Tysons, VA

The Town of Vienna is about to lose an icon.

Amphora Restaurant will permanently close its doors on Jan. 12 after occupying 377 Maple Ave. for 44 years. Word of the impending closure started circulating on social media yesterday.

“It’s impossible to put into words what this place has meant to so many,” Amphora’s owners said in their announcement on Facebook. “With all of the support you’ve shown us over the years, we are beyond humbled to have contributed to our local restaurant and neighborhood community.”

Co-owner Maria Bilidas attributes the decision to close to the challenges of operating a restaurant under the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amphora Group will instead consolidate its operations and staff at the newer Amphora Diner Deluxe that it runs in Herndon, where it also has a bakery and catering business.

“We have our bakery up in Herndon. Our corporate offices are in Herndon,” Bilidas said. “Given the current situation and the fact that we don’t see things changing in 2021 any time soon, we felt it was the prudent business decision to consolidate all our operations at this point to our restaurant up in Herndon.”

Founded in 1977 by the Cholakis and Bilidas families, Amphora offers an eclectic, comfort food-oriented menu with more than 350 items, ranging from burgers and grilled cheese to Greek, Italian, and Mexican cuisine. The Vienna restaurant is also complemented by a bakery with cakes, pies, and other desserts.

With its 24/7 operating hours, including all-day breakfast, and congenial atmosphere, the seemingly permanent Maple Avenue fixture built up a reliable local customer base, becoming a go-to venue for families, couples on date nights, and students looking to hang out late into the night.

“We love Vienna,” Bilidas said. “We all grew up in Vienna, we went to high school in Vienna, we have a very strong symbolic relationship with the Town of Vienna.”

Bilidas says the owners all labored “for days and days” over whether to close Amphora Restaurant, but when they got an offer from someone looking to purchase the property, they determined that shutting down would be the best decision for the business and their employees.

Many of the workers at Amphora’s Vienna restaurant will move to the Herndon location, and the owners are encouraging patrons to visit the diner, which has essentially the same menu.

“It’s been a long run, and we’ve made so many connections and so many friends,” Bilidas said. “Some people have moved out to our other location out west as people have moved, and they’re now regulars at our restaurant up in Herndon…We really hope [our customers] come and visit us there.”

Photo via Google Maps

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About four months after opening its doors at The Boro in Tysons, Hokkaido Ramen Santouka has found its soup legs.

At first, the ramen shop focused exclusively on its signature noodle soups, but the menu has since expanded with appetizers, desserts, and seasonal items that are available for a limited time.

“We want to make sure that what we do offer was at the highest quality that we could possibly do,” Junchiro Kawakami, the general manager of Santouka Tysons, said. “Now that it’s been a couple months, all of our staff have gotten used to the menu items and the general operation of the restaurant. We felt comfortable expanding our menu.”

Originally started in Hokkaido, Japan, in 1983, Santouka chose The Boro as its first Virginia location because they saw “huge potential” in all the development happening in the Tysons area, Kawakami says.

Plans for the new restaurant got underway in 2019 with the goal of opening this past March.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Fairfax County, and the opening was delayed due to concerns from the construction company about the safety of its crews, according to Kawakami.

The pause gave Kawakami and Food’s Style USA, which operates the Tysons location, time to adapt to the unique constraints imposed by the pandemic.

In addition to obtaining sneezeguards and dividers for each table, as well as protective equipment and cleaning supplies for employees, Santouka Tysons pivoted from a mostly dine-in operation to one that could accommodate more carryout and delivery orders.

That required finding takeout containers that can hold soup and noodles separately and replacing a key ingredient.

“We normally use lard for one of our ingredients, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to use that for carryout,” Kawakami explained. “As you might be able to guess, once it gets colder, it starts to look very unappetizing, so we had to change that ingredient to an oil base.”

While opening in the middle of a pandemic has been a challenge, Kawakami says the restaurant has been “going strong,” thanks to the support of its new customers and its suppliers’ flexibility with the changing construction schedule and operations.

