Alexandria, VA

St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub has been a Del Ray staple for decades, and it’s expanding to Old Town North.

Owners Christine and Larry Ponzi recently requested an administrative special use permit request for a change of ownership to operate the coffee shop and restaurant at 529 Montgomery Street in the mixed-use Edens property. Construction plans are set and permit applications will be submitted to the city in the coming weeks.

The Ponzis estimate that the 2,210 square-foot location could open as early as August.

“We like this area of Old Town because it doesn’t have a tourist feel. It’s more of a neighborhood,” Larry Ponzi told ALXnow. “We really like being in neighborhoods. We love to get visitors from out of town, and we do, but we really want the base of customers to be from the neighborhood.”

Edens broke ground in North Old Town in 2017. The development is also home to the Hinata sushi bar, Oak Steakhouse, West Elm and 232 residential units.

The Ponzis are also the owners of Pizzaiolo Cafe on Fern in Alexandria, Cafe Pizzaiolo in Shirlington and the Market to Market sub shop next door to St. Elmo’s in Del Ray.

The family is aiming for that familiar living room vibe of St. Elmo’s in Del Ray, with open mic nights and poetry readings, and custom-made table tops and local art on the walls. The new location will have a full service kitchen, and accommodate up to 65 people inside and 22 people with outside seating. Plans include plenty of space for couches, comfy chairs, long tables and a bar area to serve beer and wine. There will even be a kid-friendly area with toys.

“At St. Elmo’s in Del Ray, we really took two concepts and and merged them together — our Market to Market sub shop and our coffee shop,” Larry said. “So here out of one kitchen we’ll be doing an extended breakfast, breakfast sandwiches, avocado toast and smoked salmon and breakfast burritos and waffles. We have a banana oat pancake. So, actually a little more cooking than what we’re doing in Del Ray and, and then from-scratch soups and we’ll make our own homemade meatballs.”

The Ponzis bought St. Elmo’s five years ago, and the company currently employs 80 full- and part-time employees. They plan on hiring about 20 more for the new location.

The couple, who met as students at the Rochester Institute of Technology, have learned a lot since opening their first Cafe Pizzaiolo in 2007 on Mount Vernon Ave. Before their lives as entrepreneurs, Larry managed cafes and catering at the Smithsonian locations in Washington, D.C., and Christine spent a number of years as an accountant.

The Ponzis have two daughters in college, and have learned to delegate. A lot of responsibility is given to their general managers, and the company is currently interviewing candidates for the general manager position in Old Town.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Larry said. “We like what we do, we’ve learned what people like. And so we’re really shooting for something very similar, but we feel it’s a nice fresh start to be able to build the kitchen the way we want to, and there will be a much more efficient way we do it.”

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