What’s it like to run a restaurant in a competitive market like Arlington? Four prominent local restaurant owners sat down with Sarah Fraser and ARLnow.com to discuss the business at our ARLnow Presents event last month, just after the big blizzard.
The full video from the event, courtesy of Arlington Independent Media, is above. The following are some of the interesting insights from the evening’s program.
What are some of the challenges in running a restaurant in Arlington?
Javier Candon, SER: “In Arlington, the biggest challenge, I think is the mentality, and proximity to the city. A lot of Arlington residents when they are having a real date night, they go to D.C.”
Does local government make it difficult to open a restaurant?
Mark Fedorchak, Liberty Tavern: “I think that Arlington county is pretty aware of the issue, but it is pretty difficult to open a restaurant with permits, and time. Every single day that you are paying rent waiting for permits, your are losing money.”
What’s more difficult, attracting customers when you first open, or keeping them?
Tim Ma, Water & Wall: “Everybody was coming through the door on day one, two years later, it’s all about retention. Staying relevant is probably the hardest thing. There’s so many new restaurants opening, so many different areas coming back to life, staying relevant is hard. Keeping the food good keeps people coming back.”
How do you feel about Yelp?
Mikala Brennan, Hula Girl Bar and Grill: “I think that as an opening restaurant you have to look at it and see if there’s trends happening. I think as chefs and owners we tend to take things a little personal sometimes. It’s sometimes hard not to respond immediately my GM reads them first and decides if there’s something I need to respond to immediately. I’ll be honest I think it’s relevant, but there is some things that are nit picky and irrelevant. I want to listen to people’s critiques, people that really want to tell you how they’re experience was sometimes email you, which I can respond to faster.”
How do you feel about new restaurants opening?
Scott Parker, A-Town Bar and Grill: “Arlington is in a very transitional time right now. Having two venues that are getting older and older, I wish new restaurants would open in Ballston, we don’t get the foot traffic that they get in Clarendon.”
How do you feel about bar crawls? Will we see more restrictions on them in the future?
Mark Fedorchak: “We are pro bar crawl, it’s been proven that they can be done in a controlled manner where they set a limit on the number of participants. While we don’t participate in them, it’s good for business across the board. They bring new guests from D.C. to Arlington.
What do you know now that you knew you wish you knew earlier?
Javier Candon: “How hard it is. Being there every single day, I took a break from being on the floor every day, and I think I forgot just how hard it is to be there seven days a week.”
How do you attract regular customers and locals?
Mikala Brennan: “We have a lot of residential people in the Shirlington area, and we find that they want to come in, they want to live there and support local business. So for us it’s important that we take care of neighborhood people. Making sure that they understand it’s okay to bring their kids in, it’s okay for them their kids to throw Cheerios on the ground, and do whatever they need to do. We want them to know it’s okay for them to come in with a shirt and flip flops on but if they want to wear a suit that’s fine too. We want to welcome everyone in.”
What have you found to love about being a restaurant and small business owner?
Scott Parker: “It’s just something you can’t describe, it’s grueling, late nights, long days. To be able to look around and see one of you venues packed, people smiling, enjoying your food and drink, in that moment it’s not about the money, it’s so thrilling.”
Thank you to our participants and to A-Town Bar and Grill for housing us. Look out for details about the March ARLnow Presents event, which will be held in Crystal City and will focus on Arlington’s burgeoning tech scene.
Quotes compiled by Justin Funkhouser.
Federal prosecutors say 49-year-old Alexandria resident Obayedul Hoque conspired with managers at a number of Subway stores and a gas station he owned to keep some $6.5 million in sales off the books between 2008 and 2013. Hoque’s company dodged between $1.5 and $3.5 million in federal taxes as a result of the conspiracy, prosecutors said.
Among the seven Subway locations Hoque owned in Arlington, Alexandria and D.C. is the shop at 3000 10th Street N. in Clarendon. That store has remained open. Hoque also owned a Shell station on Duke Street in Alexandria.
Hoque pleaded guilty today and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 13. The full press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, after the jump.
Photo via Google Maps
ARLnow Presents: Running a Restaurant in Arlington will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight at A-Town Bar & Grill (4100 Fairfax Drive). It’s completely free to attend and a great excuse for getting out of the house and shaking off cabin fever.
Fox 5 contributor Sarah Fraser will host a panel discussion with some of the brightest starts of the local restaurant biz, including Tim Ma of Water & Wall, Mark Fedorchak of Liberty Tavern, Scott Parker of A-Town Bar & Grill, Mikala Brennan of Hula Girl and Javier Candon of SER.
