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On New Year’s morning, Luke Shlagel of Shlagel Farms was among a handful of vendors at the weekly Del Ray Farmer’s Market. Some customers asked why he wasn’t hanging out with his family and taking the day off, and he had a simple answer.

“If I hadn’t come on New Year’s Day, that would have been 20 days since the last market,” Shlagel said. “Christmas was on a Saturday, New Year’s Day was on a Saturday, and if I waited for the following Saturday, the eighth, that’s too long for the community to be without us.”

The Waldorf, Maryland, farm raises approximately 150 acres of fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy products and flowers through a variety of avenues. Their bread and butter has been a 29-year-long contract supplying vegetables to Giant Food with vegetables, followed by directly selling their products to consumers at half a dozen farmers markets in Maryland and Virginia.

Del Ray is their biggest market, and customers can pick up pre-ordered boxes or shop in-person every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon. Getting to this point, though, took a lot of work. Farmers markets were not deemed essential in Virginia at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020. Within weeks, though, Shlagel Farms was back in Del Ray with a new e-commerce site, and selling pre-ordered and boxed products for pickup.

“Maryland deemed farmers’ markets as essential, but not Virginia, and that hit us like a ton of bricks,” said Russell Shlagel, the company patriarch. “But now, thanks to our online sales, we have surpassed 2019 numbers. We were able to pivot, and we get emotional about it, how people said they needed us to supply them with fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat.”

More than half (54%) of Virginia farmers market vendors started or expanded an online platform after the onset of the pandemic, according to the Virginia Farmers Market Association.

“The COVID-19 pandemic had far reaching effects on farmers market managers, vendors and customers during the 2020 market season,” the association reported. “Amidst supply chain shortages and panic buying, farmers markets were deemed non-essential infrastructure by the state during the pandemic.”

Sales are good, but there’s a catch, Russell Shlagel said.

“Within the last year, fuel costs have gone up drastically,” he said. “Crop protected costs, fertilizer, and labor have gone up drastically.”

Luke Shlagel said he compiled a customer email list before March 2020 in Del Ray, and that the company was ready. After all, his mother, sisters and wife are all ER nurses, and they warned the family of what was coming. For many Saturdays after Covid hit, the vendor was alone at the Del Ray market.

“We has a notebook and we asked customers to jot down their emails for us,” Luke said. “Then it was unbelievable. All of a sudden we have more than 300 orders coming in, and all of a sudden I’m in the position of shopping for your family, making sure that the product that I’m putting in these boxes is the very best. Really, it was the support of the people of our people in Alexandria that made the whole thing successful and made it come together and work well.”

Via Shlagel Farms/Facebook

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There will soon be a second Chewish Deli bagel shop in Old Town, as the company officially announced it is working to open at the former Dunkin’ Donuts space at 1640 King Street.

Chewish Deli opened its first brick and mortar at 807 Pendleton Street in the Braddock area in October 2020. It began seven months before that as a food truck selling bagels, hot pastrami and Reuben sandwiches.

The new location is blocks from the King St-Old Town Metro station.

“In this new location you’ll be able to sit down and enjoy your bagel, sandwich and coffee. With much more space in the front area than at Pendleton, we will be expanding out our traditional deli offerings,” the company announced on Facebook. “We will be offering more cold options and a few less hot items than Pendleton since there isn’t the option for a grill there.”

The company said that it is working on getting new equipment, renovations and hiring staff.

Owner Gregg Linzey, in a previous interview, told ALXnow the secret to making the perfect bagel.

“It’s simple, but not necessarily easy,” Linzey said. “You have to get every part of the equation right for all of your ingredients, like making sure the dough has the proper hydration. You need the perfect percentage of water, salt, flour, and we use malt syrup as our sweetener. That’s the key to getting a good New York-style bagel. No sugar, no brown sugar, no honey. Just malt syrup.”

Via Facebook

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For the first time in more than 50 years, a member of the Severson family is not making Philly cheesesteak sub sandwiches at Al’s Steak House in Del Ray.

Nelson Rodriguez says it’s regrettable that Bo Severson, the son of former owner John Severson, and cook Mark Williams didn’t work out. It was only a month ago that Rodriguez took over at the Del Ray institution, and at the time he said he was going to keep the old hands to ensure that the cheese steak tradition continues.

“I was sad to let those guys go,” Rodriguez told ALXnow. “But you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Dorothy and James Breeding bought the restaurant from the Severson family in 2016 after John Severson died in 2015. A day after buying it, Al’s burned down, and then eventually reopened in 2017 after the community helped raise $20,000 toward the effort. Dorothy Breeding put the restaurant back on the market after her husband died last year.

