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After 7 Years, Fire Works Pizza Wants You to Explore ‘the Other Side of the Menu’

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.

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A New Yorker in Arlington: An Outsider’s Perspective

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.

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The Woman Behind Circa’s Beautiful Chalkboard Designs in Clarendon

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.”

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Attorney William Robinson III Likes Getting Results, Getting Hands Dirty

“I love the work of helping a client in court.” says Arlington attorney and counselor at law William P. Robinson III.

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.

See William P. Robinson III’s website here. His phone number is 703-789-4800. His email address is [email protected]

The preceding sponsored post was written by Buzz McClain.

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For Fire Works, Opening in Arlington Meant Starting from the Ground Up

Fire Works
2350 Clarendon Boulevard
Phone: 703-527-8700
http://www.fireworkspizza.com/Arlington

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.

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Being Successful in Real Estate After a Mid-Career Switch

Lou Sagatov Headshot

Lou Sagatov
Real Estate Agent
http://lousagatov.com/
571-305-2405

[email protected]

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.

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Local Professionals are Making Big Changes in a Small Group

Belleconnecta group shot

Belleconnecta
Founder: Alison Cardy
www.belleconnecta.com

Do you wish you had a group of fellow professionals who could help you with your career and personal goals?

Alison Cardy did, and that’s why she started Belleconnecta.

Cardy describes Belleconnecta simply as “A community of women who are interested in improving their lives in some way.”

What these women have in common is that they’re professionals living in Northern Virginia who want to increase their sense of community and make positive changes in their lives.

Cardy’s main work is as a career coach who specializes in guiding men and women through career transitions. Cardy has been doing this work for almost seven years, and while she enjoys helping people with their careers and giving specialized advice, she wanted to connect with clients and the local community in an ongoing way.

So in January, with the encouragement of several of her friends and clients, Cardy launched Belleconnecta’s first six month women’s coaching cohort.

The members meet once a month for a structured coaching workshop over dinner. Cardy provides frameworks and exercises that can be applied to any area of life, and members work through this material together and share their insights with one another. They also have a monthly group phone call to share updates and reconnect to the improvements they’re focusing on. Cardy says these two touchpoints mean clients’ goals are never too far from their minds.

“Most things in life improve with attention. This program is really about giving yourself the time and space to pay attention to your life, so that you can make the changes you want to see,” Cardy said. “In addition, the program emphasizes courage. A lot of what we want is on the other side of a hard or scary action. It’s so much easier to take those uncomfortable steps that will really move your life forward when you know there’s a group of wonderful women right beside you cheering you on.”

Cardy was pleased with the outcomes from the session that started in January. Healthy routines were implemented, closets were organized, boundaries were set, outlooks were improved, leadership opportunities at work were snagged, and cross country moves were embarked on. She is wrapping up her second cohort this December and will be launching a new group in January.

There is a second component to the Belleconnecta community. Cardy puts on a personal Self Care Day for Belleconnecta members and the general public a couple times a year. The next one is on December 12 at the Lyon Park Community Center in Clarendon.

“For most of us we think ‘self-care’ and wind up coming home and watching TV at the end of a long day,” Cardy said. “This is more active. It’s a time and space to reflect, a day to recharge and reconnect.”

Cardy knows hers isn’t the only group that provides space for area professionals to connect with one another. But these groups tend to be framed around industry specific professional development or networking events, where it’s often hard to get past small talk level connections.

“I’m so attracted to the in-person format where you get to see the same people every month and talk about things that really matter, because it allows connections to strengthen much more easily,” Cardy said. “This is something the average professional can participate in, get a great result, have a good time and make new friends.”

To receive an invitation to Belleconnecta’s next coaching cohort Open House and a community discount to Self Care Day, join the Belleconnecta community at www.belleconnecta.com.

The preceding was a sponsored profile written by Eleanor Greene for ARLnow.com.

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ASAP Printing Mixes New Technology With Old School Customer Service

ASAP Printing
Owner: Mohammad “Mo” Shiekhy
4141 N. Henderson Road (Ballston area)
Phone: 888-841-6004
Email: [email protected]
http://www.asapscreenprinting.com/

ASAP Printing is small, no doubt about it. But that’s kind of what owner Mohammad “Mo” Shiekhy likes about it: he has to take responsibility for everything.

He says his customer service is what sets ASAP apart from the others. But with a decline in paper printing — there aren’t many others like ASAP.

