Cha Tea House started from a place of familial love and a bit of naiveté.
Co-owners Sofhia and Usman Qamar and Suhail and Saba Kamran launched the family-run business with two food trucks and some outdoor seating behind Springfield Town Center on Oct. 17, 2020 out of a desire to recreate the relaxed, sociable atmosphere of the roadside eateries common in their native Pakistan.
However, none of the owners had any previous experience in the food industry, admits Sofhia Qamar, a high school teacher. Her partners in the venture are an accountant, a wedding decorator, and an entrepreneur.
As a result, the group had to learn to adapt quickly, a necessary skill for any small business owner even without the new anxieties introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The first weekend, we prepped enough for a thousand orders. We thought, okay, this will last us three days,” Sofhia said. “We ran out of food after two hours of being open on the first day, and it hasn’t stopped…The feedback that we’ve gotten has been absolutely amazing.”
Cha Tea House has proven so successful in its first year that the team is now preparing to open its first brick-and-mortar location at Tysons Corner Center, potentially as soon as the first week of November before the holiday season kicks into gear.
Located on the mall’s second floor between &Pizza and Cava Mezze Grill, the cafe will offer indoor and outdoor seating with a patio that will be outfitted with lights and heaters for when the weather gets colder.
While the menu will be mostly the same, with paratha rolls and other entrees, snacks, milkshakes, and mojitos in addition to the signature teas, the Tysons site will allow Cha Tea House to expand its offerings with more fresh pastries, desserts, and salads, Sofhia says.
The company also hopes to expand its customer base outside of the community of South Asians, many of them immigrants, that have coalesced around the cafe in Springfield.
“Part of our drive to open it was to be able to share that feeling of home with people who are expatriates, who are foreign and miss that from the country that they left behind,” Sofhia said. “But the other part was to share it with people who don’t know a lot about Pakistan, so we thought Tysons would be a great place for that, because it is still very diverse.”
The dhabas that inspired Cha Tea House are roadside restaurants or food stalls that sell tea and snacks to patrons who consume them while sitting outside. They tend to be modest in appearance, but Sofhia says they’re “the best places to get food.”
She describes their function as closer to that of a bar than the on-the-go mentality of an American coffee shop. With tea substituted for alcohol, particularly in Muslim-majority countries like Pakistan, patrons visit as much for the opportunity to socialize as the food and drink.
“In our culture, tea is basically the thing that you surround yourself with when you’re having social gatherings, so our tea houses are where everyone goes to connect and talk and hang out,” Sofhia explained to Tysons Reporter.
In that same spirit, Cha Tea House hosts performances by local musicians and other artists every Saturday night, a tradition that will carry over to the Tysons Corner Center location with an emphasis on young students, singers, poets, and writers.
Cha also strives to cultivate a feeling of community by donating a portion of its profits to select nonprofit organizations. The current beneficiary is the Karachi Down Syndrome Program, which provides support and resources to individuals with Down syndrome who live in the Pakistani city.
Sofhia, whose daughter has Down syndrome, says the program seemed appropriate for their mission and background, but Cha hopes to support more organizations as it expands.
“We’re looking forward to making partnerships at Tysons and being not just in the community, but being a member of that community,” she said.
Vienna has hosted many tenants at 175 Maple Avenue East over the years, from a gelato shop to a Persian rug store and America’s arch support experts, but the southwestern corner of Maple Avenue and Park Street hasn’t seen anything quite like Lily’s Chocolate & Coffee.
Owner Saifalden Alobaidi and his sister Lily Alobaidi wanted to share a taste of their native Iraq with their adopted home, but knowing that many potential customers might not be familiar with the treat, they decided to add their own touch, substituting the traditional honey or date syrup coating with a drizzle of chocolate.
“It’s a family-owned business,” Saifalden told Tysons Reporter. “We’re just trying to bring our culture from back home, from Iraq, introduce it to the community here…and make a friendly place, so people can come to a different vibe, a different coffee shop style than normal.”
