Arlington County Board Communications Manager Mary Curtius was a journalist when the reporters wrote drunk and sometimes edited sober, and when the editors ashed their cigarettes on reporters’ desks if they were lucky.
She started writing when “cut-and-paste” literally meant cutting sections of type out and sticking paragraphs together with rubber cement glue.
“We probably went home high every day, we were inhaling so much rubber cement,” she said. (On that note, the photographers, stuck in dark rooms all day, were probably loopy from the developer and fixer chemicals.)
Curtius reported from Los Angeles, Jerusalem and Capitol Hill. She was the Middle East bureau chief for the Boston Globe and Christian Science Monitor. She covered Congress for the LA Times and before that was the paper’s National Security Editor. To have more time with her kids, she switched tracks 11 years ago and started handling communications for Arlington County.
Today is Curtius’ last day as Communications Manager for the County Board before she retires. After five decades of working — she started cleaning homes at 13 — she says she looks forward to visiting friends and family now that she is fully vaccinated, traveling and volunteering. And rest. She looks forward to rest.
“I don’t think there are a lot of people who can say they never had a bad job and never got to do anything fun,” she said. “I’m lucky. I’m really lucky. It’s been a great ride.”
And sometimes, the ride was dangerous. She remembers taking a road trip out of Jerusalem with two male reporters, and when she got into the car, she saw they were working through a bottle of whisky. The two polished it off over the five-hour drive.
“It was completely terrifying,” she said. “That was how they lived… I was always ‘the good girl.'”
She had to be, to get ahead in a male-dominated field.
But her distinguished journalism career took a toll on her family life. So Curtius joined the county 11 years ago to be home more with her kids. During her tenure, Curtius said the changing media landscape and the dawn of social media caused her job to morph too. She has been part of a few major crises — Snowmageddon and the Derecho storm and now the coronavirus — and has helped Arlington prepare for Amazon’s arrival.
“It was a great job,” she said. “It’s a great county — God’s truth — it’s a great county. It was an amazing experience to be doing something that directly related to my community.”
Curtius remembers spending 18 months documenting how Arlington transformed from a sleepy town to a bedroom community for Pentagon workers to a bustling metropolitan area. She found all the Board members and county managers who were still alive and put together plans in the 60s and 70s to accommodate the Metro and concentrate development around stations.
“That video captured the ‘Greatest Generation’ — people who had these ideas and laid the foundation of modern Arlington,” she said. “I really enjoyed meeting those people. Almost all of them are dead now.”
Over the last decade, she said local media coverage has waned. Before joining the County Board in 2006, she said TV stations would set up cameras to get clips from County Board meetings. No longer, except for major news like Amazon’s arrival.
“It seems incredible to think about that,” she said.
Since then, the Washington Post has pulled back on local coverage, and there are not as many news outlets focused on county government — the Sun Gazette and present company excluded, she added.
“Of course, it is happening across the country,” she said. “It’s really distressing, just as a reporter, that there’s not a lot of local coverage.”
Arlington resident Celia Edwards Karam is at the top of her game.
Zola’s founder, Shan-Lyn Ma, tapped Karam for the position, and after a series of conversations with the company’s leadership, Karam was officially in.
“I guess I must have done okay in those interviews,” she said, laughing.
While she got married before anything like Zola existed, Karam said she is joining the board to help Zola find opportunities for growth and new corners of the $55 billion wedding industry to explore.
The appointment adds to a resume that includes degrees from Harvard and Stanford universities, 14 years at Capital One and volunteer work with the nonprofit Commonwealth, which helps vulnerable people achieve financial security.
Her achievements seem to flow from one source. “It all comes back to [the question], ‘How might we make choices that are actually helping people get to better outcomes?'” she said.
Karam draws inspiration from her experience as a Jamaican immigrant. She came to the U.S. with her family when she was five years old, and watched her parents work hard to give her and her siblings access to education and better opportunities.
“Financially speaking, we didn’t have a lot to work with,” she said. “The sense you get instilled is one of gratitude and one to give back.”
This sense manifests in Karam’s concern for people, and making their lives easier. She says Capital One, Zola and Commonwealth share this customer-centered pursuit.
But these companies also share Karam.
