Arlington, VA

At least 25 restaurants have closed in Arlington since the start of the pandemic, nearly one year ago.

The restaurants that have closed their doors run the gamut from local watering holes to workday lunch spots to a neighborhood froyo stop. Many were hit hard by the the loss of business caused by the pandemic and subsequent safety measures, though some might have closed regardless.

The loss of any local business is upsetting, but which of the following closures are you most sad about?

Hannah Foley contributed to this report

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Queen Mother’s Fried Chicken from Chef Rahman “Rock” Harper has gotten a considerable amount of press since landing in Arlington nearly three months ago.

But it hasn’t altered how the chef does business.

“It hasn’t changed anything other than we’ve been blessed with more customers from a wider range of audiences,” Harper tells ARLnow. “We just have been busier.”

In early December, Queen Mother’s moved into the restaurant incubator Cafe by La Cocina at 918 S. Lincoln Street, right off of Columbia Pike, in the Alcova Heights neighborhood.

The menu is relatively compact. It includes four variations of fried chicken sandwiches — all cooked in duck fat and canola oil — including classic, Nashville hot, Virginia honey butter, and spicy mambo.

As sides, there are seasoned waffle fries and two different kinds of coleslaw. Homemade sweet tea and lemonade are offered as drinks. For desert, brown butter chocolate chip cookies.

Harper first got attention as the season three winner of the Fox competition show Hell’s Kitchen. He’s been an executive chef at Las Vegas and D.C. restaurants, an author, a podcast host, and has made numerous return trips to television. He also previously collaborated with another restaurateur on the short-lived, sausage-and-beer restaurant Fat Shorty’s in Clarendon.

Queen Mother’s is Harper’s first go at a restaurant he owns and controls himself. It was previously based at a virtual food hall in D.C. before making the move across the river.

“I’m from Alexandria… I’m a Virginia guy,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to ‘restaurant’ on this side of a bridge, so to speak.”

Growing up a neighbor, he notes his familiarity of Arlington and how he’s continuously overwhelmed with the support the community has provided Queen Mother’s.

“You know, people saying ‘Hey, we’re glad you’re here’ and ‘We need more things like this in the neighborhood, right down the Pike,'” he said.

The restaurant is named after his mom, Carol Harper.

“She’s affectionately known as a mother to her children… and to most of the people in my neighborhood,” he says. “And she’s a queen.”

Harper says he also named it as such to shift the conversation around Black food and Black women.

“Instead of going down the road that we’ve gone down in years past with the negative or stereotypical names, it’s my responsibility to put positive energy towards our culture and food,” Harper says. “And fried chicken is what I’m using.”

Recently, there’s been a movement around reclaiming chicken as a symbol of pride in the Black restaurant community.

Harper set up shop at the Columbia Pike-based incubator Cafe by La Cocina because the barrier for entry was significantly lower than taking on his own brick and mortar, particularly in the midst of a pandemic.

“One of the barriers to opening up a restaurant is all of the money, infrastructure, and access,” he says.”With these shared spaces, [the incubator’s owners] assume a bunch of the risk.”

It’s a win-win for the incubator as well, being able to offer a number of different concepts in the same space, he says.

There are challenges and drawbacks, Harper admits. It’s not a dedicated space, he and his employees need to be mindful of others working around them, and not all decisions fall into his hands.

He cites setting up the patio for outdoor seating as an example, saying he would love to have done it this week with the mild temperatures but the incubator makes that decision.

But for him, the collaboration with others makes it all worth it.

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Gov. Ralph Northam announced today that he is easing some public health restrictions, including the 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales.

Effective March 1, Virginians will be able to buy and drink alcohol at restaurants, food courts, breweries, distilleries and wineries until they are required to close at midnight.

The changes to the current executive order come amid declining rates of hospitalizations and infections and rising vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, Northam said during a press conference this morning (Wednesday).

Northam is also easing restrictions for outdoor entertainment and social gatherings, where evidence shows the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 is lower, as well as allowing overnight summer camps to open “with strict mitigation measures in place.”

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of all Virginians, hospitalization and positivity rates across the Commonwealth are the lowest they have been in nearly three months,” Northam said in a press release. “As key health metrics show encouraging trends and we continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts, we can begin to gradually resume certain recreational activities and further reopen sectors of our economy.”

He attributed the rise in cases over the winter to cold weather and the holidays.

In Arlington, the rate of new coronavirus cases dropped from a peak of around 850 cases per week since mid-January, but has since leveled off between 250-300 cases per week. Cases have similarly dropped nationwide, but that drop has been leveling off.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s Safer at Home strategy — and its accompanying requirements for physical distancing, mask-wearing, gathering limits and business capacity restrictions — will remain in place.

