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.”
A photo of a horse dead on the street, missives between sweethearts during the Civil War, a 1909 postcard for a local drugstore: OurHistoryMuseum is a digital gallery of local oddities from private collectors around town. It’s a love letter to the kinds of small local history that don’t make it into physical museums but might go unknown to the public as they gather dust on a local shelf.
Now, OurHistoryMuseum founder Ken Lopez is hoping to take his local project nationwide.
The project started last year after a stroke forced Lopez to reevaluate his priorities. Until March 2020, Lopez had been running a litigation consultant company. Lopez had a small museum set up in his office devoted to all-things-Alexandria, and most of what’s on the site today are items pulled from his own private collection.
“I’ve been in Alexandria my whole life and I’ve been collecting my whole life,” Lopez said.
But in March, right as things started to shut down from the pandemic, he suffered a stroke. It was a perilous moment, but Lopez has tried to stay upbeat about it.
“It was kind of the perfect time to have a stroke,” Lopez said. “I would have been so worried in a week anyway. I kind of got to skip the first few months of that… I ran another company for 25 years, and then I had a stroke. This started from a hospital bed. It’s something I thought about for a long time. I had a prototype ten years ago but the technology wasn’t ready yet, but I’d been thinking about it for a long time.”
Lopez says the project’s goal is to “save history.” His hope is for the site to be a protection for artifacts in homes that might be dumped when the owner dies and the collection passes to someone who doesn’t have the same vested interest in that history. The idea is that people will be able to upload pictures or scans of items, documents, and other assorted relics of the past and tap into a network of local history buffs who can help identify, explain, or catalog what the item is.
There have already been some results to this end on the site. Lopez had a difficult time deciphering a letter between merchants in Alexandria and Philadelphia, and Lopez said contributors helped fill out the nine words he couldn’t parse out. That crowdsourcing led to the letter being decoded and completing an understanding of what the letter was about.
“I’ve been going to people’s houses in Old Town my whole life,” Lopez said. “One of the things I’ve noted is everybody seems to have one or two items related to Alexandria history, whether that’s a newspaper clipping or an old letter or photo. Those things are at risk. I look at them and I see those things at risk. I have a collection that almost got scattered to the wind because I would have died and potentially no one would have had an interest in the 500 items in my collection.”
The idea, Lopez said, is that even items that can’t be saved will at least have some type of preservation.
“Saving a photo of a photo is not so bad, or a photo of an old letter,” Lopez said. “It’s not ideal, but if it’s going to get thrown away, I’d rather have a record.”
OurHistoryMuseum is filled with pages and pages of small relics like an Alexandria arrest warrant for assault and battery from 1794 and a list of patients at L’Ouverture Hospital, a local hospital for Black soldiers during the mid-19th century. Lopez said his favorite item in the collection is a Civil War photo of a local hospital. He suspects is from renowned photographer Matthew Brady, but he can’t say for sure.
“It’s a serious adrenaline hit as you’re finding some of this stuff out, that you’re finding these things out for the first time,” Lopez said. “I find that to be incredible. It’s that feeling that drove me to start this company. I want to give other people a chance to have that feeling.”
The most popular post on the site has been an article posted last month about the history of 1315 Duke Street, a former epicenter of America’s slave trade that’s in the process of being overhauled into a new museum dedicated to telling the stories of those trafficked through the site. Lopez said the topic is particularly important to Alexandria’s history, both to recognize the prominence of slavery and the suffering of Black Alexandrians in the city’s past and as recognition of the struggle to end slavery.
Lopez has put together an app he’s currently tinkering with, but he’s planning to release it to the public early next year. On release, the app will be free. His goal is for towns like Alexandria across the country to have their own little communities of local historians helping to catalog pieces of their history.
“I think there are a lot of cities and towns just like this one,” Lopez said. “Then, when you look at the whole world, there’s an awful lot of cities and towns. My hope is to start getting people to snap a photo of what they have, upload it to an app, and thus: save a piece of history.”
When he got started with developing the app, Lopez said he worried a lot about the business side of it and how it could be monetized, but in recent months Lopez says he’s learned to let go of those concerns and just let the app out into the world to try and do some good and worry about the rest later.
“Over my 30 years in business, I’ve made a lot of healthy, smart business contacts,” Lopez said. “In six months, switched from ‘here’s all the ways we’re going to make money off of this’ to “let’s figure it out later.’ I think that’s the right idea, to put something out there for free and see what we can do, see what people are interested in. It’s much easier to raise interest from investors than it is to recover from a bad start with the public. That’s kind of the direction I’m going with it.”
