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Morning Notes

Mistrial Declared in Sexual Abuse Case Against Former Thoreau MS Teacher — A Fairfax County Circuit Court jury acquitted Matthew Snell on one count of inappropriate sexual relations with a teenager after 13 hours of deliberation. The jury failed to reach a verdict on two other charges, likely prompting a retrial. [The Washington Post]

Tysons Auto Investment Company Sold — Investment firm Ares Management Corp. closed a $3.8 billion deal yesterday (Thursday) to acquire Capital Automotive Real Estate Services Inc., which gives financing to automobile dealers for buying new locations and upgrading facilities. Based at 8484 Westpark Drive, the company has recently been selling land that it owns for the Dominion Square West development. [Washington Business Journal]

Tysons Steakhouse Plans Second Fairfax County Location — The Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão plans to open a new location in Reston Town Center this spring. The company’s restaurant outside of Tysons Galleria is the only one it currently has in Northern Virginia. [Reston Now]

Funding Recommended for Local Transportation Projects — The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board approved a $7.2 million plan on Wednesday (Feb. 16) to support bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure upgrades. The recommendations include the Vienna Metro station bicycle improvements and Shrevewood Elementary School Safe Routes to Schools project requested by Fairfax County. [WTOP]

Vienna Nepali Restaurant Gets Thumbs Up — “You will not find a dish quite like Royal Nepal Bistro’s fulbari naan in its homeland. Yes, co-owner Sunil Chaudhary says that the breads in parts of southern Nepal are sweet, but this creation exists only in Vienna.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

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Roberto’s Ristorante Italiano is now open in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Chef Roberto Donna has officially arrived in the Town of Vienna.

As promised, Roberto’s Ristorante Italiano opened its doors at 144 Church Street NW last Tuesday (Feb. 8), and owner Nancy Sabbagh, wife of the once-troubled star chef, says the first week of business has been a success.

“We’ve gotten such amazing support from past patrons,” Sabbagh told Tysons Reporter today (Monday), while preparing for what she anticipates to be a busy Valentine’s Day.

that the new restaurant has already gotten customers from as far away as D.C. and Bethesda, Maryland.

Inspired by the couple’s experiences traveling in Italy, the menu posted in the restaurant’s front window primarily features seafood and pasta dishes, along with desserts and espresso.

Online ordering isn’t available yet, but the website indicates it will be coming soon. While not required, Sabbagh recommends that customers reserve a table, since the dining room is limited in size, and she wants to be able to give adequate attention to each patron.

Reservations can be made online or by calling 703-223-5336.

Roberto’s is currently open from 5-9 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays and from 5-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Sabbagh says they decided to close the restaurant on Sundays to give staff “a uniform day off.”

Donna rose to acclaim with the popular D.C. restaurant Galileo in the 1980s but ran into legal troubles with the shuttered Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City. Aside from a stint at Al Dente D.C., Roberto’s is his first full restaurant since an ill-fated attempt at a comeback in 2011.

Hat tip to Liz Sues on Twitter for the alert about Roberto’s opening.

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The family behind YamaChen’s Sushi House would’ve preferred to open their new Vienna location sooner, but thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, later will have to do.

As noted by Patch in December, the Japanese restaurant is moving into 320 Maple Avenue West, taking over a 1,500 square-foot space at Vienna Plaza Shopping Center previously filled by Jersey Mike’s Subs.

YamaChen owner Si Chen told Tysons Reporter last week that they were supposed to open in December, but construction has taken longer than anticipated, as the pandemic continues to disrupt global supply chains.

“The pandemic has definitely slowed down the process a lot,” she said, adding that she hopes to open around the end of February.

Primarily based in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads, YamaChen began in 2003 as a “hole in the wall” with just four tables but is now looking to expand nationwide, its website says.

The Vienna site will be the chain’s 14th restaurant overall and its third in Northern Virginia after one opened in Fairfax City in October 2020. A Sterling location is also still in the works.

“It’s a very pretty, little town,” Chen said when asked about the team’s interest in Vienna.

