Alexandria, VA

Erik Muendel wants the new ESP Tea and Coffee to be what the old Killer E.S.P. should have been.

The coffee shop at 1012 King Street was a beloved, hip hangout spot in Old Town featuring sorbet, pie and espresso, that latter from which the bistro derived its name. Behind the scenes, however, its controversial owner Rob Shelton clashed with staff who alleged inappropriate behavior toward women and minors working at the shop. The conflict culminated with the entire staff quitting in early 2020 followed by the replacement staff quitting just months later.

Muendel, a local tech entrepreneur, was one of those customers who was a fan of the coffee shop but was disheartened by last year’s revelations. He’s taken over the space and the equipment and looks to reopen to the public on Monday, Feb. 1.

“There was a little fanbase, myself included, so that’s why I got involved,” Muendel said.

Landlord Ian McGrath confirmed that Shelton has left the business entirely, and said that the shop will maintain its boho vibe.

Now, Muendel said the challenge is to create the kind of coffee shop those who were regulars at the old place wanted it to be. It starts with a minor name change.

“I worked with the name to get something that was familiar but different,” Muendel said. “It was something I loved when I first started going there; I thought it was a cool name before I realized it stood for ‘espresso, sorbet, and pie.'”

The new name is ESP Tea and Coffee with a third-eye motif to represent paranormal “extrasensory perception.”

“I personally have a passion for tea,” said Muendel. “I loved the selection at Killer E.S.P. but I specialize in a special kind of tea from the Hunan Province of China called Pu-erh.”

Pu-erh, as Muendel explains it, is a type of fermented tea that comes in a cake form rather than loose leafs. ESP will be an exclusive provider of Pu-erh tea in the region, selling both the cakes and offering mini-cakes for single servings. Like wine, Muendel said Pu-erh is aged and fermented, with a bold taste and varying notes of flavor.

“It’s very high end, very exclusive, and there’s no shop in the Metro area that sells it,” Muendel said.

Almost nowhere: Blueduck Tavern in D.C. (1201 24th Street NW) also has pu-erh tea on the menu, as does Ching Ching Cha — as of 2018 at least..

The old Killer E.S.P. tea selection will be narrowed down to around 30 loose leaf teas and six Pu-erh options.

Along with the rebooted tea selection comes a return of some of the old staff.

“I was a long time customer and I got to know many of the managers and baristas over the years,” Muendel said. “[Contacting them] was one of the first things I wanted to do. I’ve run several small businesses in Old Town but I’ve never done restaurant/retail. It’s a new space for me, so it was important to get connected with past employees in the leadership position.”

Two former Killer E.S.P employees will work as the new general and assistant manager.

“I’ve put a lot of trust in them and am learning a lot from them,” Muendel said.

Muendel is planning to do a soft opening for the new cafe starting on Monday, Feb. 1.

“I’m excited to reconnect with the community,” Muendel said. “I’ve kept the core interior pretty similar, so it will be pretty familiar. It will almost feel like a parallel dimension, familiar but different and cool.”

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Morning Notes

Black History Museum Asks for Help in Conservation Effort — “The Alexandria Black History Museum (BHM) is asking for help from the community. The museum hopes to apply for a conservation grant from the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM)… From Jan. 11 through 20, people can vote for their favorite artifact on the top ten list. The artifact with the most votes will win the People’s Choice Award and $1,000 toward conservation work on the artifact.” [Zebra]

Nothing Bundt Cakes to Open on Duke Street — “Nothing Bundt Cakes is opening its first Alexandria location. The bakery will open at 4553 Duke St., replacing a Subway sandwich shop in the Shoppes at Foxchase in Alexandria’s West End.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Goodwin House to Receive Second Dose of Vaccine This Month — “375 people were vaccinated last month and are awaiting their second dose on January 19. Bagley hopes they’ll vaccinate more people once Governor Ralph Northam initiates Phase 1B, which will allow CVS and other pharmacies to distribute vaccinations.” [WDMV]

Alive! Feeds Hundreds at Food Distribution Event — “Alive!, an Alexandria, faith-based community organization, held its first large scale food distribution drives of the New Year.” [WJLA]

Northam Says Year-Round School is Possibility — “In a press conference this week, Governor Ralph Northam said, ‘One of the things we are entertaining is perhaps year-round schooling for the next year. Perhaps adding increased days this summer. To really help our kids get caught up.'” [Zebra]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Alexandria Cupcake owner Adnan Hamidi likes to wash his hands so much that he just bought a natural soap company.