If you’ve ever read the comments section of a restaurant-related article on ARLnow.com, the topics of discussion may seem familiar: What makes some restaurants succeed and others fail? Why are there so many or so few of certain types of restaurants in Arlington? What are the biggest challenges of opening a new restaurant in Arlington?
There’s plenty of room in A-Town, but you may want to arrive early to try to snag a seat. The program will get underway shortly before 6:30.
Also tonight, reps from the locally-made restaurant discovery app Spotluck will be on hand to talk briefly about the app and its local offerings. If you haven’t checked out Spotluck already, be sure to download it and enter the promo code ARL26 while setting it up.
After the jump: the bios of each of our panelists.
The alleged incident was reported just after 3 p.m. at Bradshaw’s Children’s Shoes, a long-time local business at 4532 Lee Highway, in the Lee Heights Shops.
According to the police dispatch, an intoxicated woman is inside the store, holding an open bottle of wine. She is refusing to leave the store and “keeps demanding adult shoes,” according to the dispatch.
The store requested police to help remove the woman from the premises.
Photo via Google Maps
Just after noon today, diners who heard of the early opening via word of mouth formed a long line inside the restaurant.
This is the seventh brick-and-mortar location for founder Osiris Hoil, who started District Taco as a tiny food cart after being laid off from a construction job during the recession. Rosslyn was one of the original cart’s most frequent destinations.
“We wanted to go back to Rosslyn because this place means a lot to us,” Hoil said last month. “This is where DT evolved — with our customers there… We stopped going to Rosslyn with the taco cart because we wanted to focus on our [brick and mortar] locations, but now we have come back and we’re here to stay for a long time!”
Blackstone Management, LLC
2221 South Clark St.
Arlington, Virginia 22221
A property management firm is planning to open a new office in Courthouse in January.
Blackstone Management, a company that helps run properties for the board of directors for home owner and condo associations, is aiming to have a larger presence in Arlington, said Forrest Baggarly, the managing director of the company.
“We would definitely like to have a larger presence in Arlington. That’s something we’re trying to push this year,” Baggarly said.
Blackstone Management takes over the management of residential buildings for homeowner associations, which includes tasks such as maintenance requests, amenities management and training community managers. The company also focuses on helping associations collect memberships fees and budget their money properly.
“We’re locally owned and operated,” Baggarly said. “We are very familiar with the D.C. area. We know where are properties are. And another big point is that we visit our properties.”
While the company is locally owned, it also has the features of a larger corporation, he said. The company is constantly adding and improving technology to make management easier for associations to run better and low the board of directors to have access the info they need.
“People see us online and all our capabilities and think we’re large frim. He said. “And we are a large company, but we’re locally owned and operated.” So we can give each customer the attention they need.
The company has an app that allows board members to see all the different maintenance requests, manage payments, set tasks for themselves and other board members and other tasks needed to keep up property management. The app also lets owners view their account and make payments and request on the go.
Baggarly said he thinks the app will be popular among Arlington home and condo associations, as the local residents are up to date on new technology.
“The homeowner associations and condo owner associations we have in Arlington, they use are online system more than 80 percent of the other areas,” he said.
The company already manages buildings in Arlington, including in Rosslyn, and so far, Baggarly said he noticed that things are “newer, things are better kept” in the county.
Although the company is pushing its technology, the company is still reachable by phone and email, Baggarly said, adding that the company is very responsive and will return all their calls and emails.
“If you call us, we’re going to respond as quickly as we can,” he said. We have a request tracing system to make sure owner’s calls do not go unanswered.
The company’s focus on being reachable, whether through an app or by phone is what separates them from other management companies, Baggarly said. The company has taken over properties where former managers failed to respond to maintenance requests or failed to collect dues, he added.
One of these properties was in Maryland, where a management company had let a condo association rack up about $200,000.00 in maintenance bills and had numerous unpaid electricity bills. The association now has paid all its bills and has money in savings. More members are showing up to the association meetings, as well, Baggarly said.
“We listen to what the issues are in the community and tell them in our experience what we can do to help them,” he said. “We want to make sure we’re running the association, homeowners association, condo owners association, apartment building, the way its supposed to be run.”
The preceding was a sponsored profile written by Heather Mongilio for ARLnow.com.