Rodriguez says Severson, who lives in Dale City, was a no-show on more than one occasion, and that Williams had a hard time taking direction from his wife, Mabel Rodriguez, who Williams says insisted that the subs not be made with so much meat.

Severson and Williams say that the owners have been cutting corners with the Philly cheesesteak subs, using less meat, and also less expensive meat.

“For me, I like less meat,” Mabel Rodriguez told ALXnow. “It’s expensive. Right now everything is very expensive.”

Severson, 54, started working at Al’s when he was 19 years old. He quit a couple weeks ago after his hours were cut to part-time, he said, and has been living off funds from the restaurant’s sale to the Breeding family.

“For many, many years it was my home away from home,” Severson said of the restaurant. “Now I have kind of an empty feeling. It’s like an ongoing funeral. It’s like Al’s was such a part of our lives for so long and now it’s taken away from me. It’s all I know, all I’ve done my whole life, basically.”

On a busy Friday or Saturday, Al’s will sell hundreds of the sandwiches. A blowup of a Washington Post article praising the excellence of Severson’s Philly cheesesteak subs still graces a wall of the restaurant.

“This is the best steak-and-cheese in Alexandria, period,” said Cameron Scates, who has been coming to Al’s for more than 20 years.

(Updated 8:45 p.m.) Severson said Mabel Rodriguez criticized the way he and Williams made the subs, that there was too much meat on them.

“I would just make a steak-and-cheese, and I’d say that’s the right amount of meat on it,” Severson said. “She’d be like, ‘No, that’s too much,’ and I’d say, ‘No, it’s not too much,’ because people are spending almost $20 for a large steak-and-cheese. You can’t just change the chemistry on a good steak-and-cheese and not think people are going to notice.”

He continued, “I never messed up on steak-and-cheese. I can make one blindfolded.”

Williams, who worked at Al’s for five years, said he quit recently after being screamed at by management for not making a sandwich correctly.

“I always put love into everything that I do,” Williams said. “I’m a Christian. So, I don’t want to put negative energy into my work.”

Nelson Rodriguez, who also owns the Pan Am Family Restaurant in Vienna, says that nothing will change at Al’s, especially the portions. He also says that he recently made a deal with Sysco for pre-cut ribeye meat, which is less expensive.

“The steak-and-cheese sandwich is the same as it has always been,” he said. “We want to open another cheesesteak restaurant in Arlington sometime next year. It’s a very good business, cheesesteak subs, and I have a broker looking for locations.”

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Nicecream, the shop that makes ice cream with liquid nitrogen, has permanently closed on King Street.

The Arlington-based company opened shop in Old Town at 726 King Street four years ago, and joins other recent Nicecream closures in D.C.’s Adam’s Morgan and Shaw neighborhoods. The Arlington location at 2831 Clarendon Boulevard remains open.

“Unfortunately, this Nicecream location is closed,” reads a note on the door. “Thank you for your continued support during this tough time for small businesses. We’ve loved getting to know you!”

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Chicken sandwich at Hangry Joe’s Chicken (photo via Hangry Joe’s Chicken/Facebook)

A small chain devoted to spicy Nashville-style chicken called Hangry Joe’s Chicken is making a big expansion, opening in the Alexandria Commons shopping center and other locations throughout the region in the next few months.

The restaurant management said in a message that the Alexandria location aims to open in the former Subway in Alexandria Commons early next year.

“It will be at 3227 Duke Street, Alexandria, formerly subway,” the restaurant said in the message. “Should open sometime early next year.”

The restaurant was founded by Derek Cha, the founder of Sweet Frog Frozen Yogurt, and Mike Kim. There are currently Hangry Joe’s locations in Ashland and Fairfax (10692 Fairfax Blvd).

As the name indicates, the restaurant specializes in chicken dishes, like a sandwich featuring chicken breast and ciderslaw on a brioche bun for $8.95. Other dishes include Korean chicken nuggets and the classic southern chicken and waffle dish.

The restaurant also announced plans to expand to Herndon, Annapolis, Short Pump, Alexandria, Kingstown, Centreville, Richmond.

Photo via Hangry Joe’s Chicken/Facebook

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A Bonchon Chicken franchise plans to open its doors in December in the Bradlee Shopping Center, ALXnow has learned.

It’s the first Korean fried chicken franchise for Maryland-based owner Stanely Grabowski, who says he wants to open more locations in the area.

“We’re looking for locations right now,” he said. “This is a really good area. I think we have a lot of traffic, a lot of visibility here. This shopping center is a really good shopping center, too.”

When it opens, the location at 3690 King Street will keep Alexandria residents from traveling to Arlington and the Alexandria part of Fairfax County to get their fix.

“When I tried the food I was blown away by it,” Grabowski said. “I’d never had chicken that tastes like this. Basically when it was time to figure out what franchise I wanted to do it was a no-brainer.”

