Rainy, Then Windy Today — Updated at 8 a.m. — From the National Weather Service: “Rain will end later this morning into this afternoon from northwest to southeast. However, gusty winds will develop and river flooding is expected along portions of the Potomac River and nearby tributaries.” [Twitter]
Freddie’s Expanding to Delaware Shore — “Freddie’s Beach Bar, the gay bar that has been operating in the Crystal City section of Arlington, Va., since 2001, is planning to open a new version of itself in Rehoboth Beach in time for Memorial Day weekend, according to owner Freddie Lutz. Lutz said that similar to the Freddie’s in Arlington, the Rehoboth version will operate as a restaurant and bar with entertainment that is expected to include karaoke, drag bingo, and possibly drag shows.” [Washington Blade]
AG Candidate Wants to Intervene in Local Cases — “A candidate for state attorney general says that, if elected, he’ll press for the authority to step in when local prosecutors will not act on specific cases. ‘George Soros-backed commonwealth’s attorneys are not doing their jobs,’ Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) said in remarks to the Arlington County Republican Committee.” [InsideNova]
Local Restaurants Make New Washingtonian List — A half dozen Arlington restaurants are among a new list of “61 Neighborhood Restaurants That Make the DC Area a Better Place to Eat — and Live.” Among them: The Green Pig, Lebanese Taverna, Los Tios Grill, Medium Rare, Nam-Viet, and Pupatella. [Washingtonian]
Church Providing Food to Those in Need — “The Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington hosted its first Mobile Market Feb. 25 in conjunction with the Capital Area Food Bank to serve those dealing with food insecurity. This drive-thru food distribution provided nonperishables as well as fresh produce including fruits and vegetables. The monthly market originally was scheduled to begin Feb. 18 but was delayed due to inclement weather.” [Arlington Catholic Herald]
Bouncers Recognized for Spotting Fake IDs — “Tonight the Arlington Restaurant Initiative, Washington Regional Alcohol Program and Responsibility.org recognized staff from Don Tito and Whitlow’s on Wilson for their excellence in detecting false identifications and preventing underage drinking. We commend the recipients for their dedication to safe service and responsible alcohol consumption.” [Facebook]
Crystal City Company Planning IPO — “Leonardo SpA is moving forward with an initial public offering for its Arlington-based defense electronic systems subsidiary. The Italian defense and space contractor filed its plans Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The unit will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker ‘DRS.'” [Washington Business Journal]
But it hasn’t altered how the chef does business.
“It hasn’t changed anything other than we’ve been blessed with more customers from a wider range of audiences,” Harper tells ARLnow. “We just have been busier.”
In early December, Queen Mother’s moved into the restaurant incubator Cafe by La Cocina at 918 S. Lincoln Street, right off of Columbia Pike, in the Alcova Heights neighborhood.
The menu is relatively compact. It includes four variations of fried chicken sandwiches — all cooked in duck fat and canola oil — including classic, Nashville hot, Virginia honey butter, and spicy mambo.
As sides, there are seasoned waffle fries and two different kinds of coleslaw. Homemade sweet tea and lemonade are offered as drinks. For desert, brown butter chocolate chip cookies.
Harper first got attention as the season three winner of the Fox competition show Hell’s Kitchen. He’s been an executive chef at Las Vegas and D.C. restaurants, an author, a podcast host, and has made numerous return trips to television. He also previously collaborated with another restaurateur on the short-lived, sausage-and-beer restaurant Fat Shorty’s in Clarendon.
Queen Mother’s is Harper’s first go at a restaurant he owns and controls himself. It was previously based at a virtual food hall in D.C. before making the move across the river.
“I’m from Alexandria… I’m a Virginia guy,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to ‘restaurant’ on this side of a bridge, so to speak.”
Growing up a neighbor, he notes his familiarity of Arlington and how he’s continuously overwhelmed with the support the community has provided Queen Mother’s.
“You know, people saying ‘Hey, we’re glad you’re here’ and ‘We need more things like this in the neighborhood, right down the Pike,'” he said.
The restaurant is named after his mom, Carol Harper.
“She’s affectionately known as a mother to her children… and to most of the people in my neighborhood,” he says. “And she’s a queen.”
