From left to right: The Italian Place General Manager Teresa Nacario, CEO and owner Adriana Penachio-Sifakis, and team members Davina Small and Andrea Ponce-Chavez in front of a wall of Naples at the new Mosaic District location (courtesy The Italian Place)

An Italian restaurant based in Alexandria is expanding with a second location at the Mosaic District in Merrifield, but patrons will have to wait a little longer than anticipated to try a sub or slice of pizza.

The Italian Place had planned to welcome customers to its new spot at 2985 District Avenue (Suite 190) this Saturday (July 24), but the grand opening will be delayed to August because more time is needed to prepare, owner and CEO Adriana Penachio-Sifakis says.

The restaurant confirmed the delay on Tuesday (July 20) on Facebook.

“We wished we had more hours in the day to prepare for our opening, and with thousands of RSVP’s for our upcoming grand opening ceremony, we will be postponing our opening by another week or so!” Penachio-Sifakis told Tysons Reporter by email.

She added that they hope to announce an exact opening date within the next week.

Penachio-Sifakis opened The Italian Place at 621 Wythe Street in Old Town Alexandria in September 2016, inspired by the traditions and values imparted by her grandparents, who were the children of immigrants from a small province outside Naples, according to the restaurant’s website.

A photo of Naples adorns one wall of the new Mosaic District site, which also features an espresso bar.

“We are humbled by the love and appreciation our customers have for our food!” Penachio-Sifakis said. “They come back and they tell their friends about us and that really keeps us going!”

Encouraged by the restaurant’s warm reception in Alexandria, Penachio-Sifakis started exploring the idea of franchising in early 2020. She says her team “really fell in love” with the Mosaic District when they visited after the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, citing the development’s “outdoor walkability” and the quality of the brands there.

“[Mosaic District property owner EDENS] is led by a woman which impressed me and certainly persuaded me to expand my operation to a professionally and well-run community that has so many exciting plans for their residents and their visitors,” she said. “They have been enjoyable to work with and we look forward to a long-term relationship with them and have also viewed some of their other successful properties.”

The Italian Place’s menu features pizza, a variety of Italian subs, paninis, salads, and pasta. There are also breakfast options and soup specials, along with a new “secret” menu that includes a tuna melt sub, an Italian grinder, and a Mosaic classic sub with salami, provolone cheese, hot pepper spread, and other toppings.

The Italian Place will expand the Italian dining options at the Mosaic District, which currently has Alta Strada, Matchbox Pizza, Oath Pizza, and Dolcezza Gelato.

The Mexican restaurant Urbano, another import from Alexandria, opened there in December. The development will also get the first Virginia location of the D.C.-based Carribean eatery Colada Shop in conjunction with a small Bloomingdale’s store called Bloomie’s that is expected to open in August.

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More Capital Bikeshare stations are in the works for the Tysons area, specifically in Merrifield and Vienna.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation has proposed adding 10 new stations in the following locations, including what would be the bike-sharing service’s first stand at the Vienna Metro station:

  • Caboose Commons
  • Circle Woods Drive and Lee Highway
  • Gatehouse Road and Telestar Court
  • Hartland Road and Harte Place
  • Inova Fairfax Medical Campus
  • Javier Road and Arlington Boulevard
  • Kingsbridge Drive and Beech Grove Drive
  • Mission Square Drive
  • Prosperity Flats
  • Vienna Metro South Entrance

The expansion would bring the Tysons area up to 29 Bikeshare stations, including 15 in Tysons and one at the West Falls Church Metro stop. Fairfax County also has 16 stations in Reston, which is getting its own expansion starting in July.

Fairfax County is eager to expand Bikeshare in Merrifield, because the three existing stations that were installed there in 2019 have proven successful, generating some of the most trips per site in the county prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to FCDOT spokesperson Robin Geiger.

Vienna has been considered a candidate for Bikeshare since at least 2018, when the county worked with the town, the City of Fairfax, and George Mason University on a feasibility study.

“Plans to expand to the Vienna Metrorail station are underway to provide connectivity to the surrounding community,” Geiger said by email. “The Vienna area stations will also help provide access to the City of Fairfax, who is working to bring CaBi to their part of the region as well.”