In the hopes of carrying that success over into the new year, Santouka Tysons has added some new menu items over the past month, including tsukemen – where the noodles are dipped instead of kept in soup – and a riff on dora-yaki – a pancake filled with red bean paste – that involves bacon bits and maple syrup.

Kawakami says the family-sized, delivery-only appetizer dishes that Santouka has been offering during the holiday season have proven popular.

He has also gotten adept at using social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, to stay engaged with customers and share promotions, such as a Japanese snack giveaway that will take place on Jan. 1.

“Our aim is to bring to… the DMV area authentic Japanese ramen,” Kawakami said. “That hasn’t changed, but how we do that, we had to think about it and change that up.”

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Jinya Ramen Bar will kick off the new year with a pop-up in the Mosaic District, the noodle shop chain announced today (Wednesday).

Scheduled to open within the next six weeks, the space will be paired with a Japanese-inspired dessert shop that offers soft-serve ice cream and donuts. The pop-up space will be open Thursdays through Sundays.

Jinya’s existing Mosaic District location (2911 District Ave.) is also still open for takeout, delivery, and indoor dining in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

Jinya is also adding menu items for the holiday season that will be available at all four of its spots in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, including the Mosaic restaurant:

Holiday cocktails

  • Sassy Old Fashioned: Toki whiskey with honey and saffron syrup and orange bitters, garnished with an orange peel and cherry
  • Winter Blossom: Etsu gin with cranberry syrup, citrus, and Asian pear puree, topped with sake

Chef’s specials

  • Soft Shell Crab Bun: a steamed bun stuffed with crispy soft-shell crab, avocado, and baby mixed greens
  • Spicy Maze-Men: extra-thick noodles with no broth, dressed with umami bonito Japanese aioli and topped with pork chashu, kimchi, seasoned egg, green and white onions, bonito flakes, and nori (seaweed)

The specialty cocktails cost $10. The holiday menu items will be available through New Year’s Day.

Photo courtesy Jinya Ramen Bar

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El Tio Tex-Mex Grill has been ordered by a federal court to properly compensate workers at all its restaurants, including its locations in McLean (1433 Center Street) and Falls Church (7630 Lee Highway).

Federal investigators found that Mejia Corporation, the company that operates El Tio, had violated labor laws by not paying minimum wage and overtime to tipped employees, particularly bussers and food runners, the U.S. Department of Labor reported yesterday (Wednesday).

A consent judgment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia requires El Tio to pay $848,006 in back wages and liquidated damages to 209 employees for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets rules for minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor in the U.S.

“This employer failed to pay workers the wages they had legally earned, and then attempted to conceal that violation,” DOL Wage and Hour Baltimore District Director Nicholas Fiorello said.

Investigators in the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division determined that El Tio did not pay wages to tipped employees when they worked more than 80 hours in a pay period, forcing them to depend entirely on tips for those hours.

El Tio also paid kitchen staff standard rates instead of overtime when they worked more than 40 hours in a week. Federal investigators say that the restaurant chain falsified payroll records to suggest it had paid overtime.

The violations encompassed all four of the El Tio restaurants that Mejia Corp. currently runs, all of them in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County has three El Tio venues, with a Great Falls location (9835 Georgetown Pike) in addition to the ones in McLean and Falls Church. The original El Tio is in Gainesville.

A fifth El Tio in downtown Washington, D.C., was also included in the investigation and court judgment, but that location permanently closed its doors in November 2019.

This is the second time in three years that El Tio has come under federal investigation. Mejia Corp. agreed to pay $40,000 in 2019 to settle an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that alleged at least three male servers at the Gainesville El Tio had been subjected to harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex.

On top of requiring the employer to pay back wages and damages, the judgment issued by the Baltimore-based U.S. District Court in the labor case prohibits El Tio from violating any FLSA provisions in the future.

