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There’s a new hair salon in Del Ray and it’s named after a Taylor Swift song. Enchant Hair Co. opened at 2202 Mount Vernon Avenue in January, and it’s named after Swift’s song Enchanted.

“I love Taylor Swift,” owner Monica Frias told ALXnow. “She’s like a reflection of my personality.”

The salon is the former home to Kiskadee, a boutique that closed in 2022. Frias toured the two-level building last October, signed the lease in November and spent two months renovating the interior and moving in equipment.

Frias grew up in the area and is a Mount Vernon High School graduate. At Mount Vernon, she took cosmetology and after graduating got her cosmetology license and started working in hair salons. It took her eight years to open her own business, which to this point has gotten a soft launch. She says that she’s working on a new website for the salon and will hold a grand opening and ribbon cutting sometime in March.

“I’m still really young, but I’m very good business-wise,” Frias said. “Right now, since I don’t have as many stylists as I eventually want to get, I have to do a lot of physical work to myself. I work all day here behind the chair and then I go home to like another three, four hours of editing videos, working on marketing for the salon, or working on my social media.”

Frias is active on social media, with more than 5,500 followers on Instagram and more than 55,000 followers on TikTok.

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2312 Mount Vernon Avenue (image via Google Maps)

The Alexandria Police Department (APD) is investigating a sexual assault that occurred last night (Tuesday) in Del Ray.

Police said a woman was walking after midnight around Mount Vernon and Commonwealth Avenues when she was attacked and assaulted by a stranger.

Scanner traffic indicated she was walking home from Pork Barrel BBQ when she was assaulted in an alley. The woman said she was hit from behind and strangled, attacked by a white man on the heavier side. She said when she bit the man, he ran off.

APD said the woman is being treated at a hospital.

APD said the incident is unrelated to an attempted assault at Main Line Blvd earlier this month.

According to the release:

If anyone in this neighborhood has security cameras that may have footage for review or if anyone saw someone or something suspicious, please contact Detective Kristina Loerch at 703-746-6785. Tips can remain anonymous.

Interim Chief Raul Pedroso said, “We are committed to ensuring the safety of our community. The search for the sexual assault suspect is a top priority. We have implemented increased patrols in the area and are ensuring our detectives have all the resources needed for their investigation.

Image via Google Maps

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The owners of Hi/Fi Tex Mex in Del Ray are asking for after-the-fact approval of their sign (via City of Alexandria)

After getting after-the-fact permission from City Council to use their outdoor smoker, Del Ray’s Hi/Fi Tex Mex BBQ is now asking after-the-fact for approval of their electric sign.

The restaurant opened in the backyard of Evening Star Cafe (2000 Mount Vernon Avenue) in 2022, and got after-the-fact permission from the City Council to operate their outdoor smoker grills, despite complaints from neighbors. Last December, Washington Post food critic Tim Carman labeled the restaurant as one of the top ten best casual restaurants in the region.

In October, City Council approved additional outdoor dining at the restaurant. While evaluating that proposal, however, city staff discovered that a 21-square-foot internally illuminated sign had been erected in the alleyway between Evening Star and Planet Wine (2004 Mount Vernon Avenue).

“While evaluating SUP #2023-00060, staff noticed that the subject sign had been erected without permit approval,” city staff wrote in their report. “The applicant responded and submitted a building permit application.”

Evening Star and Planet Wine are owned by Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which also owns Vermilion (1120 King Street), Rustico (827 Slaters Lane), Josephine (109 S. St. Asaph Street), Buzz Bakeshop (901 Slaters Lane), and B Side in Fairfax.

City staff are recommending approval to Council. According to a staff report:

The existing sign does not negatively impact the nearby neighborhood. The location of the sign is adjacent to several commercial establishments and harmonizes in design and size with the existing signs on the block. Given that the sign is set back 36 feet from the property line, the minimal lighting would not cause driver distraction. Additionally, the sign is not detrimental to residential uses as the lighting faces only Mount Vernon Avenue and staff has received no complaints associated with the sign. Noise impacts are not relevant as the signage does not include sound.