Hamidi’s got big plans for his Scentual Soap Co. and envisions eventually opening a brick and mortar location in Old Town.

“Most soaps leave you dry, and they have a lot of synthetic ingredients in them, including perfumes,” Hamidi told ALXnow. “I am seriously considering looking at a brick and mortar (in Old Town) where we will move a lot of the production in there.”

Hamidi bought Scentual Soap Co. last month, and the products are based on recipes that he developed with the company’s founder. Next month, he will roll out with a few new products, like bath balms, natural lotions and a men’s shaving kit. He will also be shopping the soap around to sell at other area businesses.

“Making soap is almost like making a cupcake,” Hamidi said. “The simpler you keep it, the better. Our soaps will never dry your hands out. They’re made with essential oils and lye, which is a natural byproduct that needs to be used to kill bacteria and break down viruses.”

Scentual Soap Company was founded three years ago, and its products include Greek Yogurt Soaps, Goat Milk Soaps and Natural Soaps. Each bar of soap costs $6.

Photo via Scentual Soap Company/Facebook

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A new pho restaurant is now open for business in Old Town — five months after the fact.

Pho Nam, the second location for the Gaithersburg-based company, was under construction for six months at 606 King Street. It was supposed to open in May, but got held up because of the pandemic. The restaurant officially opened on Oct. 20.

“I came here last Christmas and took a picture of how magical Old Town looked during the holiday season, and we wanted to be open this time around,” Pho Nam Old Town’s General Manager Ryan Le told ALXnow. “This is the soup season, and it’s always good to have a hot bowl of soup when it’s cold out.”

Le’s uncle Quang Nguyen emigrated to the area from Vietnam in 1977, and opened Pho Nam in Gaithersburg 20 years ago.

The building on King Street was last home to Breugger’s Bagels, which closed in 2018 after 12 years in business. Neighbors include Noodle Box Old Town and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

“When we opened we had a debate over waiting until COVID is over or just opening,” Le said. “We don’t know how long it’s going to last, so we decided to open. We’re very happy we did, and people have been willing to spread the word about our phenomenal soup.”

Pho Nam posts updates on its Instagram and Facebook pages. It does not serve alcohol and is open from 10 a.m. to 9 pm. every day of the week.

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Sometimes buying an existing business is easier than starting from scratch.

We looked through Alexandria listings on BizBuySell and found a bunch of businesses for sale. Many are restaurants, which have been heavily impacted the last several months due to the pandemic.

The website aggregates numerous business sale listings. The names of the businesses and their locations are generally left out of the listings, but there are some 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 in Alexandria:

  1. Clyde’s at Mark Center — “Transwestern’s Southeast Investment Services Group and Ten-X are pleased to exclusively present 1700 N. Beauregard Street, a 14,980 square foot restaurant fully occupied by Clyde’s at Mark Center, located inside the Beltway in Alexandria, Virginia. 1700 Beauregard Street is walkable to Mark Center (8,000 employees) and is proximate to I-395 (0.6 mi), offering convenient and quick access to all the major employment centers, numerous single and multifamily housing options and popular lifestyle amenities in Alexandria and the DC metro area at large. Property tours are available by appointment.”
  2. Coffee Cafe in Alexandria — “Coffee cafe in heavy traffic shopping center of Alexandria VA. This coffee shop was established in 2019 and has tons of potential. All the furniture, fixtures and equipment are in perfect condition. Can be converted to fit most menus. The current owner has decided to get out of the food/drink industry and go back to his full time profession. We are now looking for a new owner to take this turn key establishment to the next level. Priced for quick sale.”
  3. New Laundromats for Sale — “Two New Laundromats for Sale in Manassas, VA + Alexandria VA. One is recently renovated other is completely new. Brand new 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.”
  4. Profitable Dry-Cleaners for Sale in Northern Virginia — “This dry cleaner is well known in the area for high quality and customer service. This family-owned business has been serving the community for over 30 years at the current location. The retail space has recently been remodeled by the landlord. The business is located in a busy area with heavy foot traffic. The equipment as well as the store itself has been meticulously maintained. The seller is very motivated to sell the business and will accept reasonable offers.”
  5. Absentee-Owner Gourmet Pizza & Italian With Loyal Following — “This high-visibility restaurant has long been a destination and neighborhood favorite with locals – it continues to enjoy a following as a gourmet take-out option for pizza and all Italian cuisine favorites. Purchased in 2019 as a decades-old chef-owned establishment, the new owner invested in a complete turn around, nearly doubling sales and converting the business model to absentee ownership. Owner has refrained from applying for PPP or other SBA loans so that new owner might be able to take advantage of those opportunities.”
  6. 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.”
  7. Pet Grooming Business — “Well-established pet grooming business for sale!”
  8. Sandwich Shop/Deli — “Substantial net positive cash flow after 31 years in business. Excellent old town location. Extended Lease. Business currently operates 6 days per week for breakfast and lunch until 6 so opportunity to extend hours and days under current SUP. No alcohol but license possible. Delivery and growing catering business add to profits. Accountant attested books. Must have a friendly personality to be successful. Employees likely to stay. NDA required for confidentiality.”
  9. Restaurant & Bar Approved for Hookah MRB VA 943 — “With a capacity of 370, this 2 level establishment is perfect for private events, birthdays or work outings. The first floor is separated into two rooms with a dining area, bar and dance floor with stage/DJ booth while the 2nd room has a large bar, DJ booth and dance floor. The top floor is used for the current owners office, as well as storage, bathrooms and employee lounge. The large kitchen has been kept in pristine condition and is ready to take on any menu or food you desire. Large 18 foot hood system, 2 ice machines and humongous walk in freezers/fridge. All kitchen equipment is high end and very well maintained. This restaurant fits most menus and concepts. The current owner is ready to retire and is ready for a new owner to take this establishment to the next level.”
  10. Mexican Restaurant & Bar Can Convert MRB VA 876 — “This Profitable Mexican Restaurant for Sale has been open and operating profitably for eight years. The location is on a high traffic road and surrounded by residential. This is a turnkey situation on a restaurant that has been grossing in excess of $840,000 annually with profits to an absentee owner of $80,000 annually. Nice full service bar. Outdoor Seating!! Great opportunity for a new on hand owner/operator to take this business to the next level. MUST SEE.”

See more Alexandria listings here.

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Morning Notes

The Loop Opens in Old Town — “The Loop at 215 (located at 215 N. Payne St. in Old Town) is finally open now. The mission is to help companies and individuals ‘work better, be better, and do better.’ The co-working space has a mixture of serviced private offices and open flex workspaces.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

Three ACPS Students are National Merit Scholar Finalists — “Earlier this month, the T.C. Williams High School seniors discovered they had all been named National Merit Scholarship semi finalists after outstanding results in the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test last October.” [ACPS]

Alexandria Voters Make Eclectic Write-In Choices — “But let’s be honest, you’re reading this to read about the weird votes. Kanye West was the most electable representative of the world of entertainment for Alexandria, receiving 17 votes for President (including one impressively misspelled as ‘Kanye Wert’) and one for Senate. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson received three votes, and Sterling, Virginia’s own Patton Oswalt received one vote for President, as did ‘Babe the Pig.'” [Washingtonian]

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Morning Notes

Via Volcán Coffee Roastery Opens in Old Town — “Although the global pandemic slowed them down, the McCauslands finally opened their store this month at 110 S. West St. (the former location of VIP Pet). They are excited to share their passion for coffee in a physical space.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]

How Will Small Businesses in Alexandria Survive? — “Amy Rutherford, the owner of Penny Press & Red Barn Mercantile, has been brainstorming since July for new ways to make the holidays simple and safe for her clients. This year, she is adding delivery, gift wrap, and gift boxes to her list of services.” [Local DMV]