Harper says he also named it as such to shift the conversation around Black food and Black women.
“Instead of going down the road that we’ve gone down in years past with the negative or stereotypical names, it’s my responsibility to put positive energy towards our culture and food,” Harper says. “And fried chicken is what I’m using.”
Recently, there’s been a movement around reclaiming chicken as a symbol of pride in the Black restaurant community.
Harper set up shop at the Columbia Pike-based incubator Cafe by La Cocina because the barrier for entry was significantly lower than taking on his own brick and mortar, particularly in the midst of a pandemic.
“One of the barriers to opening up a restaurant is all of the money, infrastructure, and access,” he says.”With these shared spaces, [the incubator’s owners] assume a bunch of the risk.”
It’s a win-win for the incubator as well, being able to offer a number of different concepts in the same space, he says.
There are challenges and drawbacks, Harper admits. It’s not a dedicated space, he and his employees need to be mindful of others working around them, and not all decisions fall into his hands.
He cites setting up the patio for outdoor seating as an example, saying he would love to have done it this week with the mild temperatures but the incubator makes that decision.
But for him, the collaboration with others makes it all worth it.
Track Team Denied Trip to State Tourney — “High-school track and field competitors from across the commonwealth’s largest jurisdictions will descend on Virginia Beach March 1 for the Virginia High School League’s Class 6 boys and girls indoor state-championship meets. But Arlington athletes will not be among them. County school leaders have denied permission for teams to make the trip, citing health concerns about the ongoing high level of COVID infection in that part of Virginia and other factors.” [InsideNova]
County Employees Getting Vaccinated — “Arlington government leaders have decided that the entire county-government workforce qualifies as essential for ‘continuity of government,’ which bumps them ahead of several other groups as well as the general public in COVID-vaccination priority. County-government officials last week confirmed to the Sun Gazette that its entire workforce will be part of Virginia’s ‘Group 1b,’ placing them ahead of approximately 50 percent of the state’s population.” [Sun Gazette]
HQ2 Sparks Park Debate — “[Nearby residents] worry even the large parks Amazon is promising will feel more like playgrounds for the company’s workers than community assets, pressing Arlington County officials to invest and ensure public ownership of green space in the area. And in a section of Arlington where some neighborhood groups have raised persistent complaints about a lack of community parks over the years, the issue seems certain to dominate debates about development for the foreseeable future.” [Washington Business Journal]
Local Food Biz Profiled — From the Ballston Business Improvement District: “After years of learning and cooking with their families, Andrea and Bryant created Bee J’s Cookies in April 2020 to share their gift with others.” [Twitter]
Arlington Org Helped Thousands with Food Needs — “AHC Inc., a premier provider of affordable housing communities in metro D.C., sprang into action last spring to help residents suffering from the effects of the pandemic. In 2020, AHC’s Resident Services team with support from the property management arm, AHC Management, has provided substantial food and financial assistance to more than 3,000 families in Maryland and Virginia.” [AHC Inc.]
