Tortas Y Tacos also serves — as the name implies — torta sandwiches, as well as quesadillas and other iconic street fare.
If you are looking for the classic Mexican taco, with soft corn tortillas, a variety of tender meats, and a zesty squeeze of lime on top of cilantro and onion, then this might be the spot in Arlington.
Tacos El Chilango
There’s no simpler taco experience than the one you get at Tacos El Chilango. The unassuming food truck is parked in Rosslyn, right by Arlington Boulevard. When you approach (with cash in hand — no plastic at this spot!) the menu might seem surprisingly simple.
Just tacos. Take your pick of beef, pork, chicken, sausage, lengua or a mix. It’s $2.50 per taco, and they come to you on a paper plate to eat there or as you walk.
And they are absolutely incredible.
Just like Tortas Y Tacos, this food truck boasts truly authentic Mexican tacos, with tender meats double wrapped in corn tortillas and topped with onions, cilantro, and your choice of salsas.
Plus, with plenty of room to space out, sanitizer options from the owner, and its prime location near Rosslyn and Court House, Tacos El Chilango is a great option for takeout food in Arlington — especially on a lunch break!
Taco Rock absolutely blows away the competition when it comes to menu size and presentation. The eatery offers 23 varieties of tacos — including speciality items like sushi-inspired tacos and a cubano sandwich inside a tortilla — as well as a wide selection of empanadas, ceviche, burritos and other tex-mex offerings.
If you stop by Taco Rock, either to dine in or take out, make sure to try one of their signature drinks, too! In particular, we loved their speciality margaritas, which pair perfectly with the unique flavors of the tacos.
The truth is, it’s hard to compare these places! Tortas Y Tacos and Tacos El Chilango lean heavily on tradition and authenticity, whereas Taco Rock tries its hand at innovation with unique fillings and attractive presentation.
When it comes down to it, though, our agents selected Tortas Y Tacos La Chiquita as the top taco in Arlington. The combination of biting hot sauce, perfectly crafted tortillas, fall-off-the-bone tender meats, and authentic flavor is simply unbeatable in our eyes!
When it comes to tacos, you trust the experts, right? Well, the same is true when getting ready to buy or sell a house now … and no one has more expertise than the Keri Shull Team! So if you are interested in living in Arlington, Washington D.C., or anywhere else in the DMV, just click here and schedule a time for a free Consultation with one of our local experts!
Hotel-to-Apartment Project on Hold — “A proposal to convert the Arlington Courts Suites extended-stay hotel in the Courthouse area to apartments is on hold, at least for now. The project had been slated for County Board consideration on July 18, but has been deferred until at least October at the request of the applicant, citing ‘economic concerns about the project due to the COVID-19 emergency.'” [InsideNova]
Controversy Sparks Idea for Fundraiser — A local man has raised more than $140,000 “after starting a GoFundMe page to buy Goya Foods products and donate them to local food pantries after critics called for a boycott over pro-Trump comments from Goya’s CEO. ‘People are seeing in the news a double standard for one political view,’ 27-year-old Casey Harper of Arlington, Va., told FOX Business.” [Fox Business, GoFundMe]
Jury Questionnaire Going Out Soon — “The Arlington Circuit Court, which includes the City of Falls Church, will soon begin its annual juror qualification process. Juror questionnaires will be mailed in early August to randomly selected residents of Arlington County and Falls Church City. These questionnaires are used to qualify residents for jury duty which begins Jan. 1, 2021, and ends Dec. 31, 2021.” [Arlington County]
Job Losses Possible at DCA — Among the 36,000 United Airlines workers who may be furloughed starting in October, according to WARN Act notices, are 116 employees at Reagan National Airport. [Virginia Employment Commission]
Swearing In for New County Board Member — “Takis P. Karantonis, elected to the Arlington County Board in a special election on July 7, 2020, will be sworn in at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, July 14 in a virtual ceremony. Clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington Paul Ferguson will officiate.” [Arlington County]
Red Hook Lobster Pound Shuts Down — Long-time local food truck operator and concessionaire Red Hook Lobster Pound is selling its trucks and assets as the pandemic forces it out of business. This presumably means that there will be no Red Hook lobster restaurant near Clarendon, either. [Washingtonian]
ACPD Investigating Airbag Theft Along Lee Highway — “At approximately 7:30 a.m. on July 12, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 7:00 p.m. on July 11 and 7:30 a.m. on July 12, an unknown suspect(s) smashed the windows of approximately three vehicles and stole the airbags. There are no suspect(s) descriptions. The investigation is ongoing.” [Arlington County]
Photo courtesy Mike Cantwell
As the pandemic forces brick and mortar restaurants to close or switch to takeout and delivery, food trucks are filling the void by bringing the restaurant experience to residential neighborhoods.