In recent years, the chief audit officer has grown more confident in sharing her perspective as a Black woman — something that she did not always do. As a child, she was taught that the way to achieve equality was by ignoring color.
“The way to succeed, in my mind, was for my bosses not to notice the differences,” she said. That changed five years ago.
“I came to what might sound like a ridiculous conclusion: The fact that I am a Black woman actually makes me different,” she said.
Keeping in mind her bad experiences suppressing her identity, today she encourages business leaders to show employees that their perspectives, informed by their diverse identities, are valued. It is one reason she said she admires and wants to work with Ma — one of the relatively few women running successful new tech companies.
“If you don’t have the numbers, there’s nowhere to go from there,” she said. “But you only get a diversity of perspective if the people who are there feel like they can actually share what’s on their minds.”
Karam jokes that outside her work, she does not have too many hobbies she can pursue because she has three kids — ages seven, 10 and 12 — who she shuttles to “what feels like hundreds of sports activities.”
In the 10th month of remote work since the shutdown this March, she said she and her kids have started taking lots of walks with the family dog through Arlington. She, her husband and kids have called Arlington home since 2007.
“Arlington is actually a pretty amazing place to live,” she said. “It’s exactly right mix of urban and suburban for our family.”
Photo courtesy Celia Edwards Karam
“When I went to [Sibley Memorial Hospital in D.C.] and they intubated me and I woke up in Baltimore at [Johns Hopkins Hospital],” Ayyad said. “I had this tube and all these things connected to me. I texted my best friend ‘I think I’m going to die.'”
In March, Ayyad was starting to feel weak and a little under the weather when talk of COVID-19 spreading across the United States was just starting. With no coughing or fever, Ayyad said at first he thought it was just a cold, but after a few days he found that he wasn’t getting better.
“I went to the hospital just to get medication, then I went to Sibley and they put me in and the next thing you know, it’s oxygen and they might have to put you into a coma. And at that point, you’re like ‘What, woah, me?'”
Ayyad said he was one of the first people in Hopkins with a confirmed case of COVID-19.
“I was a guinea pig,” Ayyad said. “They didn’t know much of what to do with me about how to help me. They didn’t really have the knowledge that we have now.”
As he was lying in the hospital, Ayyad said he not only had to tell his parents what was happening but had to warn them away from coming to the hospital to see him in what might have been his final hours. Even after the disease has passed, Ayyad said that’s the part that still haunts him. Ayyad said he still thinks of what his parents went through: crying themselves to sleep and waking up at 6 a.m. to call the doctor just to hear that Ayyad is still stable.
“The hardest thing was hearing what my parents went through,” Ayyad said.
Meanwhile, Ayyad said being in quarantine inside the hospital was a lonely and isolating experience.
“You’re kind of, like, stuck on an island by yourself and you have no one to talk to or encourage you, anything to feel like you have someone on your side,” Ayyad said. “You’re just stuck in the room.”
Recovery for Ayyad has been slow, especially for someone who said he took a lot of pride in being in shape. Even over a month after his release, Ayyad said he still suffers shortness of breath when he works out. Progress has been a slow build: from moving around on a walker to walks around the neighborhood and eventually to weight training.
Ayyad, a fitness buff and marathon runner, lost 60 pounds and much of his muscle tone while in the hospital.
“My determination has never been higher,” he said. “You look in the mirror and see the COVID in your body. I’m determined to get my body back to what it looked like before.”
A lot has changed for Grace Rubinger, an Arlington native who has been working for Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) since she graduated college.
Rubinger started her career as an intern in Rep. Beyer’s office the fall after she graduated from Elon University in 2016, just before President Trump was elected. Four years later, she is now a legislative assistant to the congressman, working behind the scenes in various policy areas Rep. Beyer is passionate about.
She recently began taking on more responsibility in specific issue areas. Currently, she is handling the congressman’s work on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
“When we’re in session there will be any given number of hearings for that committee during the week,” Rubinger told ARLnow.
“I’ll spend my time preparing for [the hearings], reading the background materials and witness testimonies and then coming up with questions that I’d like for the congressman to ask the witnesses.”
Rubinger also advises the congressman when deciding which bills he should support.