ARLnow.com often reports on the opening and closing of restaurants in Arlington. Such articles are among the most consistently well-read on the site, which can probably at least partially be attributed to the growth of foodie culture.
At a time when chefs are the new rock stars, what does it take to run a successful local restaurant? What makes one restaurant thrive while others down the block struggle? What is it like to run a restaurant in Arlington and how to local government policies help or hinder local establishments?
We will attempt to answer those and other questions you might have about the local restaurant industry at the first of a series of events ARLnow.com is holding in 2016.
The event is will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 26 at A-Town Bar & Grill (4100 Fairfax Drive). It will be hosted by local media personality Sarah Fraser.
Panelists include some of the brightest stars of Arlington’s restaurant scene: Tim Ma of Water & Wall, Mark Fedorchak of Liberty Tavern, Scott Parker of A-Town Bar & Grill, Mikala Brennan of Hula Girl and Javier Candon of SER.
This event is FREE for all. You can see if your friends are going on Facebook.
A limited number of reserved seats are available for those who book through Eventbrite. (Update on 12/22: The reserved seats are sold out.)
The program — a panel discussion discussion followed by an audience Q&A session — will start at 6:30 p.m.
A long-time Clarendon business has closed its doors but remains in business in another state.
A&R Engravers recently vacated its small storefront at 2836 Wilson Boulevard, next to IOTA Club and Cafe. The trophies, plaques and other engraved items that once adorned the windows and walls have been removed, leaving behind a bare space behind a simple “closed” sign.
The store closed earlier this fall and moved to North Carolina, owner Jeffrey Griffiths told ARLnow.com. He noted that A&R, which was first founded in 1958, had been in its current storefront for about 15 years and was located at 3173 Wilson Blvd — where Spider Kelly’s is now — for 15 or so years before that.
“Arlington has changed dramatically in those 30 years,” Griffiths said via email. “I applaud Arlington’s growth and prosperity, but it came with a price, what with the increased parking issues, drunk patrons from the neighboring bars puking in our front door foyer, the broken beer bottles in the back no-man’s zone created by the development of Market Common, the bar crawls, etc.”
Griffith said the building was sold and he was given a move-out date of Jan. 31, 2016 with no hope of a lease renewal.
“I started looking around Arlington for a space that would work for my business,” he said. “I could not find anything, so I decided to make the move to Asheville, NC, buying a building in its thriving downtown area.”
Because A&R was able to keep its phone numbers, email address and website, Griffith says he’s still serving his local Arlington customer base.
“We just miss seeing their familiar faces,” he wrote. “Arlington will always have a special place in my heart as many good and loving years were spent there. I feel that I did not leave Arlington, as much as Arlington left me. There really are few opportunities for a small, family-owned business to exist in Arlington nowadays. I join a growing list of favorites that I have seen had to close or move out over the years.”
“Another piece of old Clarendon gone,” echoed a tipster who emailed ARLnow.com about A&R’s closure.
Public records indicate that the 2836 Wilson Blvd building was sold to Market Common Clarendon owner TIAA-CREF in 2013 for $625,000. TIAA-CREF also owns the adjacent building that houses IOTA Club and Cafe.
Guns Stolen from Nova Firearms in McLean — A burglary has occurred at Nova Firearms, the gun store that wanted to open a location in Cherrydale before residents pressured the store and the landlord to scuttle those plans. Two handguns were stolen from Nova Firearms’ McLean store just after midnight this past Friday. Police are seeking tips in the case. [Fairfax County Police Department]
Taxicab Fares Raised in Arlington — A taxi ride in Arlington will now cost an extra 25 cents per ride and an extra six cents per mile. The County Board on Saturday unanimously approved new taxi rates that also include a $25 cleaning fee for those who “dirty or foul a cab enough that the cab must be removed from service.” [Arlington County, WJLA]
Locals Make ’50 On Fire’ List — A number of Arlington-based companies and individuals have been named to this year’s DC Inno “50 on Fire” list. Local honorees include Vornado/Charles E. Smith honcho Mitchell Schear, Crystal City incubator Eastern Foundry, newly-IPOed Evolent Health in Ballston, Ballston-based tech firm Distil Networks and Rosslyn-based advertising agency LMO Advertising. [DC Inno]
Nauck Town Square Design Meeting — A community discussion will be held at Drew Model School to help officials arrive at a final plan and design for its Nauck Town Square project. The meeting will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. tonight (Monday). [Arlington County]
Review of Oz in Clarendon — Oz restaurant in Clarendon, which opened in September, continues to receive so-so reviews from the critics. The latest review suggests that Oz suffers from the inherent blandness of Australian cuisine, which it attempts to recreate faithfully. Oz may benefit, however, from its co-owner’s casting on the Real Housewives of Potomac. [Washington Post]
Arlington Fire Captain Retires After 35 Years — Arlington County Fire Department Captain Robert Patterson has retired after 35 years on the job. [WJLA]
MakeOffices is constructing a new, 40,000 square foot, 550 seat office space on the second floor of 3100 Clarendon Blvd, across from the Clarendon Metro station and the Trader Joe’s.