Patrick Rathbone, the owner of the popular Big Cheese food truck, spent this morning (Tuesday) at Virginia Hospital Center making 50 sandwiches for medical workers there — 35 for those in ER and 15 for those working in the ICU.
On the Big Cheese website, people can make $10 donations to buy lunch for a hospital worker. So far, he said he’s made about 120 lunches for hospital workers and plans to keep it up through the pandemic.
Rathbone has a busy week planned, because after VHC he’s headed to the Westover neighborhood. The usual roundup of Metro-accessible Arlington locations this week includes something different: a few stops in residential neighborhoods, like Fairlington on Saturday.
“I had been focused on vending at Courthouse, Clarendon, Ballston, Pentagon City,” Rathbone said. “They’re all the places where there’s high-density residential. It’s more business than sitting at home but hasn’t been exemplary.”
Rathbone said business is down 80-90 percent of what it usually is this time of year, when workers flood out of office buildings at lunchtime looking for a meal and some time outdoors.
While Rathbone said he usually has a staff of between six to eight employees, right now it’s just him. With business down in the high-density areas, he wanted to take a chance and bring Big Cheese to some of the less dense areas of the county.
“I live in Barcroft area, put a post on the Arlington Neighbors Facebook page just to see if people in neighborhoods would want a visit,” Rathbone said.
The post got a large response, with over 130 comments, many of them asking Big Cheese to come by their communities. Rathbone said Shirlington, in particular, seemed excited about the prospect of a food truck visit.
“It’s something different,” Rathbone said. “They’ve been cooped up. Their kids have been cooped up. I think a lot of people are interested in supporting small businesses. With a food truck, it’s something coming to their neighborhood. I want to mix it up a bit.”
For Rathbone, it’s also a small part of offsetting the lost majority of his business.
“Basically, the business has gone from lunches and events catering to residential,” Rathbone said. “A big part of my business is event catering — all the weddings, PTA events, music festivals have all canceled. I don’t see how any of those are coming back this year at all. I am concerned, but I’m less concerned than if I had brick and mortar because that’s a lot more overhead.”
Rathbone said he’s also happy to be working, as it makes him less stressed than just sitting at home.
The Big Cheese isn’t alone in serving more residential areas. Food truck DC Slices has been offering pick up and delivery 951 S. Monroe Street, just off Columbia Pike. Astro Doughnuts also drew a crowd when its truck made a stop in a North Arlington cul-de-sac.
International foodies in Rosslyn will have another eatery option with the upcoming expansion of Fava Pot.
The restaurant — Egyptian Street Food by Fava Pot — is expected to open in September, just in time to celebrate the local chain’s 3rd anniversary, according to owner Dina Daniel.
The restaurant is rooted in Falls Church, where it has a sit-down location, and it also just opened a new pop-up in Union Market this past November. Before that, the eatery started as a food truck, which still frequents lunchtime hotspots Rosslyn, Courthouse, Ballston and Crystal City.
Daniel hasn’t yet announced exactly where the eatery will be located in Rosslyn.
“We are still in negotiations,” she said, adding that they will likely announce its exact location in two to three weeks. Still, she said that the eatery will have both sit-down options and food for take-out.
Unlike the Falls Church sit-down location, the Rosslyn location will be geared towards working professionals who have fast-paced workdays, according to Daniel.
“It is meant to be a quick bite but not fast food,” she said.
Over the years, Fava Pot has been the recipient of numerous awards and was recognized nationally for its food truck cuisine. All Fava Pot’s ingredients are made fresh in-house, according to Daniel.