“Even as we take steps to safely ease public health guidelines, we must all remain vigilant so we can maintain our progress — the more we stay home, mask up, and practice social distancing, the more lives we will save from this dangerous virus,” Northam said.

The current modified Stay at Home order will expire on Sunday.

Several Arlington restaurants have told ARLnow that they were waiting on a decision about the Stay at Home order before making plans for March, a month that includes St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness basketball and other events that are traditional draws for local bars.

The full press release from the governor’s office is below.

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The National Landing Business Improvement District is working on a program to support ground-floor restaurants and retailers in Pentagon City, Crystal City and Potomac Yard.

Dubbed “Love Local,” the marketing campaign will distribute almost $100,000 in grants to eligible retail and dining establishments within the boundaries of the BID, through a partnership with Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington.

“While the support of businesses is a consistent function of Arlington County’s business improvement districts, the specific needs of businesses has changed as a result of the global health pandemic,” a county report said. “This initiative aims to provide direct financial support to businesses within the BID boundary in response to the economic conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The BID does not yet have a comment, a spokeswoman said.

The $100,000 in funding for the program includes an administrative and marketing fee of $10,000 for RAMW, which will administer the grants.

During its regular meeting on Saturday, the County Board approved the BID’s request to change its work plan for the 2021 Fiscal Year to include this grant program. The amendment allows the business district to provide direct assistance to businesses in the form of a grant, “an action that requires approval by the County Board as the governing body of the BID,” the county said.

County Manager Mark Schwartz is able to review the eligibility requirements to participate in the grant program as well as how the money would be used if not for the relief program, the county said.

This is the first fiscal year that the organization is fully operational as the National Landing BID, according to its 2021 Work Plan. The County Board voted in September 2019 to expand the boundaries of the Crystal City BID to include Pentagon City and Potomac Yard.

Image via Google Maps

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Morning Notes

Board Advertises Property Tax Rates — “The Arlington County Board today voted unanimously to advertise no increase in the Calendar Year 2021 base real estate property tax rate, citing the toll the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is taking on residents. The Board also voted to advertise a proposed Stormwater tax rate of 1.7 cents per $100 of assessed real property value to fund the full cost of operations and planned capital improvements to the County’s stormwater infrastructure and flood mitigation… The estimated annual impact for the average household with an assessed home value of $724,400 is $123.” [Arlington County]

Snow Falling in ArlingtonUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — Snow is falling in Arlington, which is just outside of a newly-expanded expanded Winter Weather Advisory. Be careful out there! [Twitter]

Business Owners Talk About Burglaries — “Metry describes the Bluemont neighborhood where his business was burglarized as safe. He doesn’t understand why his business was targeted. ‘The whole register, the iPad, the square scan, all of this was missing,’ Metry said. Surveillance footage captured at neighboring restaurant La Union shows the burglars wearing dark clothing, hoodies, masks and gloves. Jose Zelaya has owned the Mexican restaurant La Union for 21 years. Aside from a random car break-in, he said he’s never experienced any crime like this.” [WUSA 9]

St. Patrick’s Pie at Clarendon Pizzeria — “Colony Grill, Clarendon’s new family-friendly tavern, known for its gracious hospitality and famous ‘hot oil’ bar-style pizzas, will serve a special corned beef & cabbage “Bar Pie”… [f]rom Friday, March 12 through Wednesday, March 17.” [Press Release]

Reminder: Trash Collection Delayed a Day — Due to ice and snow last week, Friday’s residential waste collection will be completed today, shifting this week’s collection schedule by one day. [ARLnow]

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Arlington County police are investigating a number of businesses break-ins along Wilson Blvd, west of Ballston.

Thieves broke into businesses in the Bluemont and Dominion Hills neighborhoods early Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The first series of burglaries happened either at or near the Dominion Hills Centre shopping plaza.

From a crime report:

BURGLARY (series), 2021-02160033/02160034, 6000 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 4:12 a.m. on February 16, police were dispatched to the report of an alarm. Upon arrival, it was determined that the unknown suspect(s) attempted to force entry to a business unsuccessfully, causing damage. While investigating, police located a second business, which the suspect(s) forced entry to, causing damage. Nothing was reported stolen from either business. There is no suspect description(s). The investigation is ongoing.

A similar burglary on the same block earlier this month targeted local watering hole Meridian Pint.

On Wednesday morning, meanwhile, thieves broke into a small strip of businesses in the Bluemont neighborhood, along the 5500 block of Wilson Blvd.

Readers tell us that a restaurant, a salon and a barbershop were among the businesses burglarized.

“Yen Beauty/Don Barber and King of Koshary appeared to have had their glass front doors smashed in,” one reader told ARLnow yesterday. The Arlington County Police Department typically does not reveal the exact addresses or names of businesses that were the victims of crimes.