When Shiekhy took over the business from his friend in 1990, he says there were 13 print shops from Rosslyn to Glebe Road. Now, there are three.

What’s kept his business alive when so many have withered? That dedication to customer service and a willingness to keep up with new technology.

Shiekhy said being good to customers is the cornerstone of his business philosophy.

“I take [customer orders] very personally. I stay on top of the work until it gets done,” he said.

The business has a small staff of four, one to do each job — screen printing, offset, graphic design and front desk. Shiekhy says people who work for him tend not to last if they don’t take service as seriously as he does.

That said, two of his employees have been with the business for over 10 years. One of ASAP’s former employees started working the front desk in 1990 and worked there until she was 33, when she left to pursue accounting work. Shiekhy participated in her wedding.

Shiekhy explained that he includes consulting to make sure that the materials he’s making suit the clients’ needs and offers services at the lowest prices he can.

“I understand their goals when printing, the cheapest way and the best results,” he said. “They get marketing consultation, budget consultation, then they get their print done.”

As far as technology goes, ASAP is “101 percent up to date in that department,” Shiekhy says, talking about the new six-color screen printing machine he acquired last year. He also aims to keep up with whatever is best for the environment in both inks and fabrics in the screen printing industry.

Offset printing, which uses ink on plates, is not as popular as it used to be. Laser printers have made printing less expensive, especially for small orders. He still keeps offset printers around, however, as well as up-to-date laser printers, to give customers more options.

Shiekhy has moved around Arlington a number of times to get larger spaces to fit the machines, hire more employees and make his shop more accessible. His current spot is the shop’s fifth location. He says it’s the best one, because of windows and convenient parking.

The current business and location are the proof of how far Shiekhy has come from moving to the U.S. from Iran in 1976 with $18 in his pocket. He put himself through Temple University to be an electrical engineer. He had planned to go back, but ended up staying when the Iranian revolution broke out, and began a career in electrical engineering.

He originally was just an investor when ASAP Printing opened in 1986, but when his friend, the owner, left, Shiekhy took over. He had to leave his job as an engineer at a telecommunications company, but says he had invested too much to see the business fail. He says he’s never wanted to move the business outside of Arlington.

“First and foremost my home is in Arlington. I’ve always worked several minutes from home. I’ve worked until 2 a.m., I’ve come in on a Sunday to help customers,” he said. “When I started I had one child, then two, so the flexibility of working in Arlington gave me the chance to check on my kids, go to their school, pick them up and do anything that they needed.” Those kids have both graduated from college now.

Even though ASAP Printing has lasted through decades, moves and changes in printing technology, he says his children’s successes are his greatest accomplishment.

The preceding was a sponsored profile written by Eleanor Greene for ARLnow.com.

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Courthouse Dentist’s Philosophy: Give Patients Options

Owner: Dr. Mehdi Adili
McLean Officee: 703-442-0442
Arlington Office: 703-528-0800
Website: http://www.idealdentalsolutions.com/

For Dr. Mehdi Adili, being a good dentist is about being a thorough educator.

The founder and owner of Ideal Dental Solutions is a firm believer in teaching both his staff and his patients. For patients, he says, knowing about their options makes them feel the most at ease when it comes time to get work done.

One of the reasons he came up with the name of “Ideal Dental Solutions” back when he opened his practice in 1995 was because it emphasizes that everyone has options that they should know about, and the ideal solution is different from person to person. That’s why informing each patient about all of the possible solutions to fix their dental concerns, including the pros and cons of each procedure, helps put each patient at ease.

“It’s so important to me that everything is explained and everyone is educated. I don’t want them to shy away from treatment, I want them to understand what their needs are.” Dr. Adili said. “We leave the door open for them to come in, call or email with questions. We do our best to make ourselves quite available in every sense.”

Part of this education process is offering free consultations to all patients, so they can know what they’re getting into before they get in the chair on the day of the procedure. Sometimes it takes up to two appointments before the patient can settle on what should be done, but Dr. Adili says it’s worth it to comfort patients so they know what to expect. Prospective patients can even have their questions begin to be answered online in Ideal Dental Solutions’ extensive FAQ section.

Prospective patients are often concerned about what their dental insurance will and won’t cover. The staff at Ideal Dental Solutions are committed to telling patients what their insurance will cover, and part of finding those ideal solutions is something that works within insurance, or within a budget if they do not have insurance, Dr. Adili says.