Photo via Ken Lopez/OurHistoryMuseum
New gift shop in Old Town helps people with disabilities — “B.E.S.T stands for ‘Building Employment Solutions Together’ and is a collaboration between the Joey Pizzano Memorial Fund (JPMF) and ServiceSource to provide meaningful employment for people with disabilities.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
Alexandria wins housing policy leadership awards — “Affordable and workforce housing policies and programs put in place by the governments of Alexandria, Virginia, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, have been selected as joint winners of the 2021 Urban Land Institute Robert C. Larson Housing Policy Leadership Awards.” [Urbanland]
Best Pumpkin patches around Alexandria-area — “Cooler fall days are quickly approaching in the Greater Alexandria area, which means it’s time to start planning your family’s yearly trek to the country to find the best pumpkins.” [Patch]
School Board forum tonight — “PTAC will host a virtual School Board Candidate Forum at 7:00 PM on October 13, 2021. Come hear from each of the school board candidates.” [PTAC]
D1 Training opens new Alexandria location — “D1 Training, a sports training franchise for all ages, finally opened its Alexandria doors. On October 11, at 6550 Little River Turnpike, children and parents and divas and mascots reveled in the grand reveal.” [Zebra]
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]
Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana to open Alexandria location— “The Alexandria location will be at the Alexandria Commons Shopping Center, 3231 Duke Street. Frank Pepe, an Italian immigrant from just southwest of Naples, founded the pizzeria in 1925 in Connecticut after working for a macaroni manufacturer and a bakery… The thin-crust pizzas are fired in a coal oven. Small pies start at less than $10 (the tomato pie), and the menu also includes salads, beer and wine. The company has not yet announced an opening date for the Alexandria location.” [Alexandria Living]
Fire Department rescues Golden Retriever with head stuck in Old Town fence — “On Saturday, Engine 201 arrived on a call to find a dog stuck on an iron fence experiencing distress. After requesting Rescue 209, first responders worked to remove the fence from the dog’s neck & return to the owner. The dog was uninjured. Great job by E201 & Rescue 209 B shift!” [Twitter]
Energy Efficient Day is October 6 — “Join the City in celebrating Energy Efficiency Day on October 6, and Energy Awareness Month during October. Energy Awareness Month highlights opportunities to help the community to sustainably use energy resources and reduce climate change.” [Twitter]
Leaf collection program returning to Alexandria — “Nov. 1 the annual leaf collection program returns! Visit alexandriava.gov/LeafCollection to get a refresh on all the details. We’ll post weekly status updates here and periodic operational updates as needed.” [Facebook]
Drug Take Back Day is October 23 — “Dispose of your expired medications during Drug Take Back Day on Oct. 23. There are various locations across the City to dispose of medications you no longer need. Learn more about how to safely dispose of medications.” [Twitter]
Today’s weather — “Overcast with rain showers at times. High 72F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 70%… Cloudy (in the evening). Slight chance of a rain shower. Low around 65F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]
New job: Property Maintenance Code Inspector — “Employees selected for this class are assigned to the Property Maintenance. Maintenance Code inspectors are responsible for conducting proactive inspections, reviewing complaints, and identifying applicable code violations. Inspectors in the class also perform on-site inspections; negotiate compliance solutions with property owners, tenants, and business owners when violations of the codes are discovered and recommend effective, corrective abatement actions. The Code Inspector I class serves in an entry-level capacity within the Code Inspector career ladder.” [Governmentjobs.com]
The power went out on the busiest day of the year in Del Ray on Saturday (October 2).
An estimated 50,000 people descended on Mount Vernon Avenue for the 26th annual Art On The Avenue festival that day, but many restaurants and other businesses were forced to shut down due to the outage.
“It was disappointing,” Blackburn said. “It was a lot of work for nothing.”
Dominion Energy reported that the outage was due to underground switch and cable equipment failure, and eventually restored power at around 10:30 p.m. — after the event was over.
Mayor Justin Wilson says the city is now considering a “variety” of options to improve service.
“We are exploring a variety of options to improve the reliability of Alexandria’s electricity service,” Wilson said. “We continue to believe that Dominion can and should do more to build a more reliable and resilient infrastructure to serve the City.”
Wilson did not get specific on the options, and said that the City will release more information this week. During the outage, he tweeted out a strongly worded post, and said it was unacceptable that a central business district was plunged in darkness.
Blackburn said business was strong the following day, on Sunday, with support mainly coming from local customers.
“Once again, we are lucky to do business in such a great community,” he said.
The Dairy Godmother, on Facebook, said that it lost “400 kolaches and 1,500 donuts… due to the power outage.”