While it is not included in Fairfax County’s expansion, Town of Vienna spokesperson Karen Thayer says the Virginia Department of Transportation has granted the town’s request for funding to add Bikeshare stations at multiple locations, including the Town Green and community center.

The total project cost will be $272,400, which covers engineering and design, equipment, and installation.

“We are currently waiting for VDOT to complete its internal process and respond with an agreement,” Thayer said.

For the county project, Geiger says transportation officials looked at a variety of factors when selecting the proposed locations, including the density of development and the potential to generate a lot of trips. The need for bicycling infrastructure is also considered “in an effort to improve transportation equity,” she says.

“On a more granular level, we like to place stations in areas that are already paved — on-street parking lanes are often easy for [installation] and future servicing, and has only a small impact on available car parking,” Geiger wrote, adding that docks typically take up no more than one or two parking spots.

The Merrifield expansion will be primarily funded with a $497,100 I-66 Commuter Choice grant, though that won’t cover the full cost of the project, which Geiger says is currently estimated to be around $600,000.

While Bikeshare usage in the Tysons area consistently rose prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 sank both ridership and membership numbers systemwide as people limited travel and many started working from home.

“At its worst, early in the pandemic membership was around 20% of ridership when compared to past years,” Geiger said by email. “Most of the lost trips were by annual members who were commuting by bicycle.”

Fairfax County saw a 50% decrease in Bikeshare riders in 2020 overall compared to 2019.

Geiger says ridership levels started to pick back up last summer, primarily from non-members, meaning people who were utilizing the service for a single trip or day instead of getting an ongoing subscription.

“Usage patterns systemwide changed as well, with fewer trips to Metro stations, but more to recreational locations, and grocery stores,” she said.

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Lidl will officially open its new store at Merrifield Plaza this coming Wednesday (June 30), the grocery retailer announced today (Friday).

Located at 2901 Gallows Road, the store will operate from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. It took over a 30,000 square-foot space that had been occupied by Office Depot until that company’s lease ran out at the end of 2020.

“I welcome Lidl to the Merrifield area and look forward to the grand opening,” Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said in a statement. “I am confident that this new Lidl store will serve the local community and join the diverse businesses representing our vibrant community here in the Providence District of Fairfax County.”

According to a press release, the grand opening celebration will kick off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony from 7 to 7:30 a.m.

The first 100 customers will receive a gift card that could range in value from $5 to $100 each. There will also be a raffle for a $500 Lidl gift card and “special giveaways,” the press release says.

As part of a partnership with Capital Area Food Bank, Lidl says that, for the first five days of operations, it will donate 50 cents to the food bank for every customer who signs up for a myLidl membership and sets the new Merrifield store as their home store.

The Merrifield Plaza store is Lidl’s first in the Tysons area. Currently, the closest locations are on Lee Highway near Fairfax City and Pinecrest Plaza in Annandale.

A Lidl spokesperson confirmed to Tysons Reporter in March that the chain is planning to move into the building on Chain Bridge Road in McLean that Safeway vacated on April 30.

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Daniel Bechara knows better than most that sometimes to save a look, you need to make some cuts. It’s why Bechara decided to pull his hair salon, Salon Daniel, out of McLean after 30 years to move to a more visible location in Merrifield (2750 Gallows Rd.).

Bechara says the new location brings the salon into a more publicly accessible place than their previous locale.

“It feels great,” Bechara said. “It’s a new generation, a younger generation, and it’s a better location. I was [in McLean] for exactly thirty years, but it was hidden up on the second level and it was hard to see. I was only getting new clients because of our reputation, but not from somebody walking by and seeing us. It was time to move.”

The new location is two blocks south of the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, almost halfway between the station and the Mosaic District. Bechara says the new location also benefits from being on the ground floor of a residential building.

“We’re right next to the Metro and in the Avalon Community,” Bechara said. “We’re in a retail and residential area with 830 residents right above us, and we haven’t even tapped into that yet because we want to make sure we have the capacity.”