‘Cyber Flashing’ Bill Killed — “Fear not, creepy Virginia dudes — you can still legally send an unsolicited picture of your genitals to people. For now, at least. A bill that would ban cyber-flashing in Virginia was killed last Wednesday. Cyber-flashing is when someone sends unsolicited explicit photos to another person, and the bill proposed to make it a misdemeanor.” [Washingtonian, Virginia Mercury]
Another Snowstorm on the Way? — “Confidence is growing in a messy mix of wintry precipitation in the Washington region Thursday, the latest in a parade of wintry weather events since late January… Parts of the region could see significant amounts of snow and/or ice before a possible change to rain. The precipitation, which may be heavy at times, is likely to continue into Thursday night or very early Friday morning.” [Washington Post]
More Details on Pike CVS Development — “Last summer, the public caught wind of upcoming plans to redevelop the Fillmore Gardens Shopping Center on Columbia Pike in Arlington. Now… [a] rezoning application has been filed to apply Columbia Pike-specific zoning to the property at 2601 Columbia Pike (map) in order to deliver The Elliott, a six-story building with 248 apartments with a new CVS pharmacy and a grocery store on the ground floor.” [Urban Turf]
Equinox Isn’t Coming to Clarendon — “An affiliate of Regency Centers Corp. has sued an affiliate of upscale fitness chain Equinox for more than $20 million for allegedly pulling the plug on a planned location at the Market Common retail center… Clarendon Regency IV LLC sued Equinox Clarendon Inc. in U.S. District Court in Alexandria in mid-November for breaching the terms of its lease for space on the first and second floors of the nearly 68,500-square-foot building at 2801 Clarendon Blvd.” [Washington Business Journal]
Capitol Police Officer Died in Arlington — “Smith returned to the police clinic for a follow-up appointment Jan. 14 and was ordered back to work, a decision his wife now questions… Police found him in his cherished Ford Mustang, which had rolled over and down an embankment along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, near a scenic overlook on the Potomac River. He was the second police officer who had been at the riot to take his own life.” [Washington Post]
Reaction to Senate Trump Vote — Arlington’s Congressional delegation expressed disappointment with the acquittal of former President Trump in the Senate impeachment trial. Said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.): “A bipartisan majority of Senators voted today to send a clear message to future presidents that conduct of this nature is impeachable, intolerable and disqualifying. When the history books on this moment are written, I believe that judgment will be clear.” [Blue Virginia]
Solving Arlington’s Hunger Problem — “The pandemic has made it harder for many Americans to feed their families. After the COVID-19 outbreak, Arlington’s Department of Human Services estimated nearly 16,000 residents needed food assistance. Now the Capital Area Food Bank estimates 26,000 are at risk of hunger in Arlington. County leaders have a plan to help.” [WJLA]
Southwest Air ‘Love’ Story at DCA — “And of course, there’s the inspiring story of Reecie and Imani. Reecie met Imani in 2018 after Imani requested that her plane return to the gate [at Reagan National Airport] before taking off. Imani was the maid of honor in her best friend’s wedding, but she was too nervous to fly.” [Twitter]
Jenna Bush’s Worst Date Happened in Arlington — “Hoda Kotb asked Jenna about her worst first date ever and boy, did the story deliver. ‘My worst first date involved the Secret Service, let’s just leave it at that,’ Jenna said, laughing…. She explained that they were in Arlington, Virginia, where her now-husband was living at the time. He had realized he was running out of fuel, so he tried to get to a corner gas station that was up a slight hill. ‘He started to go up the hill and then booooop, crash.'” [Today Show]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
Virtual Learning Day for In-Person Students — “Due to inclement weather, tomorrow, Tue, Feb. 2, Level 1 students receiving in-person learning support will temporarily revert to distance learning, and the return date for Level 2 Career & Technical Education students will be Feb. 3, depending on weather.” [Twitter]
Limited Service for ART Buses — “Tuesday, Feb. 2: Due to ongoing inclement weather, ART will operate *Limited* service on Tuesday, February 2. All routes will operate regular weekday schedules, but delays are possible and some routes will detour. Additional alerts will be sent if conditions should change during the day.” [Arlington Transit]
More Snow Today — “Snow showers of varying intensity could continue at times into Tuesday. Bursts of snow reduce visibility at times and re-coat roads. Temperatures at or below freezing mean untreated surfaces will remain slick. Additional accumulation in the immediate area should range from a coating to a couple inches through Tuesday.” [Capital Weather Gang]
Arlington GOP Pressing for School Openings — “Whether the prime consideration is public policy, pure politics or (most likely) a combination of the two, Arlington Republicans appear to see an opening in forcefully questioning the county school system’s lackadaisical back-to-class efforts. Keeping students out of classrooms for months on end is ‘destroying the lives of our children – it’s just failing them miserably,’ Arlington GOP chairman Andrew Loposser thundered.” [InsideNova]