Rubinger’s interest in politics goes back to her upbringing near Cherrydale, where she attended Taylor Elementary and Williamsburg Middle School. Politics was always right across the Potomac River, she said, and at home her parents were in tune with current events. There would often be a nightly discussion of the news at the dinner table.
Her interest in policy, however, was shaped at Elon. In her senior year, Rubinger wrote a thesis on the intersection between the Catholic Church’s view on birth control and the women’s movement.
“Writing that thesis and figuring out my own views was the turning point for me,” Rubinger said.
Rubinger’s tenure at Rep. Beyer’s office has come at a unique time in history. Her work as an intern began prior to the 2016 election, and has stretched into what is now the third presidential impeachment trial in American history — an impeachment process her boss has been particularly vocal about.
“It is interesting to look back and see how many things have changed,” said Rubinger.
“The one thing that I’ve noticed just in my different capacities in the office is just how much more engaged people are,” she said. “People are so outraged all the time about different things that are going on and I think [public engagement] is probably the one bright spot in everything that’s going on. People are reading the news more and staying more engaged and calling us and writing us more.”
“That is something that might have been missing beforehand,” she added.
Man Punched Outside Ballston Subway — A man was punched in the face outside the Subway on Fairfax Drive in Ballston yesterday. The assault occurred just before lunchtime and those flocking to the restaurant for footlongs had to step over splatters of blood on the sidewalk. No word yet on what prompted the fight nor whether the suspect, who reportedly fled into the Metro station, was later apprehended. [Twitter]
Tonight: Committee of 100 County Board Debate — The Arlington Committee of 100 will be holding a County Board debate tonight at Marymount University. The program, moderated by ARLnow’s Scott Brodbeck, will start at 8 p.m. after a meet and greet and dinner. [Committee of 100]
History of the W&OD Railroad — Before it was a bike and pedestrian trail, the W&OD was a regional railroad that transported goods and people across Northern Virginia. How would the area and our transportation problems be different if it had stayed a transit corridor, asks a GGW contributor. [Greater Greater Washington]
Local Social Media Influencer Profiled — Clarendon resident and mother of two Angelica Talan “has made a career out of building a loyal following on social media.” She blogs at Clarendon Moms and Angelica in the City and also has done some modeling and acting. [Arlington Magazine]
Tree Group Wants More Trees — The Arlington Tree Action Group replied on Twitter to a posting of the photo above: “Beautiful sky! It would look even better with more trees! #ArlingtonVA #trees.” [Twitter]
Nearby: Alexandrians Worry About Takeout Window — A proposed takeout window for a new Mexican restaurant on King Street prompted a protracted debate among members of the Alexandria city council. Said one opponent on the council, who ultimately lost out on a 4-3 vote: “I think this is maybe one small step in the direction of what we don’t want Old Town to become.” [Washington Business Journal]
Photo courtesy Dennis Dimick
After seven years, Fire Works American Pizzeria and Bar has gotten pretty good at the pizza side of the menu. What’s not to like? The wood-fired crust with the delightful savory char is the crispy thin bed for toppings ranging from Bakers farm sausage and grana padano to white sauce with shrimp and clams.
But in case you haven’t noticed, there’s another side to the menu. “That’s actually what we call it,” says Jason Silerto, the general manager of the Courthouse restaurant. “The Other Side of the Menu…We’re pretty confident that our pizza stands up to pretty much any place in the DC market,” he says. “But I think it’s time we reminded people we’re more than pizza.”
Regulars who frequent Fire Works are familiar with the pizza, the enormous patio and the pioneering craft beer selection, but less known–but just as demanding of attention–is Thomas Harvey, the chef Fire Works landed a little more than a year ago to bring attention to the Other Side of the Menu.
“It was a big step to bring him to Arlington,” Silerto says, mentioning Harvey’s experience working in the kitchens of Fabio Trabocchi (Casa Luca), Frank Ruta (Palena) and master butcher Nathan Anda (The Partisan). “But after seven years, we thought we could do a little more to bring in other folks looking for something besides pizza.”