MakeOffices Clarendon is expected to feature high-end interior furnishings, multiple conference rooms, two “bullpen” shared office spaces, dozens of private offices and a large central pantry/coffee bar.
It will be MakeOffices’ largest coworking space in the D.C. area, we’re told. (The company’s original office in Rosslyn remains open but is much smaller than its newer locations.)
The Clarendon location is expected to open in April. It is one of a number of new offices the company is planning, in D.C. and other major North American cities.
In the D.C. area, MakeOffices just opened a new coworking space in Reston and has another in the works in Logan Circle. The company also has plans to open offices next year in Chicago and Philadelphia, to be followed by new outposts in New York City and Toronto.
MakeOffices, meanwhile, will be getting some competition in Arlington, albeit a few miles away. WeWork, the largest company in the fast-growing coworking industry, is planning to open a new location in Crystal City this spring.
Disclosure: Local News Now, the publisher of ARLnow.com, has offices in MakeOffices locations in Arlington and D.C.
Toscana Grill is all new with its new location (3207 Columbia Pike), new management and new menu, according to general manager Abdul Khalique.
The eatery’s Courthouse Plaza location closed earlier this year and was replaced by a Vietnamese restaurant.
(3207 Columbia Pike was formerly home to Pines of Florence, another Italian restaurant that had relocated from the Orange Line corridor.)
Khalique said the new Toscana Grill is planning a grand opening event this Friday, or as soon as they receive the final license from Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control.
“It’s totally different than before, now an independent corporation with new brand management and great food,” he said. “We’re excited to bring this kind of traditional, Italian food to the Columbia Pike.”
The new menu includes beer and wine, entrees of chicken, seafood or veal, as well as a “make your own” pasta option.
According to its new website, the restaurant will be open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. for eat-in, take-out and delivery.
Photo via Google Maps
Arlington County has seen a surge in new restaurants in 2015.
The 56 openings this year is compared to a relative lull in new restaurants in 2014, with only 30 restaurant openings.
(The statistics, which come from ARLnow.com’s reporting on new restaurants, are approximate and may exclude certain small restaurant openings and changes in business.)
While fewer in number, the vast majority of the restaurants that opened in 2014 are still in business, a notable achievement in the competitive and volatile restaurant business. There are, of course, some exceptions.
Pizza Vinoteca in Ballston was one of 2014’s most hyped openings and quickest closings. Another one that bit the dust this year was 100 Montaditos, which folded after 13 months in Rosslyn. Other notable restaurant closings, just since May 1, include Bungalow Sports Grill, Jay’s Saloon, Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt, Johnny Rockets, Ri Ra Irish Pub, Ted’s Montana Grill, Corner Bakery, Charlie Chiang’s, Boston Market and Willow.
The past two years of volatility in restaurant openings followed three years, from 2011-2013, when restaurant openings held relatively steady, with a slight year-over-year decline — 38 in 2011, 37 in 2012 and 36 in 2013. That period brought local restaurants with staying power, like Green Pig Bistro and Copperwood Tavern, and those that fizzled out, from Fat Shorty’s to Red Parrot Bistro to Wiinky’s.
What should Arlington food fans expect in 2016? Anecdotally, there haven’t been many new restaurant announcements as of late, but there are at least three 2016 openings worth watching, and they’re all in the same place: Matchbox, Sugar Factory and Shake Shack are coming to the expanding Fashion Centre at Pentagon City mall next year.
The little-noticed item came at the end of a long County Board meeting on Monday, Sept. 21.
At issue during the 40 minute discussion of the item: whether the dentist’s office — Courthouse Art of Dentistry — should be allowed to stay in the Courthouse Plaza shopping center at 2250 Clarendon Blvd as part of a regularly-scheduled Site Plan Amendment review.
County Board member Libby Garvey, who supported the office in the vote, wrote about it in her most recent email newsletter to constituents.