YamaChen will join the town’s growing array of options for Japanese cuisine, including Sushi Yoshi on Church Street, Sweet Ginger in Danor Plaza, and Sushi Yama, which is located in the adjacent shopping center. The most recent addition, Sushi Koji, opened at Cedar Park Shopping Center in December.

Chen says her family’s restaurants are distinguished by the special sushi recipes they use, developed by chef Andy Chen.

YamaChen emphasizes freshness with its seafood providers and a welcoming atmosphere for diners, according to its website. The chain also makes its own sauces in house.

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Vienna’s hopes for a revitalized Cedar Park Shopping Center hit a bump last month with the departure of a key tenant.

El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria closed its doors in mid-January, confirmed a worker at El Sol’s original restaurant in D.C., which remains open.

Brother-and-sister owners Alfredo and Jessica Solis opened the Vienna El Sol in Suites C and D at 262 Cedar Lane in February 2020, when construction to renovate the center was still underway. A month later, COVID-19 would prompt restaurants across the state to temporarily shut down.

The economic challenges brought by the pandemic, including a nationwide shortage of staffing in the food service industry, ultimately proved untenable for El Sol.

“Like many restaurants in the past couple of years since the pandemic began, El Sol Vienna is a casualty of the circumstances created by these unprecedented times,” Alfredo Solis said. “We struggled with business and retaining employees and in the end, my sister and I felt it best to close those doors and focus more of our efforts towards supporting our other restaurants that weren’t hit as hard. We’re grateful to the Vienna community for all of their support.”

In addition to the D.C. El Sol, Alfredo and Jessica Solis continue to operate Mezcalero, which has locations in D.C. and Alexandria, and Anafre, which serves tacos, pizza, and sandwiches on 14th Street in D.C.

El Sol’s 3,800 square-foot space won’t be vacant for long. Posts in the Vienna VA Foodies Facebook group indicate that another Mexican restaurant called El Sabor Grill is moving in.

While the banner advertising the new venue, as seen in those posts, had been taken down when Tysons Reporter visited on Saturday (Jan. 28), a worker inside confirmed that the new restaurant will have a different management team and is not connected to El Sol.

El Sabor Grill will join the Japanese restaurant Sushi Koji, which opened at Cedar Park Shopping Center in late December. Openings for the chicken wing chain America’s Best Wings and Turkish restaurant Lezzet are also anticipated early this year.

The mall is also preparing to add Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream, an Arlington-based ice cream shop that will take over the space vacated in August by Crepes and Karak Cafe.

First Washington Realty, which owns Cedar Park Shopping Center, did not return an email requesting comment by publication time.

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The national chain Kura Sushi is bringing a sushi bar to Tysons, its first Virginia location.

The publicly traded company, whose closest site right now is in D.C., plans to open at 8461 Leesburg Pike by the end of this year, spokesperson Lauren Murakami confirmed.

Kura Sushi will replace the closed Roti Mediterranean Grill restaurant at the plaza, which is anchored by Best Buy and also has Chick-fil-A and Chipotle. The center will also soon house Vertical Rock, a bouldering gym expected to open this spring.

“We’ve been wanting to expand more on the east coast, as the majority of our restaurants are primarily on the west coast, specifically in Southern California,” Murakami wrote in an email. “Tysons Corner is reputable for its premier entertainment and shopping centers, and we offer a unique technology-driven dining experience that we feel will cater to this lively community.”

Kura Sushi’s D.C. restaurant features $3.15 sushi plates served on a conveyor belt that rolls food to customers’ tables, a setup that will be familiar to patrons of Wasabi in Tysons Corner Center.

Menu items generally range from spicy tuna and shrimp avocado rolls to softshell crab tempura, ramen and udon soups, and Japanese-style soy milk doughnuts and other desserts.

The company is an offshoot of a Japan-based brand of the same name that has over 480 restaurants. The American subsidiary, Kura Sushi USA, has dozens of locations, mostly in California and Texas.

A quarterly earnings report on Jan. 6 reaffirmed the company’s plan to open eight to 10 new restaurants this fiscal year, which started Sept. 1, 2021.