“Other employers in this industry should use the resolution of this case as an opportunity to review their own pay practices to ensure they comply with the law and avoid such violations,” Fiorello said. “Workers who face similar circumstances or anyone with questions should call us to speak confidentially with a trained hour and wage professional.”

The DOL Wage and Hour Division has a toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243), and more information on the division’s work can be found at www.dol.gov/whd.

Photo via Google Maps

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Blend 111 is now offering express, to-go lunch options.

Launched yesterday (Tuesday), the CasArepa menu features Latin-inspired street food, including arepas in a variety of flavors, tequenos, and patacones. These are all popular dishes throughout Colombia and Venezuela.

The food is intended to be paired with a range of new Latin American “refresher” juices, including flavors like black currant, papaya, passion fruit and guava.

The lunch carryout options are available from noon to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays.

Orders should be submitted by smartphone and can be picked up from the restaurant’s front door at 111 Church Street. Guests are also welcome to eat on the restaurant’s outdoor back patio depending on the availability of space.

Blend 111 is a restaurant and wine bar that opened in the Town of Vienna in August 2019. It offers lunch and dinner menus with South American cuisine, wine from Spain and France, and coffee roasted in the store.

Photo courtesy Blend 111

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With Thanksgiving around the corner, a number of local restaurants are preparing an array of possible feasts that can be taken home, as the COVID-19 pandemic forces families to rethink the usual communal celebrations.

Vienna’s Clarity (442 Maple Ave. E.) will have ThanksgivingToGo, the website said. For $45, diners can enjoy a turkey, sweet potatoes, french beans, gravy, and cranberry sauce.

Clarity chef and owner Jon Krinn says he is happy to be able to provide this carryout service during this holiday season.

“We are thankful that we are in a position to provide for ourselves and our guests, and we want everyone to stay safe so we can all get through this,” Krinn said. “Nothing can take away the relationships and bonds we have built and strengthened this year.”

Other local Vienna restaurants offering Thanksgiving to-go specials include:

In McLean, J. Gilbert’s will serve its guests a three-course turkey dinner and assemble Thanksgiving carryout kits for those who choose to eat at home.

The restaurant’s general manager, Jim Hetrick, says the health and safety of his customers during this holiday season will be the restaurant’s top priority.

“Thanksgiving dinner will be the same great feast that our guests have travelled miles to enjoy in previous years,” Hetrick said. “…This year we have adapted additional measures so our guests can be confident when they dine with us.”

J. Gilbert’s safety measures include socially distancing its tables, performing continuous sanitizing throughout the restaurant, requiring all employees to wear masks, and monitoring the team on a daily basis.

Kazan Restaurant (6813 Redmond Drive) is among the other McLean restaurants that will offer takeout Thanksgiving meals to-go.

Urban Plates in Tysons will serve Thanksgiving Dinner for both dine-in and take out. Chief Marketing Officer Steve Greer says its customers can expect the holiday dinner to be healthy with all offerings made from scratch, including organic produce and cage-free turkeys with no hormones or antibiotics.

“Thanksgiving this year may look different, but at Urban Plates, we’re committed to offering healthy, wholesome meals at affordable prices throughout the holiday season,” Greer said. “…We want to take the stress out of cooking a Thanksgiving meal so that you can enjoy meaningful time with those you’re with, rather than with your kitchen.”

A few other restaurants in Tysons that will provide Thanksgiving to-go includes:

Local restaurants in Merrifield that will serve traditional and non-traditional Thanksgiving meals include:

Falls Church also have a few restaurants that will serve customers on Thanksgiving Day:

Photo via Clarity Restaurant 

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After enduring months of construction, Vienna residents and town officials officially welcomed the Cedar Park Shopping Center back to the neighborhood with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a Shop and Stroll event on Saturday (Nov. 14).

Located at the corner of Park Street and Cedar Lane, the 75,472 square-foot shopping center has been transformed by an extensive renovation that introduced new façades for the buildings and a reconfigured parking lot.

