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Madison Place office building in Old Town North, image via Google Maps

An office building in Old Town North could be getting a refit to open up a restaurant and retail space on the ground floor.

A Special Use Permit application filed by Asana Partners for 500 Montgomery Street indicates that the owners of the Madison Place office building are looking to make changes to the ground floor to bring in restaurant and retail space.

“The Property is developed with an 8-story office building that was constructed in the late 1980’s,” the application said. “The Applicant intends to renovate the existing office building, and its plans include the conversion of existing ground floor office space into activated retail and restaurant uses. As illustrated on the submitted materials, the Applicant proposes to establish a restaurant on the ground floor in the northwest portion of the building proximate to the intersection of Montgomery Street and N. St. Asaph Street.”

The change would bring the building’s streetscape more in line with neighbors to the north, like Sisters Thai. The proposed changes also include a 1,300-square-foot conversion inside for a dining space, as well as an outdoor dining space.

There’s no word in the application of what restaurant or retail could move in, and an attorney representing Asana Partners could not be reached for comment.

The building is part of the new Old Town North Arts and Cultural District and the applicant has identified a 1,300 square foot space on the eastern side of the building that will house an arts and cultural tenant for at least 15 years.

“The Applicant’s proposed building renovations and site improvements will activate the Property and the surrounding area by establishing community-serving retail, restaurant and arts
and cultural uses,” the application said. “Approval of the requested SUPs will contribute to the vibrancy of the neighborhood consistent with the City’s vision for Old Town North.”

The application is scheduled for review at the May 3 Planning Commission meeting.

Image via Google Maps

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Perfect Pita in Old Town North, image via Google Maps

(Updated 3/11) If you’ve been around Old Town North, you know the Perfect Pita in question.

It sits at 951 N. Fairfax Street street, but it’s perhaps better known as the franchise location situated in a tiny standalone space. At an Urban Design Advisory Committee meeting yesterday (Wednesday), the committee endorsed plans for The Perfect Pita to expand the building and upscale its operations.

Architect John Savage, who designed the building in 1985, discussed a bit of history for the building presented plans for an upgrade to the site that could expand operations for The Perfect Pita.

Savage said in 1986, a branch bank was built on the site in the current building’s footprint, but it was not successful and both building and land were sold to The Perfect Pita.

New The Perfect Pita designs, image via Savage & Associates

The location has been very successful, and now The Perfect Pita is looking to expand operations to include a new kitchen, on-site eating areas and additional bathrooms. Savage also said the new upgrade should also give more circulation inside the famously cramped building and have more display cases for food.

The new plans also include a new two-story outdoor seating area with the goal of having outdoor seating for 40 guests.

As part of the development, the owners are also offering to work with Alexandria Archaeology to develop historic interpretative signs detailing neighborhood history.

Image via Google Maps

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After nearly two years of dining and shopping in parking spaces outside of local businesses, Alexandria wants to start charging rent.

City Council will review a staff proposal on Tuesday (March 8) to start charging annual rent to business owners for their use of parklets — converted parking spaces that have been used for outdoor dining, fitness classes and retail.

Council officially approved the parklet program in October 2021, but previously approved a temporary program in May 2020. The city was experiencing pandemic shutdowns at the time, and restrictions were eased on outdoor dining, curbside pickups, and selling to-go alcoholic drinks.

The City is proposing:

  • $150 per linear foot for businesses along King Street, or $3,000 per space
  • $50 per linear foot in Arlandria and the West End, or $1,000 per space
  • $100 per linear foot for all other area, or $2,000 per space
  • Short-term fees would be $100 application fee  and $30/$40 per day for reserved parking
  • Businesses would pay half of the proposed fees for the first year
  • If approved, fees would start July 1

While appreciative of the program overall, some business owners say that the proposed fees are too high.

Mike Anderson has four parking spaces in Carlyle — two in front of Sweet Fire Donna’s and two in front of Tequila & Taco. Every parking space is about 40 linear feet, which will end up costing Anderson about $8,000 a year.

“We are really appreciative of the fact that we’re allowed to have parklets,” Anderson said. “Pre-Covid, if we had gotten the city and said, ‘We want a couple parking spaces on the front to serve customers,’ we’d get laughed out of Hall.”

Anderson isn’t opposed to paying a fee, but said that restaurants are already paying a 5% meals tax, which he says more than makes up for the city’s lost revenue from spaces that would otherwise collect parking fees.