The Other Side of the Menu boasts an array of Contemporary Seasonal American concoctions designed to suit any mood. It begins with “Snack,” small plates of starters such as bacon fat French fries with chili flakes, herbs and tomato jam or goat cheese stuffed lamb meatballs in tomato sauce; to “Bite,” more substantial offerings including, new this season, fire braised beef short ribs with local red corn grits or mussels in spice fra diavolo sauce; to “Feast,” satisfying portions of mainstays ranging from flank steak to wild caught salmon to an entrée sandwich of grilled gouda, goat and gruyere slathered with that tomato jam.
For those looking for more traditional bar fare, fear not: wings, burgers and salads co-exist with Harvey’s adventurous offerings and the enormous craft beer selection.
Ingredients are sourced from the closest purveyors possible, including fertile farms in Leesburg and Purcellville but also CommonWealth Joe Nitro Brewed Coffee from the neighborhood.
“We just believe in quality, and people like to see that,” Silerto says.
That quality extends throughout the Fire Works family of restaurants, including Leesburg landmark Tuskie’s, the sandwich bakery South Street Under and events-oriented Birkby House as well as Purcellville’s upscale Magnolias.
For those fixated on the Pizza Side of the Menu–and who can blame you?–the answer to the question is oak. That’s the wood that gets the stone-bottom oven to 600 degrees and provides the thin crust the smoky charm that has kept the crowds coming back to Courthouse’s largest patio for seven years.
Speaking of the patio, look for a new layout and new furnishings next spring.
There is a private dining room for holiday occasions that seats 35 (more if standing). Now is the time to book for the holidays. See here for information.
And here’s a scoop: Fire Works is going into the catering business. Plans are being finalized this month. Stay tuned.
Fire Works American Pizzeria and Bar is at 2350 Clarendon Boulevard. The website is here for booking a table or call 703-527-8700 for reservations.
When I first began my ARLnow internship, I knew nothing about Arlington. A native New Yorker, to me, Arlington was just some place across the river from D.C. I was a bit of a “big city” snob, so I expected very little from the area.
Three months later, as my internship comes to a close, my view could not be more different. After writing dozens of articles about Arlington, from covering the opening of a Clarendon tattoo parlor to a piece about the county’s decreasing homeless population, I’ve developed quite a fondness for the community.
“Arlington is the smallest self-governing county in the U.S. And no, the Pentagon is not in D.C., it’s actually in Arlington,” I would proudly tell my friends when they asked about my job.
Of course, I am no “Arlington expert” but I have dipped into the pool of what Arlington has to offer and boy, is it deep!
There is something for everyone here: urban enclaves like Clarendon or Crystal City are just minutes’ drive from quintessential suburban neighborhoods with cozy brick homes and tumbling gardens. There are free yoga classes every Sunday throughout the summer and so many events that we publish an event calendar that is updated daily.
The variety in Arlington’s food scene made me feel like I was back in my hometown, except here, there’s elbow room and you’re not rushed after paying your check. I have eaten dinner while watching artists paint at Palette 22 and I’ve tried ice cream made with Nitrogen. I slurped up bubble tea from bottles shaped like lightbulbs at Kokee Tea and had my first taste of kangaroo at Oz (in case you were wondering, it tastes like a hamburger).
Perhaps more impressive than the free events and delicious food are Arlingtonians themselves. Every week, ARLnow publishes a weekly Startup Monday article, in which we write about a startup based in the county. I remember when I wrote my first Startup Monday, I was told to find a startup in Arlington that our website had yet to write about.
I wondered how many startups this one county can have. It turns out, it’s enough that ARLnow has been able to write about a new one almost every week since September 2013. That goes to show the incredible talent and creativity found in Arlington. There’s a guy giving free rides thanks to his advertising model; a couple with a company that plans “surprise” vacations; somebody creating an app to ensure people know their rights.
Even my boss — the founder of ARLnow — Scott Brodbeck, was once one of those Arlingtonians with a startup dream. He noticed that parts of Arlington had very little news coverage and saw an opportunity for a business. Seven years later, ARLnow is alive and thriving, and I got to intern with it and you’re reading it right now.
Tonight, as I leave Arlington to return to New York, I will wave goodbye to this place that has shown me so much, as I relish one of my favorite vistas: the sprawling Pentagon and graceful Air Force Memorial, set against a backdrop of pink skies.