Daniel said her favorite item is the Táamya, which she considers to be the eatery’s specialty. She called it an “Egyptian falafel” — the tiny ball has a crunchy exterior with a soft veggie-filled inside. Unlike other types of falafels, the snack is made with fava beans instead of chickpeas.
Yesterday (Feb. 13), Voice of America Asia featured Fava Pot on its YouTube channel as part of its Food Bites mini-series.
As an Egyptian immigrant, Daniel acts as a cultural ambassador for the community, helping people to experience new cuisines and understand more about Egyptian culture.
“I believe America has misconceptions of Egyptians,” she said, noting that Egypt has a distinctive cultural identity from the rest of the Middle East. The walls of the Falls Church location are covered with the stories of famous Egyptians, including athletes, academics and musicians.
To give back, some proceeds from the restaurant will go toward Coptic Orphans, an organization that assists underprovided kids in Egypt.
Red Hook Lobster Pound started as a restaurant in Red Hook, Brooklyn, before expanding to D.C. with a food truck that quickly gained popularity, which was then followed by a second D.C.-based truck and a kiosk at the District Wharf.
The trucks serve lobster and other New England specialties, like clam chowder and warm apple cider, as well as “lobstah box” meals that include a lobster roll, two sides or drinks, and a cookie.
Now, Red Hook Lobster Pound signs are up at the Naan Kabob space, and its trucks and food cart are regularly parked there. The company couldn’t be reached for comment, but signs inside the restaurant suggest it will serve as a bricks-and-mortar location for Red Hook Lobster Pound, offering dishes like lobster mac and cheese for $13.95.
For the time being, the company’s online schedule places one of the trucks as serving food at 3300 Wilson Blvd from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday nights.
Naan Kabob “temporarily closed” last October, but never reopened. The restaurant opened in 2017 to replace Pio Pio, a Peruvian restaurant that also had a penchant for temporary closures that became permanent.
There’s no word as to how much the Lobster Pound might have shelled out for its new Arlington spot.
Food trucks lovers in Arlington may now have more opportunities to buy their meals on wheels thanks to newly loosened regulations.
The Arlington County Board approved a series of code changes during its meeting this weekend that open up more parking areas for food trucks and also allow the trucks to operate later into the night. Members voted unanimously in support of the changes as part of their consent agenda for the Saturday, September 21 meeting.
Under the updated regulations, food trucks will be now be able park in places with sidewalks at least 6 wide, down from 10 feet. The amended code also clarified that trucks are can in certain cases operate past the standard business hours of 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
In a report to the Board, county staff noted that the changes will provide “greater flexibility in establishing on-street vending zones.”
The 10-foot sidewalk requirement previously barred trucks from otherwise desirable areas. One example was 15th Street N. in Courthouse, which officials said could accommodate five food trucks were it not for the 7.5 foot-wide sidewalk not meeting the 10-foot requirement.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of District Taco, which was co-founded by Marc Wallace and Osiris Hoil. The company is marking the occasion with an event in Rosslyn tomorrow (Thursday).
“ATTN, amigos!” the company said in a social media post. “Join us back where it all started for our 10 year anniversary… from 12-1 p.m. we will be on the corner of Lynn St & Wilson Blvd, in Rosslyn, handing out tacos and giveaways! Come celebrate with us and pose for a photo with our original taco cart.”
Hoil said he also plans on celebrating by taking a trip down to Mexico in August to visit family and reminisce about his mother’s cooking — the inspiration for many District Taco recipes.
Hoil’s entrepreneurial story began when he came to the United States as an immigrant and was laid off from a construction company during in 2007, around the time of the economic crisis. He said despite his dismay at the time, he still thinks highly of the firm and hired them to build several District Taco locations.
The District Taco cart launched in 2009, but was retired in 2014. Since then, two bricks-and-mortar District Taco locations have opened in Arlington: at 5723 Lee Highway — its very first storefront — in 2010 and in Rosslyn (1500 Wilson Blvd) in 2016.
District Taco now has 14 locations, according to its website, and plans to add at least three more in 2020, according to Hoil. They also want to double their office space by 2021.
“Everything we have done is by scratch,” said Hoil. “We have learned so much from other people and big companies.”
Photo 1 via Twitter