When Atoussa Ardalan, Kamran Jannesari and Sam Mohammadi purchased the Alexandria Diner last November, they thought they'd have a couple of years to run the business. Now, it looks like they may only have a few months before demolition will begin to make way for a new seven-story tower suite at the Hampton Inn.
While the owners are anticipating that this will happen, there is a possible silver lining. Hilda Froelke, general manager for the Hampton Inn, said that while they're going ahead with plans for the 57-suite building, the Inn hasn't decided yet if the diner will be demolished. She said that they're looking at a couple of options, and that the architects are still working on a way to integrate the new building with the diner.
In the meantime, Ardalan and her partners continue doing what they do best -- running a quality restaurant. As if the looming expansion isn't enough, they are also dealing with the ongoing Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.
Located in the shadow of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, construction equipment and crews surround the restaurant on a regular basis. The transportation department has not made it easy for the diner to do business.
"We just keep coming to work and keep it going the way it is," Ardalan said. "Our customers keep asking, 'How do you survive?'"
Yet it’s the customers who keep the restaurant going—dedicated customers who are willing to overlook the dug-up parking lot, construction dust and overall inconvenience of just trying to get to the diner.
Located in the shadow of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, construction equipment and crews surround the restaurant on a regular basis. The transportation department has not made it easy for the diner to do business. Ironically, the demolition is not due to the bridge, but rather a desire by the hotel to expand their business.
“It’s hard for people to get in. We used to have three entrances; now we have one,” Ardalan said. “If somebody misses the entrance, we’ve lost them.”
This is because once somebody has passed the diner, there’s no easy turn-around. Route One crosses over I-495 and continues into Old Town. Only the most dedicated customer would try to figure out how to maneuver busy Route One to return to the diner.
THERE ARE REGULARS, of course. These are the customers who keep coming no matter how hard it is to get in. They come for the breakfasts, the steaks, the burgers, and the atmosphere. Cora Moore is one of those customers; she has been coming since the diner opened five years ago.
“I love it here. I like the atmosphere and I like their service,” said Moore, who had just finished eating breakfast with Carla Jones.
“It’s really clean,” Jones said. “I liked the t-bone; it was the bomb.”
“Regardless of the construction, I come straight here after church,” Moore said.
Sometimes she comes with a friend; other times she come by herself and reads a book. She always has the same table by the window, and asks for Musa to wait on their table whenever possible. Moore was surprised to hear that the restaurant was closing and hoped that it would be awhile before anything happened.
“It’s hard to find a place that’s economically priced and with good atmosphere,” Moore said. “I come from Maryland, but it’s no problem for me.”
The diner gets some business from hotel guests who are staying at the adjacent Hampton Inn. They also do catering and carry-out. There are also diners who are just passing through and are there for the first time, like the Pevelacqua family, who stopped in for lunch on their way to a wedding in Annapolis. With such an extensive menu, both adults and children were able to find something to eat. From spaghetti and meatballs to hamburgers to bacon and eggs, the diner offers a little bit of everything.
Ardalan and her partners pride themselves on the menu, and said, “What I like is the concept of a diner—breakfast all day long. Yet at night, you can dine on filet mignon or salmon and enjoy a glass of wine.”
Ardalan said that breakfast is a time to eat and go, but at night, customers bring in a date or their family and take their time. Sometimes, they even put candles on the table.
Employees at the diner seem to take the disruptions and eminent closing in stride. A few have been at the diner since it first opened. Ardalan said that most of them have 2-3 jobs, but are hoping to be employed for as long as possible. At this point, the diner could close at any time, but in the meantime, the owners will keep serving up their popular country-fried steak and pure beef hamburgers.