Talking to patients isn’t the only educating Dr. Adili does. Once a week, he meets with his 18-person staff in the McLean or Arlington office and talks to them about the newest procedures or technologies so that patients can receive the best and most modern care. He says he has staff in administrative work, insurance and dental assisting who know as much as most practicing dentists know. This way, all of his staff can answer questions and know what is going on with patient care.

Once patients move from the consulting or educating step in their dental process, and actually get into the chair, they are treated to the best in both dental technology and entertainment technology.

Yes, entertainment. Every patient is different in what they find comforting, so each station is tricked out with personal audio/visual equipment that the patient controls, and a headset. Instead of reading an outdated magazine or listening to the dentist’s tools at work, patients can comfortably watch television or listen to music.

Though Dr. Adili has always had his practice in Northern Virginia, he opened his second location in Arlington in July, near the Courthouse Metro station (1920 Clarendon Blvd). He says what brought him to Arlington was that the area is “vibrant and the location will be helpful for patients old and new.”

The new convenient location has been working well so far, he says, especially because both locations are designed to be similar to each other, with the same technology and the same type of comforting color scheme and modern, clean design. This is another way to put patients at ease as soon as they walk in the door.

Dr. Adili says that what sets Ideal Dental Solutions apart from other dental offices is that they have such a strong emphasis on customer service — that good dentistry is more than about just fixing teeth.

“We make sure that the quality of work is to patients’ satisfaction and the results are predictable,” Dr. Adili said. “Everyone is taken care of, comfortable, even pampered. Dentists are patient-oriented, listen to patients to understand their needs, and provide them with the best service.”

It seems like good dentistry isn’t so complicated after all.

To book an appointment or free consultation, visit Ideal Dental Solutions’ website, or call the Arlington office at 703-528-0800.

The preceding article was written by ARLnow.com and sponsored by Ideal Dental Solutions.

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ARLnow Profile: Top Shelf Design

Top Shelf Design
Phone:  571-431-6101
Email: [email protected]
www.topshelfdesign.net

When people think of graphic design, they might picture a single person in their basement designing printouts and posters, banners and brochures. But at Top Shelf Design (TSD) in Rosslyn, you’re more likely to see a team of designers and developers sitting at their computers, bouncing ideas off of each other and thinking of solutions to their client’s design problems.

This scene has changed in the past 11 years since the business opened its doors because the company does 70 percent web development work instead of 40 percent, as they did five years ago. Design in 2015 is about staying current and going mobile, says Gregg Hurson, lead developer at TSD.

“What we’re seeing now is we’re seeing a shift towards digital which is universal. We’re seeing that we’re doing digital annual reports and things like that whereas 5 or 7 years ago that would be straight print, straight to the printer,” said Brendan Kiel, founder and CEO of the company. “We’re also seeing clients that, even if they do a print piece, they’re thinking about how they publicize it on the web, and how people access it on the web, and how they market it that way.”

Kiel and his business partner at the time, started the company around Kiel’s kitchen table in 2004, and the business grew rapidly, from six to 65 clients in the first year. Since then, the company has grown to a staff of 10 and has worked on about 7,000 projects for 1,000 clients, president Kathryn Kiel estimates.

Kathryn says that even as the company has transformed and grown, the staff has had a commitment to what they believe are the most important aspects of their company: great design and attentive customer service.

“I know a lot of clients are really scarred from bad past experiences where their designer goes MIA, or never knowing what they’re going to get or when they’re going to get it, or what’s the next step in the process, or they’ve been trying to reach their developer for who-knows-how-long and they can’t, so I think that’s something that sets us apart,” Kiel said.

When she began doing market research, Kiel called ten design firms, asking about pricing and just general information about them. She says she only got one phone call back from one of the firms. That’s when she knew that an emphasis on communication with customers was going to be a big part of TSD.

“I said, ‘Wow, this is going to be easy. Respond to people quickly, give them what they want, make sure that your deadlines are hit and exceeded their expectations,'” Kiel said.

Another way TSD gets inspiration for its customer service is from an employee, Cassie Stewart. Stewart started at the company working in sales and marketing, but had an idea. With lead designers managing their own projects, much of their work time was spent answering clients’ questions.

“We wondered, how much more creative could we be if designers weren’t interrupted by the phone ringing?” Brendan said.