Charlotte Hall, managing director of Old Town Business, is working with the city and businesses on the project.

“It’s going to help us clean up or make our places look better,” Hall said. “And make them look more inviting, and that’s what we want, right? The money we put into those parking spaces, we want to make good money out of that. In order to do that, we have to make those spaces look sharp. No droopy plants, but a clean, crisp look.”

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Noelie Rickey and Markos Panas have been busier than bees lately, and on Thursday (Feb. 24) their Beeliner Diner officially opened in the Bradlee Shopping Center.

The new family restaurant at 3648 King Street is the former longtime home to Atlantis Pizzeria & Restaurant, which closed early last year. Rickey, Panas and partner Dagmawi Abedje also own the Bread & Water Company bakery in the Belle View Shopping Center. They opened a Bun Papa pop-up at the King Street location in November, and the space has been expanded to include the BeeStreet Virtual Food Hall, which is a collection of pop-up concepts ALX Pizza, Boom Chicky (fried chicken) and Bun Papa.

Rickey was raised in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, where there was the original Beeliner Diner.

“It was one of those places where you could go where they were very accepting and tolerant of everybody,” Rickey said. “I just grew up loving the place because it was pure diner food. They closed years and years ago, and I just always loved the name and I loved the vibe of the place, which was so welcoming.”

The 5,000-square-foot restaurant holds 130 seats, including 38 at the milkshake bar.

Panas said that the multiple concepts for the restaurant were the result of the pandemic, as they were forced to shut down a location at the Torpedo Factory Art Center and stop selling wholesale baked goods to local businesses. Their Bun Papa concept also expanded with a location in Capital One Arena.

“Things are moving along incredibly, and we had to scale back a lot,” Panas said. “We’re no longer doing wholesale, we’re no longer doing any farmer’s markets, and those were huge components of our business.”

Panas and Rickey opened Bread & Water Company  in 2013 in the Belle View Shopping Center, and had a serious shakeup after a six-alarm fire destroyed neighboring businesses in October 2019.

“The fire and the pandemic completely changed how we were going to do business moving forward,” Rickey said. “And now we have a full house. Everybody looks really happy, and I’m thinking maybe we’re just ready for this sort of thing at this point. Obviously the staff are wearing masks, but I think this is what people are ready for. People are ready to be together again.”

Courtesy photos

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Del Ray Business Association Board Members and past Heart of Del Ray award winners present the 2022 Heart of Del Ray to Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap. Joey Civali of the Yates family represented Lena’s in accepting the award. (Via Bill Blackburn)

The thoughtful dining experiences have paid off. Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap was awarded the Heart of Del Ray award on Friday (Feb. 11), beating out four other local businesses.

More than 1,000 voters cast ballots for the spot that captured the heart of the community. The Del Ray Business Association presented the restaurant with a large heart-shaped award on Friday morning — just in time for Valentine’s Day on Monday, Feb. 14.

“It’s a great anchor for Del Ray and reinforces what we’re all about — the small, locally owned family business,” said DRBA board member Gayle Reuter. “They know their customers, and we know them. It’s what we look for in a community — a place where we all know and care about each other.”

Lena’s has been widely recognized for transforming the restaurant into creative and Covid-conscious dining spaces with Haiku fans to kill airborne pathogens. The second floor was converted into The Loft at Lena’s, a seasonal pop-up with new concepts and menus, and the top of their parking deck was made into the tropical retreat Lena’s Oasis.

“Lena’s didn’t just put up a tent with tables outside,” wrote one nominator. “They recognized people needed an escape during COVID, so they created an elevated dining experience — and it changes with the seasons!”

Lena’s is owned and operated by Alexandria Living Legends Jason and Loran Yates. It opened in 2015 at “Yates Corner” at Braddock Road and Mount Vernon Avenue, and is next door to Yates Dry Cleaning and across the street from the Yates Automotive Service Center.

The award was presented to Dolce & Bean last year, and Preeti Patel’s 7-Eleven on Mount Vernon Avenue in 2020.

“The past year has been hard on all of us,” Lena’s said on its website. “We created Lena’s Oasis to say ‘thank you’ and to give back to this wonderful community that has supported us through thick and thin for more than 57 years. An oasis is something calm in the midst of chaos. So, come to our safe space and relax for a while. You deserve it. We will get through this together.”

The other nominees:

Courtesy photo

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The nominations are in for the annual Heart of Del Ray Award, and all the community has to do now is find the love.

