With his distinctive white goatee and his matching chef's suit, Eduardo Faubert has long been a recognizable face around Lake Anne Plaza.
Now the owner and operator of Jasmine Cafe has a new title: chairman of the Merchants and Professional Committee. He will lead the group, commonly referred to as the Lake Anne Merchant's Association which is an arm of the Lake Anne Condominium Association, during a time of uncertainty and rancor. Faubert takes over after a contentious election, or two, and a series of public gaffes and lingering feuds involving committee members.
Faubert first opened his restaurant, named for his wife Jasmine, on the plaza 15 years ago. Faubert wanted to make sure the business was on solid ground before moving his family to the bricked banks of Lake Anne; 13 years later he has become a fixture in the community whether it be in his kitchen or on the tennis court.
It wasn't always the case. Faubert, a father of two, remembers Lake Anne's lean years shortly after Reston Town Center opened for business back in 1989. "When the town center opened they became the center of the universe for Northern Virginia," he said. "And we suffered from a lack of attention and our business fell, no doubt about it. They were it."
Over the years, however, the "pendulum has swung," Faubert said. Catering to different crowds, both town centers — the modern and the original — have learned to coexistent and thrive together.
AS THE MERCHANT association's new leader, Faubert wants to make sure Lake Anne remains a vibrant community that will continue to attract residents and visitors alike for years to come. "Our shared goal is to band together to call attention to what we all have to offer down here," Faubert said. "We don't need massive amounts of business to sustain ourselves like they do. We are smaller and a little more humble."
It's the "banding together" that could prove most difficult. One of Faubert's biggest hurdles during his chairmanship will be restoring the coalition of about 30 shopkeepers. In recent years, the association has showed signs of fracture. "We need to bring the merchants back together as a team," Faubert said, sitting at one of his al fresco tables. "The argument over Il Cigno and the tent is water over the dam, now."
Victoria Reid, a past merchant association president and longtime owner of the Reston's Used Book Shop, said Faubert is just the tonic that the association needs. "The timing is perfect," Reid said. "We've been through a period of growth and change and Eduardo is just the man to lead us."
Recently, the plaza has been embroiled in an often ugly controversy surrounding a canopy erected over the outside patio at Il Cigno. The battles over the Il Cigno's former canopy still linger, said outgoing chairperson Beverly Byer, who recently moved her own shop out of Lake Anne. She will open a new store in Leesburg later this year. "The tent caused a lot of bitter feelings," Byer said. "Hopefully now that has been resolved and since the board has approved Eduardo's selection, we can move on."
Byer said it had been "a challenge" being chairperson. "Only this year has it suddenly become a coveted position. I gladly pass the torch," she said, laughing. "I think Eduardo will bring about a sense of unity again. He is extremely charismatic, articulate and intelligent and I think those qualities are essential in leadership and he is about building communities and easing any dissension. It will be healing for the community, because there had been all of that confusion and tension over the tent."
In addition to the tent imbroglio, this past summer the merchant's association was forced to cancel its popular summer concert series.
"The funds were not secured to pay for the music," Faubert said, blaming improper budgeting on the last minute cancellation.
In addition, the Reston Festival picked up stakes and moved to Reston Town Center this past year while the 4th annual Multicultural Festival fell victim to Hurricane Isabel.
To complicate matters further, in the election, Faubert defeated Fouad Arbid, brother of Tony Arbid, the owner of Il Cigno, and a Lake Anne business owner himself.
FOUAD ARBID, THE PAST secretary of the association, said he ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility because he, and other merchants, were tired of not knowing where their association contributions were going. "There has been no checks and balances," he said. "I just wanted to get some accounting but we never got any reports." The annual fees, which are on top of the condominium fees, can range from anywhere from $500 for small businesses to $3,000 for the plaza's largest tenants, Arbid said.
Arbid said there were actually two elections. "I won technically because I took proxy votes into the meeting," he said. "But apparently that didn't sit well with some people."
Byer saw it differently. "What happened was at the eleventh hour, Fouad nominated himself to be in the running for the selection of the chairperson," Byer said. "Because the numbers came out about even, we decided to hold another selection process. When that was held the majority was in favor of Eduardo."
Later Byer said the two candidates had, in fact, been even during the initial selection round.
The hastily called second round of elections was more of a "beauty contest," according to Arbid. He added that he doubted that his brother's tent battles affected his candidacy, but he added that some people were "clearly uncomfortable" with his candidacy. "I hope it's not a lingering issue."
Faubert agrees. "The tent debate did have significant impacts on all of our relationships. It affected everyone," the new chair said. "It is sad how it frayed us in different directions and that is why my focus will be to bring us back together."
While not speaking for the group, Byer insisted that she treated each candidate on an case-by-case basis. "As far as Fouad goes, it's possible that some people may have been uncomfortable with him assuming the position given his history with his brother," Byer noted.
Comparing the past squabbles to a "couple of bickering siblings," Faubert is confident that all sides will be able to reconcile their differences, and put aside hurt feelings. "The bottom line is that I love it down here, nobody forced us to be here," Faubert said. "We're here because we choose to be here. I love bumping into my neighbors."
Reid, who was president during the tent controversy, said Faubert will unite the business owners and help in the healing process. "He will help move us to the next level of opportunity and to get the community to know us better."
Learning from recent errors, Arbid hopes that Faubert will begin to control costs. Arbid said he didn't see much of an agenda for Faubert during the election, but he said he offered to help the new president "in any way that I can."
Faubert said that his biggest challenge would be to collect more money and "chase more dollars" from the other store owners, so that "we can do more activities." But he said that because of the nature of Lake Anne and the size of the businesses it attracts, owners are naturally frugal.