“Cedar Park was thoughtfully redesigned with the community in mind and now better reflects the Town of Vienna, which is known for its rich history and small-town culture,” First Washington Reality senior vice president and national director of leasing Wright Sigmund said.

First Washington Realty has owned the Cedar Park Shopping Center for the past 13 years, and much of that time had been spent in conversations about how to update the property, according to CEO Alex Nyhan.

Work on a revitalization began in earnest about five years ago with the goal of creating a more contemporary, welcoming environment for both visitors and tenants. JL Architects designed the new look, which includes new signage and outdoor benches.

However, the most substantial undertaking of the multimillion-dollar renovation project was the parking lot redesign.

In addition to sporting a repaved surface and additional crosswalks, the lot has been reoriented to run parallel to the storefronts, instead of perpendicular, making it safer, more accessible, and easier to navigate.

Nyhan admits that revamping the parking lot was a challenge, but the effort was worthwhile to attract new tenants while retaining longtime Cedar Park occupants like Dollar Tree, McDonalds, and Hunan Delight.

“We’ve had some wonderful merchants with us here at this center for a long time,” Nyhan said. “…In the end, our ability to create this community gathering place has everything to do with the merchants and their ability to invest in their people and their stores and deliver wonderful services to this community.”

Still anchored by CVS Pharmacy, Cedar Park Shopping Center added three new tenants while it was undergoing construction, which started on Jan. 25 and finished on Oct. 15:

  • El Sol Restaurant & Tequileria, which specializes in traditional Mexican street food and has a mezcal bar
  • Simply Social Coffee, a café with locally roasted, gourmet coffee and comfort foods, including salads, sandwiches, and breakfast food
  • Born 2 Dance, a dance studio whose headquarters were previously located on Maple Avenue

Cedar Park’s relaunch comes at a critical time for the center’s businesses after the COVID-19 pandemic compounded the challenges of operating during a construction project that closed off foot traffic. Read More

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For the fourth year in a row, the Tysons 2050 event has put forward a rosy view of the future of the area, but this year, those lofty dreams are weighted down by some harsh realities about challenges ahead for Tysons.

Sponsored by the Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce, the event features voices from different industries around Tysons discussing what lies ahead for the region. Those experts recognized that the future is harder to predict this year. COVID-19 is on the rise again nationally and locally, and the onset of winter is leaving many businesses that had gone outside for activities scrambling for new solutions.

“What happens to offices and malls?” asked Sol Glasner, CEO of the Tysons Partnership. “I don’t know, and you shouldn’t listen to anyone who says they do know. The crystal ball is murky.”

Glasner said offices may need to be reconfigured, but he doesn’t believe the need for office space will fully disappear any more than retail will.

“Our shopping areas have proven adept to changing to consumer patterns,” Glasner said.

Mike Whatley, vice president of the National Restaurant Association, says one of the advantages for Tysons-area restaurants and retail is having more flexibility in using their space than their counterparts in D.C., like larger sidewalks for curbside pick-up.

“The ability to have extra space, to have extra flexibility, means restaurants will survive and thrive,” Whatley said. “When people are looking now and post-pandemic at where they want to live, you have to have that vibrant restaurant scene and culture.”

Whatley said one of the keys to surviving the season will be embracing going digital.

“Restaurants that survive are the ones that are embracing tech [and] communicating with customers,” Whatley said. “You do see a lot of them in the Tysons community, ones that are able to reach out to customers.”

Tony Hudgins, Vice President of TransitScreen, said ghost kitchens — food vendors that don’t operate out of a restaurant space — could take up a bigger role in the restaurant scene after the pandemic. Read More

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The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed another Tysons area restaurant.

Da Domenico has been permanently closed since Oct. 10 after operating at 1992 Chain Bridge Road for 39 years, owner Sayed Hussain confirmed to Tysons Reporter today.