The new salon location has been open for around three weeks. Bechara says all of his old team and many familiar clients have carried over into the new location. After years of stagnation in the other location, Bechara said he’s had over 25 new walk-in clients since opening.

“It’s new business every day,” said Bechara.

After 40 years working in hair salons, Bechara says the change in venue also gave him the opportunity to try something new with his salon.

“The other one was 30 years old. It was a different design,” Bechara said. “This one is more of a Miami-style salon. It’s a different vibe, a different look, more open concept with a bar. People can hang out at the bar and have a drink.”

Bechara says the new salon has the same price range as the McLean location, which varies by haircut type and by stylist. One new addition, however, is complimentary valet parking.

“It’s like pulling into the Ritz Carlton,” Bechara joked.

One of the things Bechara says he’ll miss from the McLean location is the camaraderie with other salons in the area, many of them owned by stylists who got their start with him. Bechara says he felt like a “godfather” to many of the nearby salons.

As the Merrifield neighborhood grows, Bechara said he looks forward — over time — to seeing a new community of hair salons take off in the area.

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(Updated at 6 p.m.) Fairfax County’s first venture into self-driving public transportation has encountered impatient drivers and other difficulties, but the autonomous shuttle in Merrifield could still serve as a roadmap for expansion and future projects.

Operating between the Mosaic District and Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station since October, the high-tech Relay service navigates through bustling areas and amongst shoppers, giving free rides and demonstrating the possibilities offered by autonomous vehicles.

Eta Nahapetian, a manager with the Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives, remembers watching “Star Trek” as a kid, along with flying cars in the animated TV show “The Jetsons.”

“Here we are, trying to make some of those childhood cartoons a reality,” she said on June 10 during a webinar about autonomous technology, “Creating an Autonomous Vehicle Ecosystem in Virginia.”

Sarah Husain, a transportation planner with the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, said the technology has elicited high interest from the community for how it helps people with disabilities.

During the presentation, Husain also described some of the challenges that have emerged during the pilot project, which is a joint effort between the county and Dominion Energy.

She said drivers can get impatient and illegally pass it, so officials with the project worked on adding signage and enlisted the Fairfax County Police Department to help with the issue.

In response to complaints about vehicles passing the autonomous shuttle, the McLean District Station has assigned officers to conduct extra patrol and enforcement to address drivers “speeding or passing Relay,” the FCPD said.

“We’d like to ask for our community’s patience when driving behind the shuttle,” police said. “Relay should only be passed, with care, when a full lane is available.”

According to the county, “Do not pass” signage was installed alongside Eskridge Road and Merrilee Drive in March 2021. Stickers with the same message were also placed on the shuttle.

“We sought out these challenges with the pilot,” Husain said, noting several solutions that came forth, such as installing monitoring devices that detect if the shuttle needs more time to pass through an intersection.

The technology remains limited in some ways. For instance, if an idled vehicle, such as a parked car, is in the way, a shuttle attendant has to take over in manual mode to advance the shuttle.

The shuttle runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday from the Dunn Loring station to the Barnes & Noble in the Mosaic District. It’s designed to fill the “first/last mile” need in public transportation, connecting travelers to their ultimate destinations.

Fairfax County is seeking additional funding to continue Relay’s length of service and expand the routes that it serves. The pilot project is slated to end in August.

Dominion Energy, which supplied the shuttle, says an expansion of the pilot is among many options that it is considering for future uses of automated vehicle technology.

“Dominion Energy is considering other opportunities that may include an expansion of the current project,” Dominion Innovation Strategist Julie Manzari said. “The purpose of the pilot is to learn and gather information that will help us adjust or pivot to other concepts.”

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The man who died after a vehicle crash in Merrifield early Monday morning (March 29) was a 49-year-old Centreville resident named Dashdavaa Zambalgarav, the Fairfax County Police Department reported yesterday afternoon.

Police say the crash occurred just before 4 a.m. at the intersection of Arlington Boulevard and Javier Road, and it involved a single vehicle with Zambalgarav as the driver and lone occupant.