In January, Stewart became a project manager. She is dedicated to managing client’s successful project. She says it gives our designers more time to focus on excellent and innovative design.

The shared focus on design and service has paid off in both realms. Its high-quality design of packaging for gourmet honey won the company the GDUSA Package Design award in 2014. Their work was also recognized in the 2013 American Business Awards with a prestigious Gold Stevie Award for Best Online/Interactive Annual Report for the National Retail Federation’s 2012 Interactive Annual Report. Another accolade they’re proud of was the company softball team, The Top Shelf Design Tigers, was undefeated in 2011, added Brendan Kiel.

TSD is going on its sixth year with office in Arlington; the first five were spent in Clarendon, but now it’s located in Rosslyn’s River Place complex. The company was started and founded in the District, but Kathryn Kiel says what brought the company across the Potomac was the ease of traveling around Arlington, more abundant parking and less expensive office space.

“And food trucks,” she laughed.

Top Shelf Design started around a table — a wooden kitchen table, at the home of Brendan and Kathryn Kiel. It was there, in 2004, they started Top Shelf Design. Kathryn would nag Brendan, she says, chuckling, to put down a placemat so he wouldn’t make marks on the wood.

He didn’t, but now the table shows a history of the company, the earliest designs and doodles etched in the wood. When they moved the table to the Rosslyn office, the signatures of all of the employees joined those markings.

There’s not many signatures for 11 years of design, but that’s another thing the Kiels are proud of: finding staff members who are passionate and committed to the work the firm does, who stick with the company and build their careers there.

“I think we are the smallest big agency you can find. I think what we do here is high-quality, big-agency work, for big clients and for small clients, but we do it with a small team that’s approachable,” Brendan Kiel said. “We really sought to create a process and a product that was really agency-quality, while staying small.”

The preceding was a sponsored feature written by ARLnow.com. 

Do you own a business in Arlington? Want it to be profiled by ARLnow? Check out our newBusiness Membership service, a comprehensive and affordable local marketing platform. For more information, contact Meghan McMahon at [email protected] or at 703-348-0583.

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Morning Notes

Goldfish in Arlington (Flickr pool photo by Airamangel)

Labor Protests in Rosslyn — Two labor unions, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Union Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, held separate protests near the Central Place development in Rosslyn yesterday. The unions were protesting the use of non-union labor, and used an inflatable rat and an inflatable “fat cat” to underscore their complaints. [Twitter, Twitter]

Boundary Channel Bike Path Plans — Conceptual plans for a new bike trail from Long Bridge Drive to the Mount Vernon Trail have been revealed. The trail is set to be built as part of the reconfiguration of the I-395 and Boundary Channel Drive interchange. [The Wash Cycle]

The Life and Times of Preston Caruthers — A brief biography of Preston Caruthers, the Arlington developer who built Dominion Towers, among others, and who at 88 still shows up daily at his Ballston office of his firm, Caruthers Properties LLC. [Falls Church News-Press]

Flickr pool photo by Airamangel

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Yelp CEO’s Tech Career Started With Bike Rides to Ballston Mall

Jeremy StoppelmanJeremy Stoppelman, the CEO and co-founder of Yelp, might not have made it as a tech titan if it wasn’t for bike rides to Ballston Common Mall as a kid.

Stoppelman grew up in Arlington, near Military Road. He attended Taylor Elementary in the 1980s and swam on the Donaldson Run swim team. Though Stoppelman and his family later moved to Great Falls, where he attended Langley High School, it was those early days in Arlington that set him on the path to Silicon Valley stardom.

“I used to ride my bike to Ballston mall to buy video games… they had one of those little video game stores,” he told ARLnow.com in a phone interview. “I was always interested in technology and computers. It probably started early with my love of video games and fascination with how you build them and the machines they run on.”

After high school Stoppelman attended the University of Illinois, where he graduated with a degree in computer engineering in 1999. He would come back to Northern Virginia to intern at UUNET, an early commercial internet service provider, for two summers. After graduation, however, he left the D.C. area behind for the Bay Area, where he would work for @Home Network and Paypal before attending a year of business school and founding Yelp in 2004.

Now 37, Stoppelman is the head of a publicly-traded company, a member of Vanity Fair magazine’s vaunted “New Establishment,” and at last check worth an estimated $222 million. Despite a demanding schedule on the West Coast, he says he’s able to come back to Washington a couple of times a year, sometimes for work — weighing in on legislative issues on Capitol Hill — and sometimes just to visit his mother, who now lives in Reston. (His father died in 1998, according to a San Francisco Chronicle profile.)