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Morning Notes

Virginia Declares State of Emergency Ahead of Possible Snow — “The National Weather Service is calling for 2 to 3 inches of snow in the District of Columbia and the immediate suburbs in Northern Virginia, along with Fredericksburg. Western Fairfax and Prince William counties, along with Loudoun County, are in the zone where only 1 to 2 inches of snow is expected.” [Patch]

Regular Metrobus Service to Return — Metro will restore regular weekday bus service on Feb. 7, as COVID-19 case rates among employees start to decline. The transit system has been operating at only about 75% of its usual service since Jan. 10 due to a shortage of drivers, leading to reports of buses not showing up and students being stranded. [DCist]

Four Displaced by VITA Tysons Fire — An unattended candle started an apartment fire in the 7900 block of Tysons One Place at 4:02 p.m. on Wednesday (Jan. 26). The fire was extinguished by a sprinkler, but four residents were displaced, and there was $3,000 in property damages, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department says. [FCFRD/Twitter]

Vienna Seeks New Planning Director — “Vienna Planning and Zoning Director Cindy Petkac has stepped down, town officials said at the Vienna Town Council’s Jan. 24 meeting. Petkac departed in December last year because she ‘wanted to pursue other professional opportunities,’ said Town Manager Mercury Payton.” [Sun Gazette]

Founders Row Restaurants Confirmed — The new casual, American concept Ellie Bird will be joined at the upcoming Falls Church development by Arlington-based seafood restaurant Chasin’ Tails, the fast-casual Roll Play Vietnamese Grill, and Vietnamese restaurant-bar Nue. Founders Row is under construction now but reportedly nearing completion. [Falls Church News-Press]

McLean Central Park Meeting Postponed — “The virtual public meeting originally scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022 to present the revised McLean Central Park Development Concept Plan has been rescheduled. A new meeting date is now confirmed for Wednesday, March 2, 2022 at 7 p.m.” [FCPA]

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The face behind Vienna’s newest Italian restaurant is a familiar one for D.C.-area foodies.

Currently taking shape at 144 Church Street NW, Roberto’s Italiano Ristorante comes from Nancy Sabbagh and her husband, chef Roberto Donna, who has earned both renown and infamy over his decades-long culinary career.

Sabbagh, who owns the restaurant and will run its business operations, says the concept for Roberto’s is something that she and her husband have been contemplating for a while based on their past travels in Italy.

“We knew we wanted to work together where I would be the front of the house and Roberto the creative culinary vision,” she said by email. “We both love the Italian hospitality and truly wanted to create a small place where our guests felt the love both in their service and food.”

Sabbagh told Tysons Reporter that all permits have been approved, and she tentatively hopes to be able to open in early February.

Fairfax County records show that a final occupancy permit for Roberto’s was processed and pre-issued on Jan. 20. Applications for alcohol licenses are pending, as of Dec. 13, according to the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority.

Drawn to Vienna for “the charm and feeling of community it exudes,” Sabbagh says she and Donna considered taking the space at 144 Church Street prior to the pandemic, but Covid’s arrival led them to pivot instead to providing weekly family meals and hosting virtual wine dinners.

Roberto’s took on new life late last year, when the Asian restaurant Red Galanga closed on Dec. 1 after five years at 144 Church Street, citing staffing shortages.

While Covid has presented obstacles to opening a new restaurant, Sabbagh says the Town of Vienna has been “so helpful” in providing assistance during the permitting process.

Though she didn’t provide details about specific dishes, she says Roberto’s will offer an aperitivo hour, tastings, wine dinners, private events, and catering as well as a la carte and to-go menus. Donna will also provide some tableside service.

“Roberto’s will provide diners with truly authentic Italian cuisine and a menu that will reflect the season and highlight local and truly excellent vendors,” Sabbagh said. “We are honored to be neighbors with such good restaurants like Bazin’s, Blend [111], Clarity, Bonaroti and Pazzo Pomodoro.”