Patch first reported the closure this morning after noticing a statement on the Italian restaurant’s website explaining that it has been unable to remain open “given the pandemic and its implications.”

Hussain says the property owner chose not to renew Da Domenico’s lease, which was coming to an end, and it was “tough” to stay in business with the challenges imposed by COVID-19, which has required restaurants to adopt a range of safety measures and restrict the number of customers they serve to enforce social distancing protocols.

Before it closed, Da Domencio had limited its operating hours to 5-9:30 p.m., though the website states that it had hoped to reopen for lunch soon.

Ongoing construction on Chain Bridge Road also contributed to the difficult decision to close, according to Hussain.

“There’s a lot of history attached to this restaurant,” Hussain said, noting that Da Domenico had garnered many loyal customers, including politicians and celebrities, during the nearly four decades it was in business.

Hussain says Da Domencio could reopen if he finds a new location, but for now, patrons can find the same Italian cuisine at its sister restaurant, Zeffirelli, in the Town of Herndon.

Zeffirelli, which Hussain also owns, has not encountered the same issues as Da Domencio and remains open, albeit with shortened, dinner-only hours.

Loyal Da Domenico patrons who visit Zeffirelli can get wine or a dessert on the house if they tell their server that they’re coming from the Tysons restaurant, Hussain says.

Photo via Google Maps

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With colder weather approaching, Tysons-area restaurants are preparing for a warm, socially-distant eating experience for their guests.

Last week, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to approve an ordinance amendment that allows enclosed tents with heaters, both inside and outside, for outdoor dining, fitness, and exercise activities, and a few local restaurants are planning to take advantage of the ordinance.

Founding Farmers (1800 Tysons Blvd.) is planning to follow the ordinance by creating an outdoor-dining space. Majority-owned by American family farmers, Founding Farmers serves American dishes, along with seasonal fruits and vegetables from Virginia farms.

“We’re working through the final details of our tents but we do plan on installing some soon,” Farmers Restaurant Group Vice President and Marketing and Communications Specialist Meaghan O’Shea said.

“What we’re hoping to achieve is to continue to offer safe dining options both inside and outside through the cooler weather months,” O’Shea said. “If you want to be outside, we want to be sure we can accommodate that request and that it’s an enjoyable experience for both the guests and our team.”

Tyson’s first annual Restaurant Week earlier this month (Oct. 12-18) was a huge success, according to many local restaurant owners and managers.

Urban Plates (1782M Galleria at Tysons II), which participated in Tyson’s Restaurant Week, currently has an outdoor heated patio, so no further accommodations need to be made, according to General Manager Tony Bass.

“We also always have inside seating available, following Fairfax County COVID-19 guidelines — less than 10 people at one table, sitting six feet apart,” Bass said.

The Town of Vienna has not yet permitted restaurants to use closed tents for outdoor dining. The town council most recently re-adopted an emergency ordinance allowing institutions and businesses to get temporary waivers from zoning regulations on outdoor activities on Oct. 5, but the measure still requires tents to “remain open on all sides.”

Still, that limitation has not stopped the town’s restaurants from proactively preparing for the winter months.

Vienna’s Blend 111 (111 Church St. NW), a food and wine bar that specializes in Latin dishes, has already began “winterizing” its patio, according to owner/sommelier Mike Biddick.

“We added gas heaters, pop-up tents for use when it is rainy, and blankets,” Biddick said. “We are also working with a firm to design eco-friendly, heated chair cushions for later into the winter.”

Biddick says over 90% of his customers choose to enjoy their meals outside, but the restaurant has still worked to create a safe, socially-distant dining experience for the customers that choose to sit inside.

“Inside, we set up only eight tables,” Biddick said. “…While our open kitchen required that we installed very robust air ventilation when we opened last year, we also installed air particle filters next to each of the tables for added airflow and circulation. Masks are mandatory, as are gloves for our staff.”

Photo courtesy Jennie Kuperstein

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