Asked about advice he would give to local students hoping for a career in tech, Stoppelman said getting an early start learning computer programming is key.

Welcome to Yelp Lobby“If your school offers something like a computer science course I would definitely take it,” he said. “Just get going, the more you explore and have fun and just follow your interests, the better.”

Stoppelman himself took a Turbo Pascal programming class in high school. He supports efforts to bring more coding classes to students as early as the elementary school level, including online coding lessons from Code.org and Coursera.

“A deeper understanding of technology is good for everyone,” he said.

With talk of a new tech bubble and an ever-growing list of “unicorns” — startups that have attained the previously-rare valuation of $1 billion — the temptation might be there for young D.C. area entrepreneurs to decamp to Silicon Valley in search of ultra-quick riches. Stoppelman, who guided Yelp’s growth for eight years before taking it public, cautioned against the myth that there’s easy success to be had in tech, particularly in the local space.

“I think in a lot of cases it looks like there’s easy bucks but there’s often an easy story,” he said. “For a lot of companies, the ‘overnight success’ was four or five years in the making, where they struggled with a bunch of different ideas and things that didn’t work and one day they were finally able to get something to click.”

“Doing something in local generally means going deep in a lot of geographies, which takes a freaking long time,” he continued. “So we always had a long-term mentality.”

Stoppelman’s success is a case study in not selling out too early. Shortly after Yelp’s founding, he said he held an “M&A discussion” with Friendster, the early social network that was later overtaken in popularity by Facebook. In 2010, he famously received a phone call from the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, urging him not to sell the company to Google. (He didn’t.)

Such decisions are difficult and aren’t for every company founder, he said.

“It depends on what you want to do and your tolerance for continued risk,” said Stoppelman. “For us, as the opportunity arose to sell, we’d come back to the idea that we were just spreading our wings, just getting started. It didn’t make the decision easy, but it did give us the confidence.”

He added: “I definitely don’t look down at people that got something off the ground and sold quickly, I think it’s a very tough decision and it’s very personal.”

Yelp, by its nature as a review site, can be both a boon to local businesses and the bane of their existence. Businesses with glowing reviews often see a boost in business. But bad reviews can sting and some business owners take them personally. Some have even accused Yelp itself of shady sales practices like offering to hide bad reviews if a business advertises with the site.

Stoppelman, however, sees Yelp as a neutral platform for consumers to share their experiences with other consumers — and for businesses to allow themselves to be discovered by new customers.

“Yelp is word of mouth, brought online and amplified… it’s a big megaphone,” Stoppelman said. “Delighted customers are going to talk to you on Yelp. Before it was hard for some people to know you exist.”

He said businesses can use the negative reviews to improve their business and to try to make things right with dissatisfied customers who might have otherwise simply never returned. He also suggested that owners shouldn’t necessarily sweat the couple of negative reviews that might be mixed in with good reviews.

“A lot of folks do make the mistake of taking an individual negative review and focusing in on that, and that’s necessarily constructive,” he said. “Don’t focus on just the one negative review, focus on the larger picture.”

“Before Yelp there was no real reliable way to see feedback one way or another. So maybe you had a problem or something that was really irritating your customers and you didn’t necessarily know. Now, for better or for worse, that information is out there and you can do something about it. I think that’s really empowering to local businesses that understand the value of that [information].”

As for what’s next for Yelp, Stoppelman said the company is focused on being a platform for booking services and local transactions. Yelp currently has 15 platform partners, offering everything from hotel bookings to golf tee times to tables at Las Vegas nightclubs. The company also just acquired Eat24, a food delivery app that’s known locally for its cable TV ads featuring Snoop Dogg and Gilbert Gottfried and mean words about kale.

“I’m a fan of kale but that’s been a popular discussion point for kale fans and those who do not like kale… Eat24 sparked an interesting conversation,” Stoppelman said, laughing, when asked about the anti-kale commercials.

Kale aside, Stoppelman also mentioned something new the company just rolled out this month that he’s excited about — that tech-savvy Arlington residents might already be using: an Apple Watch app.

