Ten months after first-time restaurateurs Au, Di and Hac Dang, Terrell Wilbourn and their three other partners opened Chasin’ Tails in Westlee, they weren’t sure they’d be in business much longer.
“We thought it was over,” Wilbourn admitted. He said he would have gone back in time and told himself, “Don’t open a restaurant. Just don’t do it.”
That was back in February 2013. A bumpy opening in April 2012 didn’t stop customers from coming in all summer, but once the winter rolled around, the Cajun seafood restaurant whose mantra is “No Plates. No Forks. No Rules.” started struggling to fill tables. Waiters were getting antsy because they would work six-hour shifts and make less than $30 in some cases. Things were looking bleak.
“That winter was brutal,” Au Dang said. “The honeymoon period was over. We weren’t getting the same amount of customers. We knew things weren’t going well.”
The ownership group didn’t do themselves many favors. When they opened, some menu items took more than an hour to be prepared. The veteran general manager the restaurant newcomers hired to help guide them was fired after two months because he didn’t fit. Dang remembers giving a customer a free lobster meal after it had come out late. The customer took to Yelp to blast him, saying he didn’t know what he was doing giving away free lobsters.
“We tried to do whatever we could to make customers happy,” Dang said. It didn’t matter; Chasin’ Tails was floundering. “We took responsibility. It was our fault. It’s our job to make the experience as good as possible.”
Then, spring hit. Any restaurant specializing in replicating Louisiana crawfish boils, complete with paper tablecloths, corn on the cob and seafood bibs is destined for a slower winter season. Customers started to come back. Prep times shrank from an unacceptable 45 minutes or more to a reliable 15-20 minutes.
Next month, Chasin’ Tails will celebrate its three-year anniversary. The business is doing well enough that the owners are launching three spin-off restaurants in Northern Virginia, including another Chasin’ Tails in Centreville.
“Everything’s painful at first,” Wilbourn said today, sitting down with ARLnow.com in the restaurant at 2200 N. Westmoreland Street. “Like riding a bike or overcoming a social anxiety. I know it’s a cliché, but it gets better.”
That’s not always the case in the restaurant business. Chasin’ Tails defied low expectations of its lifespan when it opened. Dang said he reads Yelp reviews every day and early on, they were “destroying us,” he said. “But it was all true.”
“Great food and very cool set up,” one Yelper wrote in May 2012. “Worst service I have had in years.”
“Overall, the food is good,” another reviewer wrote that month. “The downside is the service. Our server was very nice but he placed our order and then entered the witness relocation program.”
Fast-forward three years, and Chasin’ Tails has an average four-star rating, and most of the recent reviews are five stars. The restaurant, which opens only for dinner on weeknights and at noon on weekends, is so busy that a reservation is considered a must, unless one has at least a half hour to spare. Read More
After the federal government shut down the country’s top three poker websites last April, professional online poker players Hac and Di Dang thought it might be best to try their luck at another venture.
The pair decided to go all-in with their brother Au (and three other partners) and launch a Cajun crawfish restaurant in Westlee called “Chasin’ Tails: Cajun Seafood and Bar.”
Located at 2200 N. Westmoreland Street, in the former Bear Rock Cafe space, Chasin’ Tails aims to be the go-to local hangout for seafood and sports fans. The restaurant opened to the general public for the first time this afternoon.
The restaurant serves fresh, Bayou-style seafood by the bucket, and encourages guests to eat with their hands, with the motto “no forks, no rules.” There’s even a trough at the back of the main dining area to give patrons a place to clean the seafood bits off their hands without having to go into a bathroom.
The simple one-page menu includes crawfish — the specialty — as well as shrimp, snow crab legs, king crab legs, blue crab, lobster, clams, mussels and raw oysters. Fried seafood, gumbo and jambalaya, and sides like Cajun fried, corn on the cob and Andouille sausage is also available.
Chasin’ Tails is an ambitious venture for the Dang brothers who, at ages 23 to 29, are first-time restaurateurs. The restaurant seats 150 in the main dining room along, with additional seating for 35 in a private dining room and — coming soon — 25 outdoor seats. The entire space is lined with flat-screen TVs tuned to sports channels, and there’s a full bar in the center of the restaurant. It’s particularly bold due to the location: Westlee is hardly the Clarendon-style commercial mecca where one might expect to see a restaurant the size of Chasin’ Tails.
The slightly off-the-beaten path location is part of the draw, says general manager Mike Jones. Formerly the general manager at Georgetown stalwarts The Guards and J. Paul’s, Jones says Chasin’ Tails is poised to capitalize on the lack of comparable dining options nearby. He also likes the fact that Westlee is positioned along Lee Highway, and between the East Falls Church Metro station and the main commercial drag of Falls Church — bringing in some additional foot traffic.
“We think that we’re in a very good position to reach out to a lot of people,” Jones said. “We’re excited about the clientelle we’re going to serve.”
Chasin’ Tails will be open from 3:00 to 10:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 3:00 p.m. to midnight on Friday, 11:00 a.m. to midnight on Saturday, and 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Sunday. Happy hour will run from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. A grand opening party, with a New Orleans-style jazz band, is planned for between 2:00 and 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 7.
A child has been struck by a vehicle on the 6800 block of Lee Highway, in the East Falls Church/Westlee area.
Initial reports suggest the child is alert and conscious, but may have several broken bones. The vehicle that struck the child reportedly left the scene but has since returned.
Westbound Lee Highway is closed due to the emergency response.
A new seafood restaurant may be coming to Westlee.
A company called Dang Seafood LLC has filed a liquor license application for a proposed restaurant called “Heads or Tails.” According to the filing, the establishment will be located at 2200 N. Westmoreland Street and will feature a seating capacity between 101 and 150 seats.
It’s not clear which storefront at 2200 N. Westmoreland Street the new restaurant will occupy, but the among the candidates is the space once occupied by the now-closed Bear Rock Cafe.
The Bear Rock Cafe at Lee Highway and Westmoreland Street is closed indefinitely while the store undergoes a change of ownership, we’re told.
A sign on the door said the cafe is “closed for the day,” but a woman who came to the door to accept a delivery said she did not know when it would reopen. The store has been closed for at least two days.
Reviews on Yelp have been sharply critical of the previous owner. It’s not clear who the new owner is.