Crash reconstruction unit detectives have preliminarily determined that Zambalgarav was traveling west on Route 50 in a 2008 Lexus RX “when he drifted into the center median and crashed into a traffic pole at Javier Road,” according to the police report.

Zambalgarav was transported to a hospital, where he died from his injuries.

“Detectives continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding this crash, but preliminary, do not believe speed or alcohol were factors,” the FCPD said.

Since the investigation is ongoing, police are still seeking additional information about the crash:

Anyone with information about this crash is asked to contact our Crash Reconstruction Unit at 703-280-0543. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Solvers by phone – 1-866-411-TIPS (866-411-8477), by text – Type “FCCS” plus tip to 847411, and by web – Click HERE. Download our Mobile tip411 App “Fairfax Co Crime Solvers”. Anonymous tipsters are eligible for cash rewards of $100 to $1,000 dollars if their information leads to an arrest.

Image via Google Maps

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George Mason University students and employees hold a protest regarding the treatment of janitorial staff by the contractor LT Services (Photo courtesy 32BJ SEIU)

A cleaning services contractor based in Merrifield is undergoing an audit ordered by George Mason University in response to allegations of labor law violations.

In recent months, LT Services Inc. (2815 Hartland Rd.) and its subcontractors have faced numerous complaints by workers who say they have experienced poor working conditions, including delayed payments and retaliation for engaging in union activities.

GMU President Gregory Washington announced on Feb. 22 that, after conducting an initial review of the complaints against LT Services, which provides janitorial services at the university’s 220 buildings in Northern Virginia, he has ordered an outside audit of the contractor by the accounting firm Baker Tilly.

“George Mason University values everyone who works on our campuses, whether they are faculty, classified staff, student employees, or contractors. We hold high standards toward the treatment of everyone,” Washington said. “…I look forward to learning the results of what I expect will be a thorough, fair, and thoughtful audit.”

Washington added that Mason would not “offer any further public comment” until the audit is completed “in order to be fair to all involved.” A GMU spokesperson reiterated that sentiment, telling Tysons Reporter that Washington’s statement would be the university’s “only comment” on the issue.

LT Services declined to comment when contacted by Tysons Reporter.

While Mason’s audit is ongoing, the National Labor Relations Board is investigating LT Services and two of its subcontractors — Reyes Cleaning Contractors and Seth Ean Service — for allegedly engaging in unfair labor practices to shut down workers’ efforts to organize, according to documents provided by the Local 32BJ chapter of the Service Employees International Union, which filed the charges on March 9.

In its charging statement, SEIU states that LT Services promised workers at GMU a $2 raise and money to pay hospital bills in response to “protected concerted activities” and told a worker “to not discuss their working conditions with others.”

The charges against Reyes Cleaning accuse the company of interrogating employees and creating “more onerous working conditions” in retaliation for union-related activities. SEIU alleges that Seth Ean Service interrogated and intimidated workers, told them not to talk to union organizers, and disciplined a worker and reduced their pay for participating in union activities.

The three new cases come on the heels of two settlements won by SEIU on behalf of the contract cleaners at Mason. H&E Cleaning Service Inc., a subcontractor of LT Services, signed a settlement on Nov. 11 and again in January after the union accused the company of threatening and intimidating workers, sabatoging their work areas, and denying them compensation.

LT Services was also one of five companies required to pay back wages in 2016 after Montgomery County determined that they had violated its living wage laws.

SEIU expressed skepticism of the outside audit ordered by George Mason University, urging Washington to instead hire a new, responsible contractor immediately.

“Essential workers that keep Mason clean every day cannot wait for an audit to finish,” 32BJ SEIU said in a statement. “They have brought numerous allegations and violations against L.T. Services and their subcontractors to President Washington for nearly a year. President Washington cannot delay ensuring that these essential workers be treated with respect, especially in a global pandemic.”

Pressure on GMU to address concerns about the treatment of contract workers has been growing both internally and externally.

Several state elected officials, including Dels. Kathleen Murphy (D-McLean) and Mark Keam (D-Vienna), wrote a letter to Washington on March 15 urging the university to “ensure its contracted and subcontracted janitors, students, and broader community are kept safe and healthy during this pandemic by choosing to employ a responsible janitorial contractor.”