“We are so sorry we were closed,” the shop wrote. “We have the greatest staff in the greatest neighborhood with the worst power company (except for Texas), we will open at 9AM with Just Fine Donuts, today we have Pumpkin Cake donuts, plus all of our usual flavors of yeast and cake donuts. With luck by 10 we will have Sausage Cheese Kalaches. Custard by Noon with Pumpkin as the Flavor of the Day, Apple Crisp is the Treat of the day.”
Alexandria also sent a letter to Dominion asking them to step up their game earlier this year. There were 16 large-scale outages in 2020 affecting thousands of residents.
The following businesses lost power, according to Visit Del Ray:
Its a beautiful day… but unfortunately… we have a difficult outage in Alexandria. We apologize & appreciate your understanding.
— Peggy Fox (@PeggyDomEnergy) October 2, 2021
Yesterday Del Ray enjoyed an incredible return to Art on the Avenue. However, due to the power outage many restaurants on the Avenue had to close. They're back and need your support!
— Del Ray Citizens (@DelRayCitizens) October 3, 2021
Please head down to Del Ray tonight and support the restaurants and retailers impacted by yesterday’s power outage, or else you’ll see more of @BillofDelRay on your television…
Consider yourself warned… pic.twitter.com/CVoMXJAZLZ
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) October 3, 2021
A new pop-up focusing on products made in Alexandria is planning to open next month on the waterfront.
Made in ALX is a collective of Alexandria-based artisans that currently sell products out of the Alexandria Visitor’s Center (221 King Street), but in early November the group are planning to open at 1 Wales Alley, next to Virtue Feed & Grain and Waterfront Park in Old Town. The pop-up is scheduled to run through Dec. 29.
The collective started late last year, and is founded by local residents Lore Burek and Alexandria Living Magazine publisher Beth Lawton.
“The pop-up shop (in the space previously occupied by Bike & Roll, which moved up King Street) will feature items perfect for holiday gifts from more than two dozen of Made in ALX’s member partners,” Made in ALX said in a press release. “Items will include candles, pet items, clothing, accessories, jewelry, household items, art and much more.”
Local makers featured in the pop-up include local honey maker Alexandria Honey Co. and Cosmic Crayon. The press release noted that Made in ALX plans to host multiple events at the pop-up space this fall, including classes and demonstrations.
“On Dec. 11, Made in ALX will offer free gift wrapping and collect donations for the food bank at ALIVE!” the group said in the press release. “The goal of Made in ALX is to make it easy for people to find and purchase locally-crafted goods.”
Photo via Made in ALX/Facebook
If you’re looking to take the edge off in Old Town without having an alcoholic drink, there’s a new option.
On October 1, ESP Tea and Coffee will launch ESP Evenings and release its new tea and elixir menu. ESP Evenings will be held every Friday, from 7 p.m. and end at 10:30 p.m.
The small cafe at 1012 King Street has seen its fair share of changes since reopening nearly eight months ago.
Their new offerings will include “house-made and innovative tonics,” the company said. The concoctions are infused with herbs like Damiana, Tulsi, and Ceremonial Cacao. There will also be six new herbal Chinese teas, adding to the more than 50 green, black, oolong options. Esp is also adding a full Gong-Fu tea service to their menu.
The Polynesian ritual drink Kava, which is used for relaxation, will also be offered.
“ESP will be only the second establishment in Virginia offering Kava,” the company said in a release. “This peppery relaxing drink is the perfect come down after a long work day.”
What a busy week in Alexandria.
Our top story this week was on a juvenile who was shot outside the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center on Tuesday, Sept. 21. There have also been a number of concerning incidents at Alexandria City Public Schools, including a juvenile who was arrested for trespassing and assault and battery at Alexandria City High School.
Meanwhile, while the COVID-19 transmission rate remains high, public events are still happening in Alexandria.
- Connection Newspapers managing editor Kemal Kurspahic dies
- City Council approves new plastic bag tax for local grocery and convenience stores
- Electric scooter docks could replace some on-street parking in Alexandria
- City looks to state funding for Holmes Run Trail improvement and West End Transitway
- MacArthur Elementary shut down by water damage
- New Indian restaurant in Old Town eyes late October opening
- School Board to vote on transgender revisions in Alexandria City Public Schools
- ‘Fences’ is a triumph at The Little Theatre of Alexandria
- What’s the difference between Alexandria’s co-living policy and regular apartments?
- Government contractor in Alexandria under fire from Department of Labor for systemic racism in hiring practices
- Police: Juvenile shot at shopping center near Alexandria City High School
- Police dispatched three times for fighting at Alexandria City Public Schools in less than a month
- Police: Six hospitalized after overdoses on Alexandria-Fairfax border
- Poll: What do you think of Metro’s proposed Blue Line crossing to National Harbor?