More from ACPD:

BURGLARY (Series), 2021-02170023/0114/0115, 5500 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 5:34 a.m. on February 17, police were dispatched to the report of a breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that unknown suspects forced entry into three businesses, causing damage. Two cash registers, electronics and an undisclosed amount of cash were stolen. The investigating is ongoing.

Photo via Google Maps

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Mi & Yu Noodle Bar at Ballston Quarter is now closed permanently, owner Edward Kim confirms to ARLnow.

The eatery was the first to open at Ballston Quarter’s “Quarter Market” food hall in March 2019. It was the establishment’s only location outside of Baltimore, Maryland.

The reason for the shuttering is simple, Kim says.

“Sales and COVID,” he tells ARLnow in a short phone call. “It’s pretty straight-forward.”

There are no plans to open any additional locations of the raman, noodle, and bao restaurant in Arlington, Kim said.

In general, the Ballston food hall has seen thinning crowds due to the pandemic. That hasn’t stopped a number of high profile openings in recent months, however.

In the fall, sandwich shop Superette opened along with a new pierogi stand in December. In 2021, Quarter Market has also welcomed taco and tequila spot Bartaco and fast casual Indian restaurant Bollywood Bistro Express.

It’s also been tough sledding for others at Ballston Quarter over the last year, including Mi & Yu Noodle Bar. Punch Bowl Social filed for bankruptcy in December and closed its Ballston location on Christmas Eve “until further notice.”

The Regal movie theater at Ballston Quarter remains temporarily closed.

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Unsurprisingly, Mardi Gras won’t be the same this year at Courthouse’s Bayou Bakery.

But that doesn’t mean that the decade-old, New Orleans-inspired eatery is out of fresh ideas for Tuesday’s festivities.

This year, the restaurant is offering a take-home “Mardi Gras in a Box,” which includes a king cake with a do-it-yourself decorating kit, beads, masks, a murder mystery party game, and Pat O’Brien’s signature Hurricane mix.

The party in a box is intended for six to eight people and costs $135.

“Knowing that really no one is going to large events or celebrating Mardi Gras anywhere, what we did is brought a kit… so that basically the party comes to you,” says David Guas, chef and owner of Bayou Bakery.

The restaurant is also selling individual king cakes, king crown cookies, and Mardi Gras pralines, as well as offering catering and its lunch and breakfast menus.

While business has continued to be steady, Guas says that king cake sales are way down this year.

“What’s obviously different than last year is that we don’t have our corporate clients that are buying 25, 30 king cakes all in one swoop,” says Guas.

Last year, he tells ARLnow, they sold about 1,500 king cakes. This year, he expects to sell fewer than a thousand. This despite the fact that they have now partnered with the online ordering platform Toast in order to sell cakes around the clock.

Guas is still keeping busy, despite the more subdued Mardi Gras this year.

Last March, 24 hours after schools shut down, the chef began serving red beans and rice from outside of the bakery to anyone in need. That evolved into a partnership with Real Food for Kids for an initiative called Chefs Feeding Families, which provided free, plant-based meals to local families, students, frontline workers, hospitals, and shelters.

That initiative continues, says Guas, with a recent partnership with Arlington County that sends 150 to 200 meals a week to Virginia Hospital Center. In total, the initiative is still providing about 300 meals a week; funds come from grants, private donations, and community support.

That isn’t all, though. Guas also helped to feed the National Guard while they protected the Capitol throughout January, dropping off hundreds of sandwiches to the troops. He’s currently in the midst of co-organizing Bean-efit, a joint effort with 25 other local restaurants to provide a free meal of beans to anyone in the hospitality industry on Mardi Gras (Tuesday, Feb. 16) from 4-6 p.m.

“Any industry employee who’s been furloughed, now part time, or lost hours, doesn’t matter, gets a free meal,” he says. “We’re not going to ask questions. We’re not taking names. We’re not vetting at all.”

While Guas and the Bayou Bakery team have continuously been cooking, baking, and working over the last year, business remains down. The care-free boozy brunches of the before-times, after all, were more lucrative than take-out sandwiches and coffee.

The restaurant, meanwhile, has taken on plenty of additional expense and effort to continue operating during the pandemic, from constant cleanings to a kitchen remodel to a new ventilation system.

“It sucks. There’s nothing positive about it,” Guas says.

He remains optimistic, however, that Bayou Bakery will make it to the other side of the pandemic.

“I’ve got no other choice but to make it work. That’s why I’m in the restaurant six days a week… and I have a mask on for 12 hours a day,” he says. “I got no plans to go anywhere.”