City Council will conduct a public hearing on the matter on Feb. 24.

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There’s nothing like numbing your aching body with a hot toddy after a long day on the slopes.

That’s the vibe that the owners of the Aspen on the Avenue popup (2312 Mount Vernon Avenue) have in mind. There’s a two-seat gondola parked outside the restaurant and bar greeting customers as they walk into a warm environment with a fake fireplace, a fake brick wall, lots of skis and two giant backlit photos of idyllic snowy scenes.

“Our gondola doesn’t go to Arlington,” joked popup owner Bill Blackburn of the Homegrown Restaurant Group. “It doesn’t go anywhere, but it’s great for selfies.”

“Mango” Mike Anderson, who owns the popup with Blackburn, found the gondola for sale at HomeGoods in Potomac Yard.

The popup is located between HRG’s other Del Ray restaurants, Pork Barrel BBQ and Holy Cow. It was previously The Sushi Bar for eight years before closing at the end of 2021. Since then, the space has changed concepts as a popup every few months.

“We get to create new concepts and decorate new restaurants and brands without having to deal with the back-of-the-house regulatory, mundane stuff that comes with opening a new restaurant,” Blackburn said. “I think it keeps us fresh.”

The bar menu includes craft cocktails, like the ski lemon meringuetini, a concoction made from Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Meyer lemon, Grand Marnier, lemon curd, Simple and brulee meringue, which is toasted at the bar with a torch. There are 11 appetizers on food menu, the most filling of which is the chicken chili bread bowl — Pork Barrel BBQ’s white chicken chili served in a bread bowl.

The seasonal popup will be open until late March and will reopen as a new concept in early April, Blackburn said.

Aspen on the Avenue is open Sunday to Wednesday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Thursday to Saturday from 4 p.m. to midnight.

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Benny Diforza’s Pizza at 1504B Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray (staff photo by James Cullum)

New pizza restaurant Benny Diforza’s (1504B Mount Vernon Avenue) has been popular since opening last week. The restaurant was well attended this weekend, and according to an application with the City of Alexandria, there could be more space for diners soon.

Benny Diforza’s is part of a Benny’s Pizza chain with locations across Virginia, the Carolinas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wyoming.

The application said the restaurant is opening to add 8-10 seats out in front of the restaurant.

There’s currently limited seating (15 seats) inside the restaurant; where the kitchen fills most of the building.

The application also noted that the Benny Diforza’s could be selling beer and wine soon, pending an ABC permit.

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Stracci Pizza at 106 Hume Avenue in Del Ray (via Facebook)

Washingtonian recently included three Alexandria restaurants in their food critic’s list of 19 favorite pizzas right now.

Washingtonian’s Executive Food Editor Ann Limpert included in her list “Stracci Bianca” at Stracci Pizza (106 Hume Avenue), the vodka pizza at Emmy Squared (124 King Street) and the white clam Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (3231 Duke Street).

According to the Washingtonian review of Stracci Pizza:

This Del Ray gem makes its own stracciatella cheese—hand-pulled mozzarella soaked in cream—and it’s best shown off on this Roman-style white pizza, simply accented with olive oil and flakes of Maldon salt.

According to the Washingtonian review of Emmy Squared, which also has two locations in D.C.:

The thick, soft, Detroit-style pizzas from this Brooklyn transfer can be a little…extra. This version is relatively straightforward—just sweet, creamy vodka sauce, basil, and pecorino. The sauce is also good on the Big Ang, which adds ricotta, Italian sausage, and banana peppers to the party.

According to the Washingtonian review of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana:

I’ve lined up outside this century-old New Haven institution for its coal-fired sheet-pan pizza countless times. And now there is one at Westfield Montgomery Mall! And in Old Town! This particular pie—one of their most famous—is thin, crispy, garlicky as hell, and loaded with fresh clams.