The lokma, which can be filled with peanut butter or nutella, isn’t the only thing that distinguishes the Town of Vienna’s newest eatery, which operates from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
In fact, just about everything in Lily’s Chocolate has been specially designed, from the cardamom-spiced hot tea and Belgium-imported chocolate to the mousse, cakes, and other bakery-style desserts that Lily makes herself each day.
The coffee is a blend of Guatemalan and Brazilian beans that the Alobaidis developed through “a lot of coffee tasting,” Saifalden says. The beans are roasted by Grace Street Coffee in Georgetown, which has formed a partnership with Lily’s Chocolate.
Even the cafe’s tables, chairs, lighting fixtures, and other furnishings were custom-made by Saifalden, who also works as a civil engineer and owns a construction business. This is his first venture into the food service world.
“We’re trying to be unique so it’s not repetitive,” Saifalden said. “Even the coffee taste we have, the pastry we sell, the style of the place, we’re trying to be different than what’s in the market.”
The Alobaidis immigrated from Iraq to the U.S. — specifically to Arizona — in 2009, according to Saifalden, who obtained a master’s degree in engineering management from the University of Arizona before entering construction work.
After traveling from state to state for a while, he moved to McLean in 2016, and he and Lily came up with the idea for a lokma shop, signing a lease for the Maple Avenue spot in October 2020.
Though he now lives in Reston, Saifalden says he loves the Town of Vienna for its family-friendly atmosphere and an increasingly diverse population that embraces different cuisines and cultures. The town’s central location within Fairfax County and efforts to support small businesses heightened its attractiveness.
Getting Lily’s Chocolate off the ground was not without its challenges, though, as the COVID-19 pandemic delayed shipments and prolonged the licensing process and other preparations.
Saifalden also allows that he has gotten a few comments about the availability of parking at the site, which is prominently but awkwardly situated at the intersection of two busy streets with little room for drivers to manuever into or out of spaces without blocking traffic.
The building does have additional parking in the back, and he says the cafe is working to put up a sign to make that clearer to passersby. He also anticipates getting reliable foot traffic, including from pedestrians and bicyclists coming into town on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.
According to Saifalden, Lily’s Chocolate drew over 300 people between 6 and 9 p.m. for its grand opening, which offered free pastries, tea, and coffee. The cafe has also gotten some social media buzz, thanks in part to the popular Vienna VA Foodies Facebook group.
Expansion plans are already taking shape. A friend has expressed interest in starting a franchise in Georgia, and the Alobaidis are looking at a possible location in Georgetown to complement their partnership with Grace Street Coffee.
“We’ve been getting a lot of feedback from people about the place, the design, the location, the scene, the quality of the coffee, the pastry or the lokma that we are serving, and a lot of reviews on Facebook, on Instagram as well,” Saifalden said. “We appreciate everybody’s business here.”
Roots Provisions & Grocery, a new restaurant-grocer in McLean, is preparing for a grand opening the first week of June.
The eatery had its soft opening a week and a half ago in Suite E at 8100 Old Dominion Drive, where LoKL Gourmet used to be. Open from 7:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., Roots serves breakfast foods, espresso drinks, smoothies, sandwiches, salads, and bowls, the chef and business manager Anne Alfano says.
She says she is still in the process of getting the bar staffed and learning what the community is looking for.
“A lot of people want to drink and have a neighborhood spot where they can enjoy an elegant glass of wine with some small bites,” she said. “I’m confident the community will be receptive, but it’s about making sure this is done right.”
Roots Provision and Grocery has “a little bit of everything” in a large space that the business manager describes as friendly and cozy with high ceilings, exposed brick, and cute patio tables.
The eatery sells baked goods from D.C.-based Bullfrog Bagels, Hyattsville, Md.-based Lyon Bakery, and Fairfax-based Simply Desserts. It also offers açai bowls and breakfast burritos. Lunch options include sandwiches, from brisket sandwiches to black bean burgers, and vegan bowls.
“It’s very exciting to see it materialize,” she said. “We had a successful Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with breakfast and lunch sales, and we’re looking to expand sales into the evening later this week when our bar program becomes more permanent.”