- BREAKING: Flooding reported in Alexandria
- Interview: Port City Publius opens up about Alexandria
- BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
- Juvenile arrested for trespassing and assault and battery at Alexandria City High School
- Multiple violent charges dropped against Fairfax County man held without bond for assaulting police during arrest
- Preserving Arlandria’s affordability against gentrification could cost upward of $100 million
- JUST IN: One person injured after shots fired in West End Tuesday afternoon
Have a safe weekend!
Ready to buy a restaurant or salon in Alexandria?
The latest listings on BizBuySell show all kinds of businesses for sale in and around Alexandria. Many are restaurants, which have been heavily impacted by the pandemic.
The website aggregates numerous business sale listings. The names and locations are generally left out, but there are exceptions.
Reasons for selling, when provided, typically do not mention economic hardship, but more often involve the owner retiring or not having time to actively run the business.
Here are some that are currently listed:
- Alexandria-Falls Church nail salon — “Established, nice nail salon/spa with good income available for sale in the Falls Church, Alexandria area. Good rent. Potential for growth if adding more nail techs. Nail services comprise 80% of the business, the rest is hair services. Highly visible from main road. Good reviews. Nice and well decorated. Owner can stay and work on a part time basis. Staff will stay if new owner want.”
- Ultra Modern dental practice in Del Ray — “Ultra-modern dental practice in the heart of a high income, recession proof area located in the vibrant DelRay area of Alexandria near Old Town Alexandria, Pentagon City, National Landing, Potomac Yard, Arlington, and Crystal City. The office is located on the ground level of a multi-family project with excellent visibility on Mount Vernon Avenue (daily traffic count of 16.000 cars) and abundant garage parking available to patients and staff at no charge in close proximity to the office.”
- Beautiful Modern Laundromat for Sale — “Beautiful modern laundromat in a great location! 21st century laundromat with card system, customized folding tables, modern design, with high-powered energy efficient machines. Location is about 4000 SF located near many current and upcoming apartment complexes. Long-term 10 tear lease with 5 year option. This place is fully card operated and can be easily managed from home with one visit a week.”
- Hair salon for sale — “Established over 32 years, 17 with current owner. Located in a major brand grocery anchored shopping center. Good demographics. Exclusive right in the shopping center for hair and nail operations but focus on hair services right now. Staff and seller will stay if new owner desires. Currently 5-day operation but can expand to 6 or 7 to increase revenue. Excellent opportunity for both owner operators and/or investors.”
- High-class Japanese restaurant with strong business — “The menu includes sushi, hibachi, and ramen. First generation owner since the business was founded, tons of the local customers and Japanese food fans from other places, the business can make $180k sales per month, lease can be extended indefinitely.”
- Well Established Dry Cleaning Business for Sale — “Dry Cleaners and sewing laundry for sale very safe and populated shopping center. Current owner planned to retire after 25 yrs of successful business. Customers and equipment’s well maintained.”
- Free standing auto repair — “Busy Five bay, free standing auto repair business located on major road in the City of Alexandria. Densely populated high income area. This shop stays busy with a healthy fleet business as well repeat and new customers. Priced at only $150,000.”
- Profitable fast-casual restaurant — “Great opportunity to own this fast casual restaurant in the heart of Alexandria. This restaurant is located in a busy shopping center along a heavy traffic road. The current owner of this restaurant is ABSENTEE and making approximately $140,000 a year. Menu can be converted to fit most concepts. Must see!”
- Riverview Festival restaurant — “Located right off a river; Increasingly richer demographics as luxurious condos are sprung up in a few blocks; Lease is solid and firm; Customers are turned away as the Restaurant has become the center of evening culture in town. Sales is way above 2019 level. Take your challenge and soar through as the opportunity allows a lot of rooms to grow. Established 30 years.”
- Specialty pizza in high-volume high-income area — “A neighborhood success centered around its high-quality stone oven with an array of alternative Mediterranean main courses, sandwiches and desserts, . The owner has created several of these locations in Northern Virginia and is ready to spin this one off to stand on its own while he focuses on bringing others to maturity.”
- Well-established deli for sale — “Located in a great neighborhood, among many loyal customers. Serving over 40 years. Turnkey operation. Doing quite well during the pandemic. Plenty of room to improve. Currently has no marketing and delivery service. Not serving beer and wine. Seller will train new owner for a reasonable time period.”
- Coin Laundry/Laundromats — “No Exception, Non-Disclosure must be signed in person meeting, No emailing signing. We can meet at anywhere in Fairfax county to sign NDA with appointment.”