Image via Facebook

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Flood warning signs in Del Ray (image via City of Alexandria)

The Commonwealth, Ashby, and Glebe Flood Mitigation Project — one of the largest flood mitigation projects in the city other than the huge RiverRenew project — is set to hit a planning milestone sometime this spring.

In a February Flood Action newsletter, city staff said the project is set to hit the “60% of the project design” milestone sometime this spring.

According to the newsletter:

Designs provided at the 60 percent benchmark will include additional project details, such as utility relocation design, structural details for culvert and storm sewer system, easements or right-of-way acquisitions to support project construction, and a more detailed review of constructability and construction methodology.

The project is an amalgamation of two large-capacity projects providing flood relief for the northern end of Del Ray and Lynhaven.

“The proposed design includes new parallel relief sewers along Commonwealth Avenue and East Glebe Road, which will increase the capacity of the storm sewer system,” the city’s website said. “Additionally, a new outfall will be installed to discharge flows to Four Mile Run. Finally, green infrastructure practices will be implemented to provide a water quality benefit to the watershed.”

The project is estimated to cost $50 million.

Construction is expected to start in Summer 2026 and be completed by Summer 2029.

Map of Commonwealth, Ashby, Glebe Flood Mitigation Project (image via City of Alexandria)
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Got dinner plans for Super Bowl Sunday? Benny Diforza’s 28-inch pies will be available in Del Ray starting this week.

The restaurant has been in the works since last summer in the former home of Sicilian Pizza at 1504B Mount Vernon Avenue. Manager Hayden Ko says the restaurant is waiting for one more permit approval from the city before the pizza oven gets fired up. She also said that the restaurant will open this week.

“I’m really excited to start working,” Ko said. “I have 15 employees and last week and we had a staff dinner with their families, and it was great to meet everyone and get the vibes up.”

The restaurant is well known for selling 28-inch pies that go for $5 to $6.50 per slice.

Benny’s first opened its Blacksburg location in 2011, and now has dozens of locations throughout Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wyoming. Each location has a different last name, with Del Ray’s Diforza literally translating to “of strength.”

According to the Benny’s website: “Order a whole pie and feed 2 families. We limit our toppings and we don’t count pennies so everything stays simple.”

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Alexandria’s political scene is heating up, as a number of Democrat candidates formally launched their campaigns over the weekend.

City Council Member Alyia Gaskins held a packed kickoff at Indochen in Cameron Station on Sunday, following her opponent Vice Mayor Amy Jackson’s kickoff on Jan. 21 at Doyle’s Outpost in the West End. On Saturday, City Council Member Kirk McPike launched his campaign at Pork Barrel BBQ in Del Ray and City Council Member John Taylor Chapman did the same at Port City Brewing Company.

In her speech, Gaskins didn’t get into her positions on large projects in the city, like the Potomac Yard arena or the massive WestEnd development, but said that she is devoted to the nitty gritty of policies that maintain a quality of life for residents.

“I am running to be your next mayor to make sure that your city, that my city, that our collective city is a place that is safe, affordable, accessible, and one that truly and finally works for all of us,” Gaskins said.

A third mayoral candidate, Steven Peterson, will announce his candidacy to the Alexandria Democratic Committee on Monday, Feb. 5, followed by his formal kickoff later in the month.

City Council Members Sarah Bagley and Canek Aguirre are also running for reelection and have not announced when their kickoffs will be held. Aguirre is finalizing details for an event in Arlandria next month, he told ALXnow. Candidate Charlotte Scherer, a former Alexandria magistrate, is holding her campaign kickoff on Feb. 21 at Mount Purrnon Cat Cafe & Wine Bar in Old Town.

Chapman has been on council since 2012, and is the most senior member running for reelection. An Alexandria native who grew up in public housing, he said at his kickoff that doing City Council work is a “labor of love.”

“We have a thriving city,” he said. “It takes good policy, it takes advocating for resources.”