Roots received its liquor license a few days ago, and Alfano aims to debut the bar later this week, extending hours of operation to 9:30 p.m. On the weekends, the bar will open at 11 a.m. and serve mimosas and Bloody Marys in addition to weeknight cocktails.
“The bar manager has crafted a beautiful cocktail program, and we also have beers, elegant wines, and tapas,” Alfano said.
Customers can order a classic margarita with house-made guacamole and chips, a Negroni with marinated olives, or a glass of wine with a burrata salad drizzled with honey and balsamic glaze. Roots also has a “gooey grilled cheese and tomato soup dip,” she says.
Alfano says the choice to feature local artisans and make things from scratch is how Roots sticks to its mission of serving unprocessed foods. The grocery offers local dairy, eggs, pastas and other goods.
As COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift in Virginia, she says Roots still carries hand sanitizer and takes proper cleaning precautions.
Photos courtesy Anne Alfano
There are a number of things that give Caffe Amouri owner Michael Amouri a warm feeling: drinking a cup of coffee, unsurprisingly, getting to a toll booth and learning someone paid it forward, and stopping to chat with someone in the street.
But those feel-good community moments have been hard to come by during the pandemic.
In the hopes of reviving that neighborly goodwill among his customers, Amouri has introduced a pay-it-forward “Cup on the Wall” program to his Vienna coffee shop. He was inspired by the Vienna Foodies and the Italian practice of caffè sospeso — literally “pending coffee” — when a cup of coffee is paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity.
Customers ordering in-person or online can choose to buy any drink on the menu for someone else. Staff put a sticker on the window for someone to “cash in” when they order.
“If you’re feeling a little down, come and let a ‘friend’ buy you a drink,” he said.
It can be for anyone, particularly people who cannot afford a cup of coffee, but also for someone having a bad day or celebrating their birthday, Amouri says. The option will be available as long as the community engages with it.
Though it has mostly stayed open, Caffe Amouri has not been offering indoor service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Competitively, we’ve probably lost some ground, but I just don’t feel I can do it,” Amouri said.
Customers can order in-person from one window, or pick up an online purchase from another window. The coffeehouse’s interior is configured to allow for six feet of distance between staff members, and staff and delivery workers are screened daily for COVID-19 symptoms.
Amouri plans to reopen after his staff is vaccinated.
“I have amazing staff and I can’t believe they’ve weathered it so well,” he said.
Amouri says he founded his shop nearly 11 years ago on the principles of quality, community, and sustainability. During the pandemic, he said the cafe’s role as a liaison among the government, the Vienna Business Association board — which Amouri sits on — and residents has grown in importance.
He commended Vienna residents for supporting local businesses and making the small town “feel even more small-townish.”
“There are times when I go, ‘I didn’t want to have a coffeehouse and hand coffee out a window’,” he said. “But as long as we can keep our doors open until we can fully open, I’m going to count that as a success.”
Photo courtesy Michael Amouri
Alexandria coffee shop Java Loco is planning to open a new location in Tysons starting this weekend.
Java Loco is scheduled to open on Friday, Nov. 6, at 7516 Leesburg Pike in the Tysons Station shopping center.
“We can’t wait to serve customers at our new location in Tysons Station,” Nga Ho, owner of Java Loco, said in a press release. “We always love inviting customers into our relaxing space and we’re so appreciative of the customers who have supported us with their business over the years. We’re so excited to become a part of the Falls Church community.”
The location will be a 1,385-square-foot space with gourmet house coffee, Italian espresso, espresso-based drinks, and exotic drinks like Cuban or Vietnamese coffee. The beverage menu also includes a selection of decaf items, fruit smoothies and bubble tea from Ocha Bubble Tea in Annandale, which is also owned by Ho.
The location is planned to offer a limited breakfast and lunch sandwich selection, along with bakery items like muffins, croissants and pastries.
The Tysons Station location of Java Loco will be open from Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Photo via Java Loco/Facebook
If you’ve been getting more in touch with your artistic side over quarantine and would like a little feedback, a free artist workshop in Falls Church is meeting virtually to offer feedback.