A native of Italy’s Piedmont region, Donna launched his career in the U.S. with the popular Galileo, which opened in D.C. in 1984. He won a James Beard Award in 1996 and mentored many chefs who went on to open their own restaurants.

However, legal troubles started to overshadow his food in the late 2000s. He faced  a slew of lawsuits over unpaid rent and wages and pled guilty to felony embezzlement in 2010 for pocketing meals taxes from the shuttered Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City.

Donna made a comeback, though, in 2013 with a well-received chef’s counter at Al Dente D.C., and Roberto’s sounds like a more low-key, personal affair.

According to Sabbagh, the restaurant’s art and decor will pay tribute to her and her husband’s experiences in Italy over their 20 years of marriage.

“We look forward to truly having fun working together,” she wrote. “That is what life is all about and providing our guests with great food, service, wine and hospitality!”

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Though construction has yet to begin, Vienna’s 444 Maple Ave. mixed-use development appears to be in negotiations to secure its first tenants.

According to a property brochure on its project webpage, New Jersey-headquartered Hekemian & Co. plans to add the pizza chain Mellow Mushroom, restaurant Tom Yum Thai, and Gloss Nails to the development, which will take the place of the now-shuttered Vienna Wolf Trap Hotel and Tequila Grande.

The marketing sheet indicates that the businesses are “at lease,” but none appear to have officially signed yet.

Mellow Mushroom, which serves custom-made pies, gluten-free crusts, burgers, vegan options, and more, is expected to occupy the site’s largest space at 5,129 square feet.

A Mellow Mushroom marketing executive didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. It’s unclear if the business will be corporate-owned, like its Herndon location, or a franchise, like the one in Chantilly.

Gloss Nails has been inked in for a 2,000 square-foot space, and Tom Yum Thai’s space is 1,424 square feet in size.

Tom Yum Thai had occupied ground-floor space in the office building at 226 Maple Avenue West for seven years, but it abruptly closed on Dec. 26. Tysons Reporter was unable to get in contact with the management team for comment by publication time.

Three commercial spaces are still listed as available. There’s also a 2,000-square-foot space listed as having a letter of intent. A leasing representative didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

A chain-link fence still stands around the Vienna Wolf Trap Hotel and Tequila Grande. The business said last summer that demolition work could begin in the fall of 2021. A demolition permit was issued Wednesday (Jan. 19) by Fairfax County.

Approved despite some resident opposition in October 2018, the development project will replace the vacated hotel and restaurant at the Nutley Street corner with a multistory building featuring courtyards, a pool, dog wash, ground-floor retail, and 151 multifamily rental units.

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Sisters Thai, which has a location in the Mosaic District, will open a new restaurant at Capital One Center later this year (via Google Maps)

Sisters Thai is coming to Capital One Center.

Distinguished by interiors designed to evoke cozy living rooms, the restaurant chain has leased 5,029 square feet of space at 7730 Capital One Tower Road, the Washington Business Journal reported Thursday (Jan. 13).

Capital One Center confirmed in a press release that this will be Sisters Thai’s fifth location and its largest yet, joining venues in the Mosaic District, Alexandria, Fairfax City, and Potomac, Maryland.

“Having been a fan of Sisters Thai for the last decade, it is great to see their growth to become one of the region’s top destinations for Thai food,” Capital One Center Managing Director Jonathan Griffith said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome them to the exciting new Capital One Center development in Tysons.”

Located under Capital One Hall’s box office, the new restaurant will offer Thai street food, curry bowls, and drinks from a central bar. It will also house an extension of Magnolia Boutique Dessert Bar & Coffee, the cafe that the Sisters Thai team runs on Maple Avenue in Vienna.

It is expected to open in late 2022.

“We are so excited to be a part of the growing development at Capital One Center, and host our flagship restaurant adjacent to Capital One Hall,” Sisters Thai owner Tammie Disayawathana said in a statement. “There is so much energy at Capital One Center and we’re proud to bring our family-run business to complement this mini-city.”