The other candidates with intentions to run haven’t announced when their campaigns will formally launch. They include Alexandria School Board Members Jacinta Greene and Abdel Elnoubi, West End Business Association President James Lewis, Del Ray’s Jesse O’Connell and Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority Resident Association President Kevin Harris.

The Democratic primary is on June 18. No Republican candidates have entered the race.

Campaign finances

Gaskins is leading the money race so far, raising $46,000 with $34,000 on-hand as of Dec. 31, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Jackson has raised $16,900, and has $15,800 on-hand.

Longtime City Council Member Del Pepper endorsed Gaskins and donated $3,000 to her campaign.

“She has the ability to work with people she disagrees with,” Pepper said at the event. “You’ve got to have that if you want to be a good mayor.”

In the Council race, Chapman leads with fundraising, having raised $19,579 with $16,624 on-hand. McPike has raised $14,790, with $12,087 on-hand, followed by Aguirre, who raised $7,020 and has $10,716 on-hand. Bagley raised $3,320 and has $856 on-hand and Scherer is self-financing her campaign and contributed $900.

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Del Ray’s Jesse O’Connell is running for the Alexandria City Council (courtesy photo)

Del Ray’s Jesse O’Connell has thrown his hat into the City Council race.

O’Connell launched a campaign website this morning and announced his intention to run in an email.

“I have been really lucky to work across a wide variety of city departments and issues,” O’Connell told ALXnow. “I think I have really good perspective on how all these things fit together. Fundamentally, I’m somebody that likes to solve problems. I think I’m really good at listening to people and sort of building consensus. I’m a collaborator, and I hope to bring that to Council.”

The married father of two is chief advancement officer at the American Council on Education, and has served for more than a decade on a number of city boards and commissions, including as chair of the city’s influential Budget and Fiscal Affairs Advisory Committee. He sees himself as a collaborator, a “servant leader” who believes that the city’s Zoning for Housing policies don’t go far enough in expanding affordable housing opportunities. He also says he’s excited about the potential for a good deal with the controversial $2 billion Potomac Yard arena.

“I think a good deal looks like the opportunity to fundamentally change the city’s revenue projections,” O’Connell said. “We’ve made investments in our public safety workers, we are working on stormwater infrastructure, we are spending a lot of money on stuff that we have to spend money on, and a lot of that revenue burden is borne by our taxpayers. I think the chance to get kind of a transformative commercial-oriented source of revenue is a really exciting one for the city.”

O’Connell is a New Jersey native and moved to the area to attend Georgetown University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in social and public policy. He is also a former All-American track star, who placed fifth in the U.S. Olympic trials in 2004 in the 800 meters. He and his wife moved to Alexandria in 2012.

“The whole time we’ve lived here, I have looked for ways to give back and to contribute,” he said.

Since last August, he’s also co-authored an Alexandria-focused blog, ALXtra. It’s a satire blog, O’Connell says, humorously intended for millennials.

“I think the newsletter is very informed by kind of a millennial sensibility,” he said. “I think it’s very informed by kind of a literacy with internet culture.”

On Zoning for Housing, O’Connell said that the city’s elimination of single family zoning is a good start.

“I think where the city landed at the end of this first phase was the right place to be,” O’Connell said. “People want to live here because it’s a great place to live. If we don’t have the housing supply to meet that demand, prices are going to go up. I’ve been really encouraged to see the city think more holistically more creatively about giving this broader set of tools to meet that housing demand.”

O’Connell is also a running buddy with Mayor Justin Wilson, who is not running for reelection. He also said that the next mayor will have to be a collaborator.

“I think we’re losing somebody that is tireless and dedicated,” O’Connell said of Wilson. “I genuinely can’t think of a better example of constituent service. He’s responding to people and interacting with people at all hours of the day and night. It’s clear that he deeply cares about Alexandria and wants to ensure that Alexandria is able to be the city for a whole sort of wide set of people.”

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