There has been a dentist at Courthouse Plaza for about 20 years, although the site plan originally called for retail to be in that space. Repeated attempts by retail stores to locate there had resulted in several store closures, so a waiver was granted to allow a dental office. The waiver was up for renewal. The dental office has thrived, the dentist does pro bono work for the Free Clinic and takes hotel guests when they need a dentist. A few people insisted that this location was not compliant with the site plan and the dentist had to go. The building owner said he could find no one else to fill that space and asked us to please allow the dentist to stay. Hundreds of patients and supporters signed a petition asking for the dentist to stay. Still…..this was the third time in a year he had to come before the Board pleading for us to allow his successful business to stay. He can stay, but the vote was far too close: 3-2. I thanked the dentist for all he does for our community. I told him and his many supporters who stayed until 11:55pm I was embarrassed the Board made this so hard for a successful business that serves Arlington well. It really was one of the more bizarre issues I’ve dealt with as a Board member.
Speakers at the meeting universally called for the Board to let the dentist office stay. The attorney for owner Dr. Joseph Khalil said that they had collected about 500 signatures in support of the practice. (The office is thriving and has 2,200 patients, the attorney said.)
“CCCA renews our objection and voted to firmly oppose a permanent exception to the dentist office in a space designated for anchor retail as far back as 10 years,” civic association president Adam Thocher said in an email to county staff. “We encourage ongoing discussion between [landlord] Equity and Arlington Economic Development to market and secure a tenant that will help fulfill the promise made to the community of activating Courthouse Plaza.”
County staff, however, said that the use was appropriate and consistent with the county’s new Retail Action Plan, which allows for “retail equivalent” uses like medical and dental offices in lieu of more traditional stores and restaurants in certain retail zones, including the Courthouse area.
“We believe the use provides service to residents and to office workers in the plaza,” said Michael Cohen, a county staff member.
The dentist’s attorney, meanwhile, said that the retail landscape has changed since a dentist’s office first opened in the space in 1993. (It has since changed ownership.) She said that online shopping has limited the utility of small retail storefronts and that Courthouse Plaza already has stores that commonly use such spaces — a coffee shop, a cell phone store, etc.
“Voting against this would be inconsistent with policy… and inconsistent with the notion that we should be supporting long-standing local businesses,” said the attorney, Sara Mariska.
Mike Farrey, brother of a dentist at the practice, suggested that a dentist office might even be preferable to an “active” use.
“There are enough coffee shops and restaurants in Arlington, and enough empty storefronts,” he said.
Patients of the office who spoke at the meeting said that there’s no justification for making a successful, community-serving business pack up and move. One called it “un-American.”
“I feel like this is a complete waste of community resources,” said the man. “It’s not a gentlemen’s club, it’s not a bar, it’s not an adult bookstore… what use is it to create another empty storefront?”
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said another patient.
In the end, the Board voted 3-2 — with retiring County Board members Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada voting in the minority — to renew the site plan amendment and allow the dentist to stay, with no further scheduled reviews.
County Board member John Vihstadt said that kicking the dentist out would only create an empty storefront, agreeing with Dr. Khalil’s attorney in suggesting that the space was too small and ill-configured to be attractive to any likely “active” retail tenant.
“Why would we want to open up a new cavity in Courthouse Plaza?” he quipped.
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(Updated at 1:20 p.m.) Starbucks will be opening a new cafe in Rosslyn this fall, with the opening of the new TargetExpress store.
The coffee shop will be located inside the store, at 1500 Wilson Blvd, which is expected to open next month. A quick peek inside the glass doors yesterday revealed that much of the familiar Target interior is already complete, with workers continuing to work on fixtures like security cameras.
Curiously, this will be the third Starbucks location within a one block radius. Shoppers sipping their latte from the store will be able to look out the big glass windows and see two Starbucks across the street, one inside the Safeway (1501 17th Street N.) and the other freestanding (1525 Wilson Blvd).
A fourth Rosslyn Starbucks is down the hill on N. Lynn Street, about a quarter mile away.
Such dense placement of Starbucks stores is not unprecedented, and Arlington is noted for its love of Starbucks, but it does seem a bit excessive even for Manhattan on the Potomac. The Columbia Pike corridor, for instance, only just got its first Starbucks.
“As a standard course of business, Starbucks continually evaluates our store portfolio, using various criteria to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers,” a Starbucks spokeswoman told ARLnow.com.