Photos courtesy of Bayou Bakery

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Morning Notes

No APS Return Dates Yet — “Alexandria City Public Schools this week joined a flood of Northern Virginia school systems in setting firm timelines for reopening classrooms, vowing to welcome all students back for in-person learning by mid-March. But in Arlington, school officials aren’t committing to return dates just yet.” [Washington Post]

Summer School Appears Likely — “Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday will announce a plan to extend the school year into summer to allow students to catch up. The announcement will come during an 11 a.m. news conference, Northam said during a Thursday morning interview with Washington Post Live. No details have yet been released. ‘We’re working with our teachers, our school boards, our superintendents. It has to be a top priority,’ he said.” [InsideNova]

Karantonis Running for Reelection — “Although his announcement was temporarily derailed by a snafu too common in the Zoom era, Arlington County Board member Takis Karantonis on Feb. 3 formally kicked off his bid for re-election with comments before the Arlington County Democratic Committee.” [InsideNova]

Napoli Salumeria’s D.C. Location Closing — “The restaurant has decided not to renew their lease at their current location, so they are temporarily closing their Columbia Heights doors as they search for a new DC location. In the meantime, guests can still get the full Napoli Pasta Bar menu at Napoli Salumeria in Arlington starting next week (including dine-in). Napoli Pasta Bar will also offer free delivery for DC residents within a certain radius from Napoli Salumeria.” [PoPville]

Marymount Announces Commencement Speakers — “In mid-May, approximately 975 students will receive their degrees over the course of three days during Marymount University’s 70th annual commencement ceremonies. The newest graduates of the mission-based Catholic university will hear from three distinguished commencement speakers – influential Virginian James Dyke, Jr., entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila Johnson and business leader Donald Graham.” [Marymount University]

Editorial: No Counterbalance Against Tax Increases — “The government’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission effectively has been gelded; the Arlington County Civic Federation is trying to keep up but is not the budget-watching powerhouse it once was; the Arlington County Taxpayers Association effectively died with its leader, Tim Wise; and serious budget discussions almost never even come up within the intra-Democratic nomination contests that determine who will hold elected office.” [InsideNova]

Virginia May Abolish Death Penalty — “Virginia is poised to become the first state in the South to abolish the death penalty, a sign of ascendant liberal political power in a state that has executed more people since the 1970s than any other except Texas.” [New York Times]

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Locals can now buy handmade pasta and sauces from a vending machine outside the future home of Stellina Pizzeria, a soon-to-open Italian restaurant and market in Shirlington.

The machine delivers food in a pandemic-friendly way and helps preview the opening of the restaurant in the former Cafe Pizzaiolo space at 2800 S. Randolph Street, co-owner Antonio Matarazzo said.

The second outpost of the Michelin-recognized pizzeria in D.C.’s Union Market was set to open at the end of 2020, but the holiday season delayed equipment and furniture shipments. It’s now slated to open “in a couple of weeks,” Matarazzo said.

Matarazzo and Chef Matteo Venini, both Italian transplants, got the idea for the vending machine in March. The pandemic had just hit the East Coast, and they were trying to find ways to deliver food to their guests.

“We did not want to just tape up a hole, but do something that could be good for the future,” Matarazzo said.

While vending machines in the U.S. just offer snacks and bottled drinks, Matarazzo said he has seen Prosecco vending machines in Europe and in Japan, “you can buy everything you want in a vending machine there,”

Granted, he said he has “never seen a pasta vending machine before.”

Like the restaurant, the vending machine was also delayed. It arrived from California — where it was custom-made — a few weeks ago, and six months late.

“It’s a tough time for everybody,” he said. “You have to be more patient these days.”

The machine will stay in Arlington until the end of spring. Then, it will move to 508 K Street NW to preview Stellina’s second location in D.C. Its flagship location opened in April 2019 at 399 Morse Street NE.

Right now, the machine has three kinds of pasta, sauces, dessert, merchandise and coffee.

Matarazzo recommends pairing the paccheri — a large, smooth tube-shaped pasta — with a bolognese sauce; the fusilli goes with ragus made with lamb and wild boar; and the tonnarelli pairs with a cacio e pepe sauce, literally, “cheese and pepper” sauce.

“That is a typical sauce from Rome, and a perfect dish for today’s weather,” Matarazzo said, referencing the recent snowfall.

For dessert, people can choose babà al rum, a 400-year-old dessert from France via Naples, or tiramisu. The coffee comes from Ready Set! Coffee Roasters, a Cleveland-based roaster run by some friends.

“This is just the start,” he said. “We’ll see what else we can put in there.”

After the pandemic, Matarazzo plans on installing 10 more in select office buildings.

He keeps tabs on the products through his phone, and said it seems like he has to restock the pasta and sauces “every two minutes.”

“People are excited about it,” he said.

Update at 10:20 a.m. — Stellina is planning to open on Friday, Feb. 12, the restaurant just announced.

Photos courtesy Rey Lopez

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