On Monday, Oct. 5, and the first Monday of every month after, Falls Church Arts is hosting a virtual “cafe” via Zoom to critique and discuss art at all levels of skill or experience.
“It is a free event, an artist cafe and critique group,” said Ruth Altheim, a member of the Falls Church Arts Board of Directors. “We email a picture of the artwork to the facilitator, Pamela Huffman, the day before and when we’re on zoom, Pamela shares the images from her computer screen so all participates can easily see and comment on the artworks.”
The cafe runs from noon to 2 p.m. and invites can be received by emailing [email protected]
“Show a piece of art you’d like feedback on — something new or old, something in progress or complete –and our community of artists will share their thoughts,” Falls Church Arts said in a press release. “The meeting is open to all so invite your artist friends. Feel free to participate even if you don’t have a piece to share this time.”
A new cafe could be coming to a former drive-thru United Bank at 7787 Leesburg Pike.
Applicant Mohamed Rafaei is seeking a permit from the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Sept. 15, to convert the first floor of the building (built in 1980) into a restaurant.
“The proposed sit-down restaurant will replace the first-floor financial institution,” a report on the project noted. “The proposed hours of operation for the restaurant are 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., 7 days a week. Approximately 4 employees and a maximum of 72 patrons are proposed.”
The application noted that the second floor of the building is currently an office, which would continue to be in use after the restaurant change. Given that the site is zoned for office buildings and hotels, a special exception is required for a restaurant use, but a staff report said the restaurant could support the surrounding offices and is “in harmony” with the Comprehensive Plan.
There was once a local Tysons establishment called Mint at 8346 Leesburg Pike, next to the former Tysons Biergarten, but it’s unclear if the two are related.
Photo via Google Maps
The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.
We’ve scoured the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!
Though many in-person events are canceled, organizations and businesses are setting up digital events to keep people occupied.
Tuesday (April 21)
- Free Mecial Traning — The American Red Cross in McLean is putting together digital training for people who want to learn about adult and pediatric first aid, CPR, lifeguarding and more at 9 a.m. This training is free but participants must sign up online.
- Online Budget Town Hall — Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust will host a digital budget town hall from 7-8:30 p.m. People can submit questions by calling 703-324-1114, post them in a comment under the Facebook Live event or email them in advance. The town hall will also be shown on Channel 16 and be streamed online.
- Virtual Trivia at Lost Dog Cafe — The cafe is hosting free trivia for community members starting at 7 p.m., streamed live from the location in McLean. This event is free and prizes will be mailed to winners, the event page said. People who want to support the eatery can order from the location’s menu and can use the code “delivery” for free delivery.
Thursday (April 23)
- Cyber Security Challenges with the Coronavirus Webinar — The Tysons Chamber of Commerce is hosting a free webinar from noon-1 p.m. for people who want to learn how to protect themselves and their businesses from new cyber-attacks. This event is free and registration is encouraged.
Friday (April 24)
- Mother Goose Minutes — Every Friday, the Mary Riley Styles Public Library will post a story time and music video for kids featuring Miss Laura starting at 10:30 a.m., the post said. Anyone who wants to check out the rhymes beforehand can find them online. The videos can be found on the library’s website after they are posted.
- Friday Art Focus — The Mary Riley Styles Public Library is hosting a free Facebook Live event at 3 p.m. with local artist and illustrator Samantha Fiddy. She will be recreating drawings sent in by viewers beforehand. Anyone interested in participating can tune in or submit work to be recreated to [email protected] People can follow the library’s Facebook post for a link closer to the event.
Saturday (April 25)
- Virtual Independent Bookstore Day — Bards Alley Bookshop in Vienna is planning a virtual day of activities and guests from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to its Facebook page. Details have not been announced yet but people can check the store’s social media accounts for details. People can order books online for curbside pick-up (110 Church Street NW).
Photo via Bards Alley Bookshop/ Facebook
(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) Caffe Amouri wants to reduce close contact between the people coming to the Vienna coffeehouse, as concerns spread about the coronavirus outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people stay six feet away from each other to lower the risk of spreading the virus.