In addition, over 220 Mason faculty, staff, students, and alumni have signed a resolution from the American Association of University Professors’ GMU chapter expressing support for the janitors and calling for the adoption of a policy that would require contractors to give workers a living wage, benefits, and other rights.

“We don’t want to prejudge the audit, but we think that we already have enough information for what we think is the solution, and the solution is for Mason to adopt a responsible contractor policy,” GMU-AAUP interim president Tim Gibson, who teaches communications at Mason, said. “…If you want to contract with our institution, with our community, then you need to commit to treating your workers with fairness and respect.”

Along with forming a GMU Coalition for Workers’ Rights, GMU-AAUP joined SEIU for a “car caravan” protest at Mason’s Fairfax campus on Thursday (March 18).

“We hope the widespread outpouring of support for the janitors helps President Washington take seriously the trauma these essential workers have been through, while risking their lives to keep GMU safe,” 32BJ SEIU Vice President Jaime Contreras said. “Such an esteemed institution, focused on social justice, should simply hire responsible contractors. President Washington can and should utilize his power to ensure janitors a new employer that upholds the school’s values.”

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Morning Notes

Marshall High School Principal Addresses Racial Slur Allegations — In a letter sent to families yesterday (March 17), Principal Augie Frattali acknowledged reports that Marshall students spat and shouted racial slurs during a football game against Wakefield High School on March 5. The full letter, provided to Tysons Reporter by Fairfax County Public Schools, is below.

Dear Marshall Community,

As many of you are aware, there are serious allegations that have been made involving some students within our the Marshall HS Community regarding an incident at a recent football game. These have been shared widely on social media and are very hurtful to all individuals involved.

Please know that we have taken this situation very seriously and are in direct contact with Fairfax County Public School’s Region 2 office and the Office of Equity and Employee Relations.

We have done an intensive investigation into this situation and appropriate actions were taken against individuals by the Virginia High School League from both schools.  I also worked collaboratively with the Wakefield HS principal to ensure that there will be an opportunity for the students to join together to discuss their actions and develop a plan moving forward.

Thank you for all you do to support the Marshall High School.

Tysons Partnership Warns Against Delaying Metro Silver Line Phase 2 — Tysons Partnership President and CEO Sol Glasner argues in a letter to the Metro board that opening the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line is necessary for the “fulfillment of the promise not only of Tysons, but of the entire Silver Line corridor.” The nonprofit says budget constraints should not delay the project’s completion. [Tysons Partnership]

Merrifield Church to Host Free Drive-by Food Distribution Event — “Free boxes of food will be available at First Baptist Church Merrifield (FBCM) on Saturday, March 20, from 11:00 AM until all are distributed. All members and surrounding community are invited to partake of the distribution.” [Greater Merrifield Business Association]

Northern Virginia Reports Uptick in COVID-19 Cases — “The Virginia Department of Health reported 674 new cases in Northern Virginia on Thursday, the most since Feb. 13.  The region’s seven-day average of new cases, which peaked Jan. 18 at 1,628.4, had fallen as low as 318.4 on Saturday, but now stands at 407 cases per day.” [Inside NoVA]

Falls Church Healthcare Startup Raises $10 Million — “CMT Solutions, a leader in patient access services for laboratory diagnostics, announced a close on $10.0MM of Series A fundraising…CMT is using these funds to further develop our technology solution, with a new product launch, that will greatly help the healthcare community with diagnostic testing.” [CMT Solutions]

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Commuters in Merrifield and Vienna should probably avoid traveling on Interstate 66 Friday night (March 19), as multiple lane closures and traffic stoppages are scheduled to accommodate ongoing construction work.

Eastbound I-66 will be reduced to a single travel lane at Gallows Road in Merrifield from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. so that crews can pour concrete for a new Gallows Road Bridge deck.

The Virginia Department of Transportation says that periodic stoppages of up to 20 minutes could occur between midnight and 4 a.m., but all lanes will reopen by 9 a.m. on Saturday.