It takes a special talent to make strangers pause and smile during the rush of their busy days. Yet Adrienne Ellis does it on a weekly basis.
Ellis is the general manager at the Circa restaurant in Clarendon (3010 Clarendon Blvd), and she also provides the witty, colorful quotes that adorn the chalkboard on the sidewalk outside. In fact, Ellis’s work is so popular, she created an Instagram account to showcase it.
“Nothing is more fun than seeing someone stop out there and take a picture of [my work], or giggle and keep walking,” said Ellis.
Ellis has been drawing and painting since she was a child. She used to want to be an art teacher, until she led an art class in middle school. She began chalkboard painting at her previous job at Chef Geoff’s. She mainly did advertising on those chalkboards, but once she moved to Circa almost two years ago, she gained more creative liberties with her work.
“I free-hand everything,” Ellis said. “I just try to get an idea of what would be entertaining more than anything and catch people’s eye.”
Ellis uses the internet for inspiration and generally makes one new chalkboard painting per week.
“I’ll update funny quotes or do a new picture, a little bit of everything,” she said. “I do a lot of cartoons. If it’s Easter, [I’ll do a] Bugs Bunny, [or] something like that.”
Mainly, Ellis paints the current Clarendon trends, including brunch, kale and summer restaurant week.
“Clarendon, I think, is very particular,” Ellis said. “I mean, they love to brunch out here, they love their Champagne. Wine night is really big here so I pick those [things] to poke a little fun at and make people laugh.”
Ellis uses chalk paint for the illustrations and currently, non-waterproof chalkboard boards. The quote paintings usually take around 30 minutes to make while the more intricate paintings can take two hours.
“That’s just me being meticulous,” she explained.
Ellis said her favorite paintings so far have been a Scooby-Doo and a Bugs Bunny. However, passerby seem to have really enjoyed the food puns, like “Champangry,” a cartoon painting of Doug and the Disney figures.
“Any pop culture [reference], people respond really well to,” Ellis said. “I think, again, it’s the area. It’s a lot younger area and they appreciate that humor.”
That’s a good thing, for himself and his clients, because Robinson is very often in front of a judge, trying cases for his areas of practice, which include criminal and traffic offenses, family law and contract disputes.
“I’m in the ‘people problem’ business,” he says. “Since I’m a solo practice law firm, I’m the one who always handles the case directly — and the client deals only with me. My business number is my cell number so I’m easy to get a hold of.”
Robinson, a Ballston resident who has been practicing for almost a decade in Northern Virginia and D.C. and knows the lay of the land like the back of his hand, comes from a family of attorneys. And one major bit of wisdom he took to heart early was to be accessible, to put clients at ease with what they are going through.
When asked what he likes best about his chosen career, Robinson takes a moment to consider his answer. Finally he concludes, “On one hand I enjoy negotiation with the opposite party, and on the other I’m determined to win at trial.”
“But ultimately, I’m lucky to be able to work with people from all different backgrounds and problems in a fast-paced region, working to help them get the relief they are looking for.”
Robinson’s law practice includes criminal and traffic defense, family law, contract and lease negotiations, and civil litigation.
The preceding sponsored post was written by Buzz McClain.
2350 Clarendon Boulevard
When Fire Works opened its first urban location, in the Courthouse neighborhood of Arlington, the owners thought it would be best to start from scratch, to create a space to suit the needs of both the restaurant and the community it’s in.
Fire Works was built from the ground up, taking the same ideas of the wood fired pizza restaurant’s successful Leesburg location, and going bigger, upscale and trendier. The construction included bars inside and out, a huge patio and glass windows.
To take on this project, the owners of Fire Works hired Jon Hoffmeyer. He’s been in the business for 25 years, but this was the first time he took a restaurant from conception to operation.
Hoffmeyer worked with engineers and the restaurant owners. He says because the restaurant is family-owned, he got more autonomy than he would have with a corporate owner.
“I took it from a shell,” Hoffmeyer said. “It’s been rewarding actually, because it was something I hadn’t done in that scope before, and got to go from the ground up.”
Once construction was completed, Hoffmeyer hired and trained the staff, and opened Fire Works in August 2010. Training is very important to Hoffmeyer, because in his philosophy, the staff come first.
