On a Sunday morning in 1986, Reston resident Dennis Light met the woman who eventually became his wife at Marie's Restaurant.
"We had Sunday brunch together at Marie's and have been together happily ever since," Light said Tuesday as he ate lunch at the restaurant, located at the South Lakes Village Center. "This place means a lot to us. It's like an institution."
But on Friday, after 21 years, Marie's will close its doors because the village center's property manager declined to renew the restaurant's lease.
"I'm really frustrated and angry and outraged," said Marie Calilhanna, the restaurant's owner. "They want a bigger company or a franchise. I don't know. I'm losing everything."
Two officials with Trammell Crow Company, the village center's property manager, said they were advised by their attorney not to comment. However, they did said that another "locally-owned restaurant" has signed a lease and will take Marie's location in the coming weeks.
MARIE'S RESTAURANT is known for its Lebanese, Greek and Italian cuisine and for its prime location, with outdoor seating and a view of Lake Thoreau.
It is considered by many South Lakes area residents and business people to be one of Reston's best-kept secrets and a reliable, reasonably-priced establishment for lunch or dinner.
Teachers at nearby South Lakes High School, Langston Hughes Middle School and Terraset Elementary School eat at the restaurant frequently, said Sheila Van Lare, a Langston Hughes teacher.
"This is our anchor," she said. "This is a part of our community. Marie's has been a mainstay for me since 1987."
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 500 people had signed a pledge at the restaurant that said they will follow Marie's Restaurant wherever it re-locates — that is, if Calilhanna does eventually re-open the restaurant.
"It's one of those restaurants that should always be there," said Randy Taussig, a South Lakes resident. "They've got unique food that you can't find anywhere else. To hear that she has to leave is just shocking."
CALILHANNA IMMIGRATED to the United States in 1977, escaping the Lebanese civil war. She found a job in 1982 as the manager of the restaurant previously located at Marie's Restaurant's location and, after teaching herself English, bought the establishment in 1986.
She quickly developed a reputation for hard work, with both her and her two daughters working at the restaurant almost every day, from opening until closing.
"It was our home," Calilhanna said. "We spent more time here than at our house. After so many years of hard work, we have to leave everything."
For the past several months, Calilhanna's attorneys have negotiated with Trammell Crow to renew the lease, she said, even agreeing to pay higher rent. Trammell Crow declined to confirm or deny details about the negotiations.
Marie's Restaurant must vacate the location by Sept. 14, Calilhanna said. Friday, Sept. 10 is the last day the restaurant will be open for business.
Calilhanna said she wants to re-open the restaurant at another location, preferably in Reston, but is worried because she estimates she is losing as much as $500,000 in renovations and equipment she cannot take with her.
Angela Stevenson, a programmer who works near the South Lakes Village Center and often eats lunch at Marie's with co-workers, said she hopes Calilhanna can find a place and re-open soon.
"We're going to follow her wherever she goes," Stevenson said.