Capital One’s headquarters campus near the McLean Metro station has seen some significant changes over the past two years, starting with the arrival of Wegmans in November 2020.

Between August and October of last year, the mixed-use development added The Perch skypark, a major performing arts venue in Capital One Hall, and The Watermark Hotel.

However, retail options are limited right now to Wegmans, The Perch’s Starr Hill Biergarten, a restaurant and bar called Wren in the hotel’s lobby, and the nail salon Nothing in Between Studio.

Capital One’s headquarters building previously had the City Works Eatery and Pour House and a Starbucks, but they have both closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Capital One Center expects to see more leasing activity this year, stating that several signings will be announced in the near-future.

Anticipated tenants include the not-yet-named occupants of the food trucks recently installed in The Perch. The trucks and a mini-golf course called Perch Putt remain on track to open this spring, Capital One Center Manager of Marketing and Community Affairs Meghan Trossen says.

Construction is also underway on a mixed-use building across the street from Capital One Hall that, when completed this year, will be able to accommodate anywhere from 1,500 to over 20,000 square feet of retail, according to Capital One Center.

Photo via Google Maps

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Shake Shack will be the occupant of a new drive-thru fast-food restaurant proposed for Pike 7 Plaza (8350 Leesburg Pike) in Tysons.

The tenant’s name was revealed at a public hearing held on Wednesday (Jan. 12) by the Fairfax County Planning Commission, which recommended approving a special exception request for the project.

Pike 7 Plaza’s existing restaurant offerings include Honeygrow, MOD Pizza, Panera, and more.

Property owner Federal Realty Investment Trust plans to construct a 3,600 square-foot building in the shopping center’s parking lot off of Route 7. It will be a sit-down restaurant with outdoor seating and a pick-up window, though drive-thru customers will need to order by phone beforehand.

“You’re not going to see folks…sitting in the drive-thru, perusing the menu, trying to figure out what they want, paying and ordering. That’s all going to happen ahead of time,” said McGuireWoods land use planner Michael Van Atta, who represented Federal Realty at the hearing.

The freestanding restaurant is expected to operate from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. with an estimated 10 to 15 employees per shift, county planner Mary Ann Tsai said. The drive-thru lane will accommodate 11 to 12 vehicles, but Van Atta suggested the lines will be much smaller because of the pre-order requirement.

The restaurant is part of Federal Realty’s efforts to adapt to dining trends accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which included the introduction of a contactless pick-up program at all of its D.C.-area shopping centers in May 2020.

“This new drive-through restaurant is needed in response to structural shifts in the retail economy that are really increasing the reliance on pickup options as a part of retail operations…particularly in the last couple of years,” Van Atta said.

Shake Shack has seen a sharp increase in coronavirus cases among staff during the current nationwide surge, affecting its hours, Chief Financial Officer Katie Fogertey told investors on Tuesday (Jan. 11), adding that she expected those trends to continue.

Known for its burgers and milkshakes, Shake Shack began as a hot dog stand in New York City and now boasts 275 locations around the world, including a spot on the Plaza at Tysons Corner Center.

The company is new to drive-thrus, debuting its first in Minnesota on Dec. 6, but it intends to expand that side of its business, with a goal of opening 10 drive-thru restaurants by the end of 2022.

“We opened our first-ever drive-thru locations in Maple Grove, Minnesota and Lee’s Summit, Missouri,” Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti said for the company’s fourth-quarter update. “Early results for these two Shacks are encouraging, and we look forward to continuing to expand our drive-thru footprint in the years to come.”

Shake Shack didn’t immediately return FFXnow’s request for comment.

Shake Shack is also adding traditional, sit-down restaurants, including at the Mosaic District. Fairfax County issued a construction permit and other approvals for the site this past fall.

To make room for the new building, Federal Realty plans to relocate electric vehicle charging stations across from Panera to another part of the parking lot. Landscaping and a ramp from Route 7 compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act would be added between the restaurant and the thoroughfare.

With the planning commission’s support, the project will now go before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for a public hearing and final approval on Feb. 22.

Photo via Bryce Edwards/Flickr

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