Voting closes at noon on Thursday (Feb. 10) for the Del Ray Business Association’s annual award to the business that best represents the heart and soul of the community.

“We are excited that YOU — our neighbors, customers and friends — will determine the winner of this prestigious award,” DRBA said. “(W)hat business warms your heart when you hear its name?”

The nominees:

Votes can be cast here, and the deadline is noon on Thursday, Feb. 10. The winner will receive a large heart-shaped award on Friday, Feb. 11 — just in time for Valentine’s Day on Monday, Feb. 14.

Previous Heart of Del Ray award winners:

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ESP Tea and Coffee, photo via ESP/Facebook

It’s been a year since Old Town coffee shop ESP Tea and Coffee (1012 King Street) reopened under new ownership following a spectacularly bad collapse.

Killer E.S.P closed in 2020 after its entire staff quittwice — after alleged misconduct from former owner Rob Shelton. New owner Erik Muendel said the last year has seen extensive menu changes and an effort at revitalization.

A press release from the coffee shop said the last year has seen them “prune” their coffee selections while expanding their tea offerings, along with opening a kava and herbal elixir bar.

“It’s about providing an opportunity for connections and creativity,” Muendel said in the press release. “Let’s slow down a little and build community.”

The shop has a mix of international coffees, like some from Guatemala, El Salvador and Ethiopia, along with local roasters like Blue Elk Coffee. The shop makes its own chocolate “Cacao Bliss Balls”, stocks pies and quiches from DC Pie Shop, and has saltenas and empanadas from Pan American Bakery, among others.

The restaurant also features a set of rotating wall art emphasizing surreal landscapes — fitting the rebranding of E.S.P from espresso, snacks and pie to “extrasensory perception.”

ESP has a rotating roster of events as well, including daily tea tastings Monday-Thursday from 2:30-6:30 p.m. and “ESP Evenings” from Friday to Sunday, 7-10:30 p.m. with Polynesian drink kava.

The shop is open Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m.-7 p.m. and Friday-Sunday from 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

“It’s been a great adventure since we re-launched last year with our new name ESP Tea and Coffee on Monday, February 1st, 2021,” General Manager Carl Cabading said in the release. “I remember it so well. It snowed early that morning. We were so concerned that we may have to open late or postpone. Fortunately, we still opened on time, and here we are now 365 days later.”

Photo via ESP Tea and Coffee/Facebook

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Photo via Cafe 44/Facebook

Rooftop bar and restaurant Cafe 44 (44 Canal Center Plaza) is getting could be getting a new bar, indoor dining room and more.

According to a special use permit (SUP) filed with the city, the outdoor restaurant could be expanding further into the Canal Center Plaza office building with new dining and cooking space.

“The expansion will feature a commercial kitchen, service and storage areas, a bar, indoor seating, a private dining room, and terrace seating,” the SUP said.

The SUP says that outdoor and indoor dining will have the same hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. on Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. on Friday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m.-10 p.m. on Sunday.

Photo via Cafe 44/Facebook

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With the George Washington Birthday Parade Celebration coming back to Alexandria, nearly 20 restaurants in the city are competing in the #GWCherryChallenge.

The challenge, which pits restaurants against each other to make the best cherry-oriented appetizer, entrée, beverage, or dessert, runs from Feb. 1 to Feb. 15. The winner will be announced on the official parade website.

“This unique event helps generate buzz for Alexandria restaurants, encourages chefs to get creative, and boosts customer traffic,” said Kristen Eastlick, chair of the GW Birthday Celebration committee. “The #GWCherryChallenge lets us offer a tasteful event that keeps George Washington’s memory alive in his hometown.”

The parade, which is on Monday, Feb. 21, was canceled last year due to the pandemic, and this year there are more than 40 groups signed up to march.

How it works

Diners at participating restaurants will get QR codes to vote on a scale of one cherry (the lowest) to nine cherries for their favorite dishes based on taste, presentation, and creativity.

The George Washington Celebration is asking participants to post photos of their favorite dishes on its Facebook page and using the hashtag #GWCherryChallenge.

#GWCherryChallenge participants

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Bonchon Chicken is coming to 3690 King Street in the Bradlee Shopping Center. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Getting hungry? A number of new restaurants are slated to open this year in Alexandria, according to the city’s tourism bureau.

Visit Alexandria highlighted many of these new businesses in their annual “What’s New in Alexandria” update, which was held Thursday morning (Dec. 27).

Below is a list with expected opening dates.

Old Town

West End

Del Ray

Carlyle

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