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NPR Profiles Arlington’s Smart Growth Policies

Clarendon Metro stationNational Public Radio kicked off a nationwide series on commuting Thursday morning with a lengthy profile of Arlington’s transit system on Morning Edition, saying the county “sets the bar for suburban transit.”

Morning Edition host David Greene interviewed former Arlington County Board member Jay Ricks, who was on the Board when it decided to build the Orange and Blue Metro stations underground, spurring the eventual urban development around each station.

Greene, reporting from the Ballston Metro Station, interviewed commuters and Robert Brosnan, the director of the county Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development.

Greene noted that because of the Metro’s appeal, housing prices have skyrocketed — which is forcing out some of the county’s lower-income workers. Additionally, Greene reported, the county’s reliance on Metro means that a train or track malfunction during the commute affects thousands of Arlington residents simultaneously.

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Arlington Resident Advances in Speech Contest

Chie TamakiThis article was written by Maddy Berner

When Chie Tamaki walked into one of Virginia’s Toastmasters speech clubs four years ago, a member asked her if she was interested in speaking.

She wasn’t. At least not yet.

After moving from Japan to Arlington 13 years ago, Tamaki was shy and lacked English speaking skills. She was so timid that even after one year with Toastmasters, she remained quiet, unable to overcome the language barrier. Now, four years after joining, the Arlington resident is winning public speaking competitions.

Last month, Tamaki defeated 200 local participants to win the district level of the largest speaking competition in the world: the Toastmasters International Speech Contest. On Aug. 21, Tamaki will travel to Cincinnati for the semifinals, representing District 27 — D.C., Southwest Maryland and Northern Virginia. If she qualifies, Tamaki will be one of nine people participating in the finals two days later.

Toastmasters International is a non-profit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through various events and conferences. During the competition, participants’ 5-7-minute speeches are judged on content, organization, gesture and style.

Tamaki, who works as a translator and as a bilingual paralegal, said she joined the Toastmaster organization to learn English. But she quickly learned that the only way to come out of her shell and improve these skills was to participate in other speech contests. She had been to conferences before and wanted to be like the people she saw on stage, but her poor language skills hindered her.

“But I did step by step and I did my best,” she said. “Sometimes, I have to work harder.”

When she won the district-level competition, she only thought one thing: It’s a miracle.

Samuel Ticha, public relations officer for District 27, said Tamaki has an exceptional storytelling capability.

“She speaks as if she was singing and dancing at the same time,” he said. “She is a phenomenon to watch on stage.”

As she prepares for the next step of her journey, Tamaki realizes she will be competing against top international speakers. But she said she has an abundance of close comrades — friends she’s met through her experiences and former champions she’s had as mentors — to help her prepare. It’s these people who have helped her relish the moment.

“That’s really, really priceless. It’s another kind of miracle that I get to see those great people,” she said.

Tamaki must also work on her time management skills in order to time the speeches perfectly. Since January, she’s been working on two speeches: the one she used to win districts and will use for the semifinals, and another she must prepare for the final round.

In the end, though, she said it’s all about her personal growth through organizations like Toastmasters.

“Anybody who is a little shy, who’s unsure about who you are,” she said, “Toastmasters is the place to go.”

Courtesy photo

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Running in Arlington, a History Through the Eyes of Its Champion

Jay Jacob WindJay Jacob Wind has numbers running through his head.

One hundred and fifty-one marathons. Three thousand shorter races. Nineteen minutes and 19 seconds on his first 5K more than 30 years ago, and 39:39 on his first 10K. His first marathon — the Marine Corps Marathon — he ran in three hours and 27 minutes. He finished his first Boston Marathon in 2:47.

Consider another number: how many people in Arlington know more about running in the area than Wind? Probably zero.

Not only has Wind published a local running blog/column, the Arlington Running Roundup, for years, and served as a inspiration and mentor for a generation of younger runners, but he has also been such a presence in the local athletic community that he was appointed chairman of the Arlington Parks Commission from 1996-97 and was later named an “Arlington Community Hero.”

(The honors were detailed in a Washington Running Report article that also quoted Wind as saying, “I want to be the known as the guy who got all of Arlington running.”)

ARLnow.com struck up a conversation with Wind this week to discuss the past, present and future of running in Arlington with the county’s foremost authority on the matter.

