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Burgers and beer: Chadwicks owner says the Old Town restaurant will never change

Chadwicks owner Trae Lamond (on right) with general manager Sean Hall (staff photo by James Cullum)

Chadwicks (203 Strand Street) is about to get really busy.

From now until mid-August, it’s the strong season for the unpretentious Old Town staple that has graced the Alexandria waterfront since 1979. From the menu to decor, not much changes in the restaurant/bar (except a recent price hike) as owner Trae Lamond keeps his proverbial ship afloat through a gradually evolving seashore.

Chadwicks was once one of Alexandria’s only bars along the Potomac River, but over the last several years has been joined by BARCA Pier & Wine BarVola’s Dockside Grill, Ada’s on the River, Virtue Feed & Grain, among others. But there’s something to be said for a reliably good cheeseburger with a cold beer, as last year owner Trae Lamond and his team of 30 full and part-time employees took home the Chamber ALX’s Overall Business of the Year award.

Lamond is a 1999 graduate of T.C. WIlliams High School (now Alexandria City High School), and moved back home after getting a degree in history and art from James Madison University. Lamond started working as a bartender at Chadwicks in 2004, and then bought the business in 2015.

This week, ALXnow sat down with Lamond and his general manager Sean Hall to discuss the latest.

ALXnow: What’s the enduring attraction of Chadwicks? How have you kept it going all these years?

Lamond: I think it’s just the way we treat people. We don’t put on airs that we’re something fancier than we are. We are a home away from home for half of Old Town. The food is comfort food for the most part. We’re not going to offer you fillet of puffer fish with a tweezered-on microgreen, or whatever. We’re cheeseburgers and buffalo wings. We’re what you want and we’re not overcomplicating it. We’re just trying to be consistent and giving you what you’re looking for.

ALXnow: Post-pandemic, what are your main challenges now?

Lamond: Honestly, for a while things were in flux. Now it’s about putting butts in seats and keeping costs down, and costs are hitting us pretty high all over the place. One of the parts of us being the neighborhood friendly place is that we’ve always been priced a little bit below everybody else. It is very hard to do that and we held off for a long time, and basically took a bit of a hit as we were coming out of the worst of the pandemic.

COVID allowed for a reset mentality where I used to be like, “Oh, boohoo, I wish X, Y and Z was better.” Now it’s like, okay, when all of a sudden, you know, there’s sunny day flooding on Prince Street, I don’t care. Like, I care, but I used to feel like it was the worst possible thing that could happen.

ALXnow: The flooding on the waterfront no longer dampens your spirits?

Lamond: On the record, the city needs to fix the flood mitigation plan instantly. But yeah, it’s not the end of the world. It’s all about perspective. When you’re faced with what everyone thinks is like, holy smokes, maybe the end of small businesses in America. Restaurants were  hit so hard, and we came through that.

ALXnow: When did you raise your prices?

Hall: Early 2022. Prices were just skyrocketing. Sourcing things was tough for everything. Chicken wings and buffalo wings were very hard to find. So, we had to find whole new sources to get things, figure out what’s going to work for what we’re trying to put out. It wasn’t everything at once, but we consistently had to hunt down products to keep putting out something that people want. And it would be more expensive every time. It was like they were discontinuing things just to raise the prices later on. It really was a struggle. We’ve struggled with not raising prices for a long time and basically Trae didn’t want to do it. We had some heated discussions about it and finally he relented.

ALXnow: How did your customers feel about that? How dramatic was the price increase?

Lamond: Not that dramatic. A dollar here, 50 cents there. The most drastic was the crab cake sandwich. The price of crab more than doubled, and we’re not going to make a bad crab cake sandwich. We had to ask ourselves whether we wanted to take it off the menu or raise the price $5.

Hall: A lot of customers noticed the price increases. Not too many were upset about it because prices went up at restaurants across the board.

ALXnow: What’s the development around the waterfront mean for you? Is it a good thing to have all this local competition, or does it siphon away business?

Lamond: I think it’s all been very good for us. In the 200 block of Strand Street all we used to have was a gun shop, a gravel parking lot and warehouses. There was a strip mall that was at best three-quarters full, and Big Wheel Bikes.  We were the only restaurant and there was no reason to come here except for us. Seriously. Now, people want to go to Ada’s or BARCA, and they want to see what what’s going on down here.

Hall: Before we were a hidden gem. Now we’re along the path.

ALXnow: Seeing how far the waterfront development has come the last decade, what do you think about future development 10 or 20 years down the road?

Lamond: That’s what’s fantastic and frustrating about Chadwicks. We’re not going to all of a sudden get out the white tablecloths and replace all of our thoroughbred bartenders with mixologists. We’re just going to stay who we are. Our bartender is not going to make you a frilly lilac whiskey with bourbon smash, or whatever. What are we gonna do? We’re not going to reinvent anything. We’re just going to show up, open the place, keep welcoming people in.

It’s comforting to know that we’re the place in Old Town that can get away with it. Twenty years from now, I imagine our number one item is going to be a cheeseburger. Our bar is going to be one of the busiest bars on the waterfront. We’re going to be the only late night show in town unless someone else tries to wedge in on that.

ALXnow: There’s a long-running conversation on creating a Business Improvement District in Old Town. What do you think about it?

Lamond: I’m a big supporter of a BID. The government knows how to govern, but they don’t know how to run a small business. That’s why we need a BID to push business development, guided by us… Chadwicks is a very large building and we’d be paying $150 a month. I can afford that to try and put more butts in my seats. If it doesn’t work out then we can get rid of it.  Two, three years into this, if it’s a huge wash and 60% of businesses don’t want it, it’s over.

ALXnow: Do you envision opening more Chadwicks locations? 

Lamond: The idea of opening 20 more Chadwicks and becoming a mogul, I have no interest in that. Our game plan has been about consistency. What do you want? Here’s the burgers and french fries. We are as accessible as it comes, and our 99% of our focus goes into making sure that customers have a good experience at the restaurant, their food is cooked properly. The place is clean. We’re gifted with not having to reinvent ourselves every five years. We can just keep improving.

Hall: I think it says a lot about us that we’ve had so much long tenured staff for so long. We met our wives here and we’ve worked with our family members and friends. It’s an institution and it’s gonna be here forever.

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