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1799 Prime Steak & Seafood in Old Town is fancy without the frills

Hungry? The fine dining experience continues at 1799 Prime Steak & Seafood, which opened last month in the old Restaurant Eve location at 110 S. Pitt Street in Old Town.

Founders Jahmond Quander and Chef Sonny Tena say that their menu is straightforward — fine American steakhouse fare with some French and Asian fusions. Lunch costs about $50 for two, and dinner can cost upward of $100 without drinks.

“Eighty percent of the customers who come in order the steak,” Tena said. “The menu is straightforward and the quality is top-of-the-line.”

Quander bought the building, which is also home to the Alexandria Times newspaper, for $4.4 million in February. A native of the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County, He’s worked his way up in the restaurant industry for more than 30 years, working his way up from his first job as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Springfield Mall.

Quander can trace his family roots back 350 years, and to where his ancestors were once slaves at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The year 1799 is the year that Washington died and freed his slaves in his will. Quander was also the former director of food and beverage operations at George Washington’s Mount Vernon from 2013 to 2016.

“The proximity of 1799 to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the ports of Alexandria, where my ancestors arrived as slaves right here, it was only fitting that the flagship location, the first location that we open up is here in Old Town, and that the name be 1799,” Quander said. “We don’t consider ourselves fine dining. I say we’re polished casual, because we’re not pretentious. We value people, and we value the business that comes in here. This is a incredible community that has embraced us from day one when we opened up. We are incredibly appreciative of that.”

After an interior renovation, the restaurant opened in August, and now features the muted landscape paintings of Del Ray artist Jim Halloran in the Peacock Lounge, the George Washington room, the Charles room (named after Quander’s grandfather) and the Elizabeth room (named after his wife and daughter).

Before buying the building, Quander was the general manager at Blackwall Hitch on the waterfront. That’s where he met Tena, who was the executive chef at the restaurant for five years.

The pair say that their brand can go places, and that their 85 staffers have been trained intensely to perform consistently.

“This brand has legs,” Quander said. “We plan to grow the concept. We want to go into the right market, and want to make sure that the opportunity is right. One of the markets we’re looking at right now is the University of Maryland’s Prince George’s Hospital Center. We’re also considering Richmond, possibly Loudoun County, and at some point possibly Charlotte, North Carolina or even Florida. I told chef we’re gonna be retiring in Florida.”

Tena, a native of the Philippines, has been in the industry for the 25 years. He started work on cruise lines and then moved to the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks and anthrax attacks crushed the cruise industry.

Quander says he wants to get better signage to attract customers on King Street, and to make inroads with nearby hoteliers.

“It’s all about relationship building,” he said. “And making sure you know that when these lovely folks with checking in, the hotels are saying, ‘There’s a great restaurant right on our backyard. Check it out.'”

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