There will also be lane closures on Gallows Road, which will be reduced to two travel lanes — one in each direction — from 9 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday. Two-way traffic will be directed to the southbound side of Gallows during the closure.

“Drivers should expect delays if traveling in this area and are encouraged to use alternate routes,” VDOT says.

In addition, I-66 East and West will be reduced to one travel lane between Gallows and Nutley Street from 9 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Saturday, when all lanes will reopen. There will be periodic traffic stoppages of up to 20 minutes between midnight and 4 a.m.

According to VDOT, this lane closure is necessary for crews to remove an overhead utility line at Cedar Lane, which will have flaggers to direct traffic into a single lane between midnight and 4 a.m.

At both Gallows Road and Cedar Lane, the construction work is part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project, which will extend the I-66 express lanes 22.5 miles from the I-495 interchange in Dunn Loring to Gainesville.

VDOT notes that “all work is weather dependent and will be rescheduled if inclement conditions occur.”

Maps via Google Maps, VDOT

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The Japanese barbecue restaurant Gyu Shige is finally ready to make its American debut at the Mosaic District (2980 District Ave.) in Merrifield after a long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Owner Edward Wong says the restaurant will open its reservation system tomorrow (Wednesday) so people can book tables ahead of a soft opening planned for the weekend of Valentine’s Day. Doors will technically open earlier in the week, but customers for the first couple of days will be limited to family and friends.

Gyu Shige has a strong presence in Japan, but this is the chain’s first venture into the U.S.

Wong was introduced to Gyu Shige — one of several brands operated by the company Food’s Style — in Japan about two years ago, and he says he has “great confidence” that it will prove just as popular on this side of the Pacific Ocean, particularly with a setting like the Mosaic District as its launching pad.

“Mosaic District definitely has [a] combination of all different people, from young kids to older people,” Wong said. “…I believe the Japanese barbeque experience is not just for any group, so it will be a great place to attract all kinds of people.”

While Fairfax County diners are no strangers to sushi restaurants and noodle shops like fellow Mosaic tenant Jinya Ramen Bar, they might be less familiar with Japanese barbecue, or yakiniku, which literally translates to “grilled meat.” Before Gyu Shige’s arrival, the closest venue specializing in this kind of cuisine was Gyu-kaku in Arlington.

Like Korean barbecue, yakiniku is cooked at the diners’ table, but it tends to come in smaller portions to encourage patrons to try a variety of dishes, and there is a greater emphasis on the quality of the meat cuts served, Wong says.

Among the options on the menu for Gyu Shige customers will be A-5 grade wagyu beef imported from Japan.

“The taste is definitely different from Korean barbeque, and we want people to take the time to enjoy the whole process,” Wong said. “…We also offer the service to cook for them if they want to, but we mostly let them cook for themselves. Let them experience it. Let them have fun with it.”

In addition to yakiniku, Gyu Shige will have a variety of appetizers and sushi, which will be prepared by a former Sushi Seki chef. The restaurant’s head chef also comes from New York City, where he previously worked for EN Brassiere.

The appetizers and sushi will be available for takeout, but the barbecue can only be served in-person and indoors, another potential challenge presented by COVID-19. Wong says the pandemic led to a three-month halt to construction. Even after work resumed, progress was slowed since fewer people could be on the site, resulting in an overall delay of about a year.

Initially, Gyu Shige customers will need to reserve tables in advance, and the restaurant will only be open during dinner hours, which will run from 4-10 p.m. The menu will also be exclusively a la carte, though set meals will be added in the future.

“When people order the set menu, they tend not to order other stuff. So, right now, we’re going to put the meat into a combo menu,” Wong said. “That way, people can experience most of the meat, but at the same time, they can get to choose their own appetizer, their own other items and try it out.”

In addition to Gyu Shige, local diners can look forward to the opening of Urban Hot Pot right next door. Tysons Reporter first reported that the Chinese restaurant was coming to the Mosaic District in September 2019.

After being delayed by the pandemic, Urban Hot Pot is now on track to open in May, according to Wong, president and CEO of IVEA International Restaurant Group, which is guiding the marketing for both restaurants.

Photo courtesy Gyu Shige/Facebook

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