“First and foremost staff is well trained and equipped, and they can take that to the guests,” Hoffmeyer said.
When employees are well-trained, they can take a positive attitude and transfer that to guests, he says. When the focus is only on the guests of restaurants, staff members don’t love to work there — and it shows.
The restaurant business tends to be transient, but Hoffmeyer has been pleased at how many staff stick around. He says some bartenders and servers have been there since day one, and a good portion of the kitchen staff.
“It’s a fun place and a good place to work and people can make a living at doing it,” Hoffmeyer said.
The pizza at Fire Works is very good, but is not the sole reason people come back, Hoffmeyer says. With music on and a crowd inside and out on the patio, the atmosphere is lively. It’s the energy, he says, that really sets Fire Works apart.
Something that makes Fire Works fit into the Northern Virginia restaurant landscape is its interest in finding locally-sourced foods.
It’s something that has become popular in recent years, but Hoffmeyer says “farm-to-fork” eating has been a priority of the owners since before the idea was trendy.
The standards for farm-to-fork mean it’s harder to make it work from the Arlington location — the meat comes from about 100 miles away, for example. In Loudon County, where the owners’ other restaurant locations are, it’s easier to get local foods.
Fire Works has now been in Arlington for more than five years. Hoffmeyer appreciates how businesses in Arlington look out for each other. He says the mix of business and residential spaces nearby make for an interesting balance.
He says Fire Works gets a chance to interact with that community, partially because of the glass walls of the building. When there’s light coming inside, guests can see out and pedestrians can see in. Because of that, he says the dining area isn’t removed from the outside world, and it feels like part of Arlington.
The preceding was a sponsored profile written by Eleanor Greene for ARLnow.com.
You may have heard the Sagatov name around Arlington, especially if you’re house shopping. It graces signs in front of new homes and work trucks traversing local streets.
The man behind the name is Lou Sagatov, but he’s no longer in charge of his eponymous design-build business. Lou passed the business to his son and has started a new career as a real estate agent.
Lou, who also has a daughter-in-law who works in real estate, is proud of his family business. He’s also proud to treat his clients like family.
“One of the things that I offer personalized service to people. I’m not trying to capture the whole world, I just like working on a one to one basis with people and helping them reach their goals,” Sagatov said. “I’d rather work with less people and have a full relationship than try to be so stretched out that I can’t fully service the people I’m dealing with.”
That philosophy for real estate clients is influenced by Sagatov’s 28 years of previous experience in design-build.
When he works with a seller, he uses market analysis to help him determine the current value of the home. Then he helps the owners figure out if they need to make any improvements to maximize its value on the market.
“We do whatever makes the most sense so they can sell their house to meet their goals,” Sagatov said.
After that, he manages the marketing, using online promotion and open houses to help sell the homes.
With buyers, it’s important to set priorities, whether it’s to find a home that’s perfect today or finding a property that buyers can expand or renovate, Sagatov says.
Sagatov says what keeps his clients coming back and referrals rolling in is his transparency and personalized service.
There are challenges in working real estate, Sagatov says. He’s used to dealing with them, because they’re similar to those he’s faced before. It’s about communicating with clients and helping clients get what they want out of the experience.
“I’m working with a builder right now, there are a lot of new builders on the market, how do we get his product sold in a competitive market?” Sagatov said. “For clients, it’s how do we find the right home for them that will allow them to end up with what their dream is? For sellers, it’s how do we sell the house quickly so they maximize their net profit?”
From speaking with him, it’s clear Sagatov puts a great deal of thought into his interactions with clients, as he does with his family.
“I try to figure out how can I support my son and my brother and my daughter-in-law,” Sagatov said. “How do I support them in their business and help them achieve what they want to do too.”
The family is based in Northern Virginia, an area Sagatov has called home for decades. Whether working with a buyer or seller, Sagatov himself is sold on the Arlington area, because of the parks and trails balanced with cultural events and local businesses. Sagatov said Arlington “gives you all the elements you want,” but noted it wouldn’t be the same without the people.
“What I really enjoy about Arlington is the people, there’s a great diversity of people so that makes living here a lot of fun.”
The preceding was a sponsored profile written by Eleanor Greene for ARLnow.com.