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It takes less than five minutes to make most orders at Don Taco. The restaurant and tequila bar at 808 King Street also claims to make the best margaritas in Old Town, and that combination of making quick to-go orders with alcoholic drinks to wash it all down has been their secret to success during the pandemic.

“There’s not much of a profit margin on food costs,” Don Taco’s General Manager Tracey Deiderich told ALXnow. “As far as alcohol is concerned, that’s where restaurants make most of their money. Allowing restaurants to do this just weeks after we had to shut down was a huge success.”

Chef Mike Cordero has owned the building for decades, rebooting it several times with new concepts. He launched Don Taco in 2016, after spending years with it as Flat Iron Steak & Saloon and Cafe Salsa.

The restaurant is one of Cordero’s many taquerias in the region. It has a menu with dozens of $3.95 tacos, and was featured on the Cooking Channel’s Cheap Eats with Ali Khan with a number of other Alexandria restaurants.

“In my kitchen, they are beasts when it comes to getting food out quickly,” Deiderich said. “You might even get your tacos in about 60 seconds after you order.”

Best sellers include the Sriracha chicken taco, the pomegranate-glazed skirt steak taco and the fried avocado taco.

Deiderich says most dates can cost an average of $50 at Don Taco.

“You could come in and have a blast for 50 bucks,” he said. “I mean, at $3.95 a taco, and grab yourself a pumpkin spice Margarita or one of our specialty drinks.”

As for the margaritas, Deiderich says they’re made with fresh ingredients.

“I mean, we have the best margaritas in Old Town,” he said. “We don’t use any fillers, it’s all fresh ingredients. Just tequila, fresh lime juice and fresh Agave nectar. There’s no sour mixes or anything like that in there. It’s all fresh and ready and raring to go anytime you need to drink.”

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Morning Notes

River Farm gets taken off the market — “Local residents cheered over email and text messages Wednesday after learning that the American Horticultural Society’s board — or what remained of it — decided not to sell its 27-acre property overlooking the Potomac River.” [Alexandria Living]

Northern Virginia AFL-CIO presents award to Rep. Don Beyer — “When the bus drivers in Alexandria – the DASH workers (who had been trying to unionize over decades, actually), Alexandria City hired a union buster and Congressman Beyer stepped in and was very forceful with his language in making the city aware that the DASH workers had a right to organize.” [Zebra]

Let’s Meat On The Avenue is restocked again after Saturday outage — “It wasn’t just restaurants impacted by Saturday’s #ArtOnTheAvenue outage. After having to toss much of their inventory, @LetsmeatDelRay is restocked and open! Picked up some beautiful pork chops for dinner. What’s your #artontheavenueafterparty stop today?” [Twitter]

Free food pop-up distribution points announced — “ALIVE! provides bags of food for specific neighborhoods or apartments, in collaboration with community partners, in the parking lot at each pop-up emergency food distribution location.” [City of Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “Mostly cloudy skies. High 77F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph… A few clouds. Low 63F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Lot attendant/Porter — “We have full and part time positions available.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Alexandria appoints flood mitigation manager — “Effective Oct. 11, Daniel Medina will serve as the Flood Action Alexandria program manager. The new position will include coordination across city departments on the flood mitigation program and manage the city’s stormwater capital project lineup.” [Patch]

McAuliffe, Youngkin unload in feisty final Virginia debate — “Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin bickered their way through the second and final debate of Virginia’s competitive governor’s race on Tuesday, trading attacks and accusations from the start of the hourlong meeting.” [Politico]

Taste of Old Town North is Thursday — “Don’t miss The Taste of Old Town North, September 30 at 4p.m. Great food, music and more at this free event happening at Montgomery Park.” [Twitter]

Here’s a list of great walks in Alexandria — “Known for its walkable lifestyle, Alexandria is a city best experienced on foot.” [Visit Alexandria]

Today’s weather — “Mostly sunny. High 73F. Winds N at 5 to 10 mph… A mostly clear sky. Low 52F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New job: Pet sitter and dog walker — “Alexandria Pet Care seeks an experienced career pet expert to work with animals in their homes.” [Indeed]

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Acclaimed D.C. Indian restaurant Karma Modern’s Alexandria spin-off could be opening sometime next month.

Karma Modern staff told ALXnow that the plan is to open Kismet (111 N. Pitt Street) in mid-late October.

Staff said the menu won’t be exactly the same as Karma Modern, but will be similar. Co-founder Sachin Mahajan told Northern Virginia Magazine the restaurant will be a little less fancy compared to the D.C. sister restaurant, but still won’t be casual.

Kismet will be filling the space in Old Town that was formerly BurgerFi.

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