Sweet Root Village Pivots to Pop Ups — “It was the end of the summer and many in Alexandria had been homebound far too long. The pop-up markets Sweet Root Village ran in September and October somehow made life more bearable.” [Alexandria Gazette]

Local Chef Dies from Brain Cancer — “An accomplished chef, Hugh and his wife Anne-Claire have owned and operated the award-winning Le Refuge Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia since taking over the legendary operation from Anne-Claire’s family about 10 years ago.” [Zebra]

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Outdoorsy supply store Patagonia has opened in Old Town, according to signs on the door.

The new location opened inside the historic Old Town Theater at 815 King Street. The store was originally scheduled to open in the spring before… well, you know.

“Taking great care to preserve its beautiful character and value as a performance venue, we’re pleased to announce the fall opening of a new Patagonia store in Alexandria’s beloved Old Town Theater at 815 King Street,” the store said on its website. “It’s our first store in Virginia, and we’re really excited to join the community. We realize what it meant to see the theater close back in 2014, but we intend to keep a lot of its energy alive by providing a steady stream of events, films and presentations, as well as a gathering place to support environmental nonprofits working to defend clean water and air, protect wildlife and divest from dirty technologies.”

Patagonia said the stage of the theater will remain with sound and lighting set up and a balcony to host meetings and events while the rest of the former theater operates as a typical store. The iconic Old Town sign is also staying.

“The space devoted to product will hold a beautiful selection of quality clothing and gear for the whole family,” the store said.

Photo via Justin Wilson/Twitter

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After a year of waiting to open, Double Apple Lounge at 5101 Seminary Road is adapting to the pandemic.

The hookah lounge opened a little less than two months ago and took its Indian food menu out of its inside operations. Instead the food is prepared outside in a trailer, leaving customer with the option to eat outside or inside.

Patrons can smoke hookah in the outside patio area.

“There was no existing operation or activities at the property address for approximately a year,” according to a special use permit application filed with the city on September 21. “Originally, the idea was to pursue a restaurant but due to financial struggles during the pandemic – that has now changed. The business will not be making food – instead it will serve as a lounge.”

The lounge is located near the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center.

Photo via Double Apple Lounge/Facebook

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Morning Notes

Dominion Says Sunday Power Outage Caused by Broken Pole/Cross Arm — “Update: A broken pole/cross arm caused the failure. We have been able to isolate the problem and are hoping to everyone back on line very soon.” [Twitter]

Retro Candy Shop Opening in Fairlington — “If you’re into nostalgic candy that will take you back to your childhood days, you’ll want to keep an eye out for the opening of Rocket Fizz, Soda Pop & Candy Shop at Fairlington Centre in Alexandria, according to signs posted in the windows.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Film Festival Unveils 2020 Program — “The Alexandria Film Festival, which will debut virtually this year Nov. 12-15, announced on Tuesday its 2020 programming of 45 short and feature length fiction and nonfiction films.” [Gazette]

The Following Bills Are Due This Month — “Bills for the 2020 second half real estate tax, refuse fees and stormwater utility fees are due Nov. 16. Make payments online, by phone or mail, or in person. Those unable to pay due to COVID-19 may be eligible for payment arrangements.” [Twitter]

Check Out These Cool Pumpkin Carvings in Alexandria — “For some 20 years, Rick and Lynne White have carved the humble pumpkin into a work of art. Their festive Halloween display on Emerald Drive in Alexandria’s Waynewood neighborhood draws a crowd every year.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Abundant sunshine (during the day). High 49F. Winds WNW at 15 to 25 mph. Winds could occasionally gust over 40 mph. Clear skies (in the evening). Low 38F. Winds WSW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Move-In Coordinator at Goodwin House — “The move-in coordinator is responsible for the move-in process; provides support to marketing director and marketing associate. Establishes a professional, supportive and caring relationship with the independent living residents. Coordinates necessary paperwork and support services to ensure that the move-process is as pleasant an experience as possible for the resident. Serves as a resource person during the move-in process.” [Indeed]

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