Food Program Changes Hands — “This month, the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) will transition ownership of its Plot Against Hunger program to the Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture (FOUA). Since its inception in 2007, over 600,000 pounds of fresh produce has been donated to AFAC through the Plot Against Hunger program.” [Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture]
More Capitol Rioters Who Stayed in Arlington — “Two more Kentucky residents have been charged federally in the U.S. Capitol riot that killed five people… According to the criminal complaint against Crase and Williams, the two drove to Washington with a third person, a witness not named in the complaint, and arrived at their hotel in Arlington, Virginia, just after midnight Jan. 6.” [Louisville Courier Journal]
Red Hot and Blue Pitmaster Dies — “Ernest McKnight, the pitmaster and executive chef who helped grow Red Hot & Blue from a Rosslyn, Virginia, barbecue joint to an international chain in the 90s, died of lung cancer January 17. He was 74.” [Eater]
New Metro Lost and Found Policy — “Starting March 1, DC Metro says the ONLY lost-and-found items it will help customers reclaim are wallets and electronics. Metro says the rest (see sampling in current list below) will be trashed or auctioned off.” [Twitter, WMATA]
Still No Back to School Date Set — From Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán: “Return dates for additional student groups have not been set yet… I am committed to making these transitions as soon as it is safe enough to do so — looking not only at the health metrics, but all available information regarding health and safety, mitigation, instruction and operations — knowing that there are risks in every scenario.” [Arlington Public Schools]
N. Va. Leaders Call for Vaccine Changes — “A coalition of local governments in Northern Virginia is calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to streamline the release of COVID-19 vaccine doses and provide more transparency and equity into the process. The letter signed by 14 local government leaders was sent by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission to Northam on Sunday.” [InsideNova, Twitter]
More Buzz for Local Fried Chicken Sandwich — “A local chef is getting a lot of attention for his fried chicken sandwich… Rock Harper is the owner and chef of Queen Mother’s restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. ‘To fry chicken better than me you gotta be a woman, at least 67, and have a lace apron, if you don’t at least meet that criteria you can’t deal with me,’ Harper says.” [WJLA]
Car Flips on GW Parkway — From Tuesday afternoon: “ACFD is on scene with a crash involving an overturned vehicle on the northbound GW Parkway near Key Bridge. An additional ambulance has been requested to the scene.” [Twitter]
New Arlington Police Recruit Class — “ACPD’s 23 recruit officers in Session 144 at the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy started their journey to become police officers today with the commencement of classes. Best of luck Session 144!” [Twitter]
Preservation of Rouse Estate Still a Long Shot — “Even if Arlington government leaders get behind the effort – and that remains a big ‘if’ – efforts by preservationists to save the Rouse estate on Wilson Boulevard from the wrecking ball may simply run out of time. ‘What you have going on is a race,’ County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac told County Board members on Jan. 23, a race between owners of the estate demanding the county government approve a demolition permit on the one hand, and preservationists seeking to have the site designated a local historic district on the other.” [InsideNova]
When Chef David Guas of Bayou Bakery in Courthouse delivered food to the security personnel in the District on Monday, it took two-and-a-half hours and many phone calls — even to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser — to pass each checkpoint.
“When I arrived the Commander of that unit and the policeman literally cheered, [saying] ‘Bayou Bakery is here,'” Guas tells ARLnow.
Bayou Bakery and Arlington-founded District Taco are helping nourish the 25,000 servicemen and women, along with law enforcement, deployed to protect the nation’s capital during the 59th Inauguration.
The homegrown Mexican chain donated 2,000 burritos to the National Guard on Monday. The day before, Guas said he and his crew worked into the night to prepare biscuits and sandwich lunches for the Monday delivery.
The two join about 30 D.C.-area restaurants distributing meals to the multitudes, hailing from Maine to Guam. The heightened security is in response to the mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
District Taco donated burritos that were pledged during a “Buy One, Give One Burrito” campaign in December.
On Monday, CEO and co-founder Osiris Hoil cashed in all 2,000 BOGO burritos to feed the National Guard. He said they were so popular that supplies ran out long before the lunch hours ended.
“When I saw the brave servicemen and women protecting the Capitol building, I knew exactly where I wanted those pledged burritos to go,” Hoil said in a press release.
District Taco also donated hundreds of burritos to essential workers in hospitals and food banks last October and November. Hoil said he is proud to continue this longstanding tradition of giving back.
“Thanks to the support of our community, our restaurants are still open,” Hoil said.
“Not having served in the military myself — but having grandparents that did — I’ve always jumped at the opportunity to help our men and women in uniform who protect our freedom,” he said.