“Helping everyone ‘Keep their distance,'” the cafe tweeted along with a video showing large “X”s made of masking tape on the ground leading up the cafe.
In another video, owner Michael Amouri shared that the “X”s, which are six feet apart, lead to a window counter — formerly the front door — where people can place their orders and pay. The orders will be filled inside and then brought outside to the customers.
At the window service, one cashier wearing gloves places the order, while another person goes to get the coffee, Amouri told Tysons Reporter. Each drink is brought out on its own pedestal so that customers won’t touch the tray, he said.
Amouri said that he ordered 10 stylus pens that will be sanitized after every use so “no customer will be touching a pen that a previous customer touched.”
Tuesday evening, the coffeehouse announced on Instagram that it won’t accept cash while the coronavirus concerns are growing.
- in-house cups won’t be used
- cups that people bring won’t be used
- all drinks will be served in paper to-go cups
Amouri said that people who don’t want to come to the shop can order beans online — “We’re getting hit by a ton of those” — and buy gift cards for future visits.
Amouri said that the cafe’s staff keeps stepping up its coronavirus-related efforts. At first, the employees were sanitizing the shop shift by shift and the hour by hour.
As more and more people started to telework, Amouri noticed that the shop was getting more crowded, which prompted him to switch to the outdoor counter last Saturday — an idea from one of his employees.
“The danger shifted from their workplace to our shop,” he said. “I’m really concerned about our staff.”
Amouri said that he has given his employees two weeks paid vacation so that they can stay home if they feel sick.
“I just want to keep my staff working. That’s really important to me,” he said. “Even if we don’t break even, which we probably won’t, if I can minimize the loss and keep them around, then that’s my goal.”
No matter what, he plans to keep the coffeehouse open, he said.
“We’re open,” he said in one of the videos, urging people to support their local businesses. “We’re going to get through this everybody.”
— Caffe Amouri (@caffeamouri) March 17, 2020
Image via Caffe Amouri/Twitter
The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.
We’ve scoured the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!
Tysons Reporter also complied a list of the upcoming New Year’s events, for those seeking festivities.
Monday (Dec. 30)
- Trails and Ales — 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Caboose Tavern (520 Mill Street NE) — This event brings together people for a group run or walk on the W&OD Trail. People are encouraged to bring headlamps and reflective gear. All ages are welcome but they must be 21+ to enjoy brews afterward.
- Korean Bell Ringing — 2-2:30 p.m. at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens (9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court) — This celebration displays bells given to Virginians by the Korean-American Cultural Committee. Attendees can drink free hot cocoa and listen to musical sounds. This event is free and all ages are welcome.
- New Year’s Day Brunch — 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. at Caboose Commons (520 Mill Street NE) — Community members can gather with friends and family to enjoy their first brunch of the New Year. There will be a variety of dining options available.
Friday (Jan. 3)
- Minecraft Day Camp — 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. at Code Ninjas (510 S. Washington Street) — Kids of all ages can come and learn how to model 3D objects and create various models. A half-day camp option is available for $45 as well as a full-day option for $80. Registration can be found online.
Saturday (Jan. 4)
- Intro Into Cyber Workshop — 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. at Cover 6 Solutions (1964 Gallows Road) — This workshop teaches people the basics of cybersecurity and people will walk away being able to integrate skills into their schooling and careers. Tickets are $199 and a spot can be reserved online. Once complete, people will receive a certificate of training.
- The Beat Open Mic — 6:45 to 9:45 p.m. at Caffe Amouri (107 Church Street NE) — People of all ages are welcome to gather and enjoy music from the community or perform themselves. This event is free and open to the public. Registration is not required beforehand.
Sunday (Jan. 5)
- Falls Church Distillers Tour and Tasting — 4 until 5 p.m. at Falls Church Distillers (442 S. Washington Street) — This event invites people to come and tour where the company makes its liquor and learn how the process works. Tickets are $25, which includes a tasting of seasonal whiskeys.
Photo via Caffe Amouri/Facebook