ARLnow: When did you move to Arlington, and when did you first start running?
Jay Wind: I moved here in June of 1978. That spring, I was in graduate school at the University of Georgia when I ran my first race. I had been running for years and years before I even knew there was such a thing as a race. Those were my first races after about a decade of training. When Frank Shorter won the Olympic marathon in 1972 and came in second in 1976, I had no idea. That thing that fired up thousands of Americans about running was totally lost on me.

ARLnow: What was the running scene in Arlington like back then compared to today?
JW: Back then there were still lots of people running. The Cherry Blossom 10-miler was 10,000 people instead of 30,000, and the Marine Corps Marathon was the same. There weren’t charities doing races. Race For The Cure changed all that, and it proved that really huge money could be made by charities, because the net proceeds of a race are generally half of the gross proceeds, and it’s really hard to find that kind of margins in any other event. The running stores — in particular Georgetown Running Company — have recognized they can promote their store by being a generous sponsor of a race. The fact that we’ve got so many runners, and therefore so many running stores, and therefore so many core sponsors has really made a huge difference.

ARLnow: What’s been the biggest change in the running scene since you started?
JW: The biggest single change has been the proliferation of private gymnasiums to get fit. It used to be that there were community centers and a handful of other gyms, but now, there are way, way more private gyms, and there are a lot of people who would prefer to work out on a treadmill or an elliptical on a hot day in the summer or a cold day in the winter, so it’s enabled more people to get fit. And you don’t necessarily have to be fit to run, but it sure is a lot more fun.

ARLnow: So just how different is it when you’re out on the trails these days?
JW: I’d say, nowadays we see 10 times as many runners as we did 30 years ago. There have been so many breakthroughs in running fabrics so we’re not running in cotton t-shirts and boxer shorts. We’re running in high-tech shirts, non-chafing shorts, polytech socks, running shoes. All these technological improvements, and that’s enabled more people to participate, it’s enabled, at the front end of the pack, for records to be set. The technology improves and it enables us to do our best.

ARLnow: What about Arlington do you think makes it so appealing for runners?
JW: Arlington’s got a ton of great trails. All you need is a good pair of shoes. We’ve got this beautiful perimeter around Arlington with the W&OD and Custis and Four Mile Run trails. You can run that whole distance about 26 miles with only two small street crossings in Rosslyn, two in Shirlington and Gravelly Point. Only five points. That’s so significant. The visionaries like (former County Board Chairman) John Milliken, who put together the Arlington perimeter… it was a brilliant idea, and it’s great for bicycles, too. It’s great for nature lovers or bird lovers. We are so lucky.

ARLnow: Did you ever think running would explode the way it has?
JW: I’d have to say yes. I knew that something couldn’t be this much fun and this easy without attracting many more people. Many others shared that same vision. It was going to get big whether or not Oprah Winfrey ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994. It’s too much fun. The cat’s out of the bag. It’s cheap entertainment.

ARLnow: So what’s the future of running for Arlington?
JW: There’s a lot of things that are going to happen. First of all, I think we’re going to see a couple more Olympic trials qualifiers from Arlington. Michael Wardian ran the [marathon] trials in 2004 and 2008. (Also, Arlington resident and UK transplant Claire Hallissey made it on the British Olympic marathon team last year. -ed.) That’s one measure. Another measure is the proliferation of small races. You’re going to see more races at Bluemont Park and more races from the Ballston campus of Marymount University on the Bluemont Junction Trail. It would be nice if there was a single organization that could speak for Arlington runners. There are structural constituencies for a number of sports, and there’s not a structural constituency for running, and my prediction is that there will be one in 5-10 years, because there needs to be. It’s lacking.

Wind also commented on the Arlington County Fair’s claim that this year’s planned 5K race was the first in the fair’s history, recalling that he organized a 5K at the fair from 1982-1984. “I’ve got the T-shirts to prove it,” he said.

In addition to the highs of running, Wind has also witnessed the lows. This year, he finished the Boston Marathon about 30 minutes before the bombs went off. He was close enough to hear and feel the blasts, but not to see the aftermath. He told the Sun Gazette the bombings were “tragic and senseless,” and hasn’t updated his blog since.

If there’s a race or training run in Arlington these days, you’re still likely find Wind, well into his 60s, running in it. You might not see him during the race, since he’ll likely be finishing well ahead of you.

“I have a saying: if someone’s going to win the age group, it might as well be me,” he says. He still clocks under 8 minutes a mile for the marathons, and he’s not slowing down any time soon.

Photo via Marathon Charity Cooperation

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