Guas credits his involvement to Micheline Mendelsohn Luhn and Spike Mendelsohn, his friends and two of the family members behind We, The Pizza. The duo told ABC News that D.C. restaurants — despite struggles during the pandemic — are pitching in to provide fresh food to upwards of 5,000 people, who might otherwise have to rely on pre-packaged military meals, each day.
We now have 30 #DCrestaurants teaming up to donate thousands of warm, delicious meals to our @NationalGuard & first responders protecting #CapitolHill. I couldn’t be more proud of the DC community coming together to spread some joy to the brave heroes protecting our home🙏❤️ pic.twitter.com/BW7r5WlkIf— Spike Mendelsohn (@chefspike) January 20, 2021
Photos (1) via District Taco, (2-3) via Bayou Bakery
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.
First started in March 2020 in response to the pandemic, the program provides meal kits to those in the local hospitality industry impacted by layoffs, hours reductions, mandatory shutdowns, and capacity restrictions.
“Northwest D.C. is not the easiest place to get to for everyone,” Hook Hall Helps founder Anna Valero, who also owns the bar and event space Hook Hall, tells ARLnow. “What was important to us in choosing to expand to another location was accessibility. The hope is being able to provide and meet people more where they are.”
Meal kit distribution is happening every Thursday from 3-5 p.m., starting this week, “while there’s a need,” says Valero.
What made The Freshman attractive as the program’s second outpost is that it is on different Metro and bus lines as Hook Hall, while providing more parking. Plus, Valero says, restaurant owner Nick Freshman’s “values aligned, he’s a fantastic individual in the hospitality community, and he generously offered his space.”
Despite announcing its opening nearly two years ago, The Freshman has yet to open due to the pandemic. Nick Freshman is also a co-owner of Clarendon’s Spider Kelly’s.
The meal kits are made up of three ready-made meals and a “supply” kit with canned soup, granola bars, fruit, toilet paper, and feminine hygiene products.
The kits are being crafted by Valero and a rotating list of local restaurants, including nearby Indian eatery Rasa. Beyond providing meals, the program also helps restaurateurs keep staff employed.
From last March to the end of June, Hook Hall was providing meals on a daily basis, supported by donations to the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. The program raised more than $600,000 and provided more than 10,000 meals during that time frame.
They paused operations in the summer due to patios reopening and restaurants able to increase staffing and operations because of outdoor dining.
However, Valero knew that the winter was coming.
“We made a strategic decision… to essentially hold back as much of the funds that had been raised to that point, knowing that when winter came, it was going to be difficult,” she says.
They re-started the program at Hook Hall at the end of December with distribution on Mondays while adding an Arlington location.
(Updated at 2 p.m.) Pasta lovers can take a sigh of relief, because the new owner of Ruffino’s Spaghetti House doesn’t want to change a thing.
Mina Tawdaros recently bought the long-time Arlington institution at 4763 Lee Highway. Ruffino’s first opened in 1975, and has satisfied Italian food cravings with a menu that includes the standards, from pizza to linguini to chicken marsala.
“The pasta is amazing, but you should really try the chicken parmesan and the pizza,” said Tawdaros, who is fulfilling his American dream with the purchase.
“Owning this place has been my dream since I came to America in 2013,” said Tawdaros, a 30-year-old lawyer from Egypt who now lives in Ashburn. “I worked for very little money for a restaurant for five years, and then later I was a shuttle driver, but that dream never left me.”
“Yesss my amazing husband Mina’s dream finally came true!” his wife Mary, a substitute teacher, posted on Facebook in October when the sale was completed. The couple wed in a Coptic Christian ceremony earlier this year.
Tawdaros said his mantra is this famous Napoleon Hill quote: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe it can achieve.”
He won’t be changing the menu and will keep the small staff from the previous owner, Robin Gamza, who bought the business in 1981.
Tawdaros declined to discuss terms of the sale. Ruffino’s was listed for sale on a business listing site this summer, though the page has since been taken down.
Ruffino’s is open for dining, takeout and curbside pickup every Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Friday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Photo (2) via Ruffino’s/Facebook