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Local Restaurants Rebrand in Changing City

FDB Eatery general manager and executive chef Michael Natoli and Kevin Eakin, part of the family that owns the restaurant, sit in the restaurant’s new dining room. The restaurant, formerly known as Frozen Dairy Bar and Boardwalk Pizza and just Frozen Dairy Bar before that, started a rebranding effort in 2014. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)
FDB Eatery general manager and executive chef Michael Natoli and Kevin Eakin, part of the family that owns the restaurant, sit in the restaurant’s new dining room. The restaurant, formerly known as Frozen Dairy Bar and Boardwalk Pizza and just Frozen Dairy Bar before that, started a rebranding effort in 2014. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)

FDB Eatery did it to continue to serve the community as they have been for over a half century. Seven Corners Pub did it to turn around an establishment that had fallen out of favor with the community. But both local restaurants have recently rebranded in order to survive in a Falls Church that is rapidly changing amid development and a booming population.

FDB Eatery, formerly known as Frozen Dairy Bar and Boardwalk Pizza and just Frozen Dairy Bar before that, opened in 1950 as a frozen custard stand and added pizza and other light fare to its repertoire in 2004 in order to offer customers something during the winter months, when Frozen Dairy Bar regulars were less likely to eat the chilly treat.

And in 2014 the Eakin family, the owners of FDB Eatery, have transformed it more radically than it has before in order to create a dining experience for the growing number of young families moving into Falls Church.

“Branding is so important in today’s market in Falls Church,” said Michael Natoli, general manager and executive chef of FDB Eatery.

“With the amount of corporate restaurant proliferation in the area we really need to be on the cutting edge. It’s a lot more today than providing excellent service and excellent food. You have to be branded as well.”

Natoli mentioned the growth in competition over the last decade – the opening of a Paisano’s and Flippin’ Pizza store to compete with the pizza side of their business and the opening of three Sweet Frogs to compete with the frozen custard side – when talking about the need for FDB Eatery to rebrand.

Despite the steadiness of FDB Eatery’s frozen custard business, there was a slight dip in business because of the arrival of Sweet Frog and several other frozen yogurt or ice cream shops in the area.

“In addition to the Paisano’s, we had a Chipotle open up, we had a Red Robin open up,” Natoli said. “So we’ve just had a tremendous amount of restaurants open and we won’t even get into Merrifield because that’s a whole other world. But that’s a lot of competition.”

Natoli said that the Eakin family is the constant in all of the change that’s taken place over the last year. The family has owned the property where FDB Eatery is located for four generations, since the 1930s and even made a play to save the Frozen Dairy Bar when it was going to go out of business.

“So the family has the wherewithal to hang in with the business whereas if it was a mom and pop type of operation it would have gone to the wayside,” Natoli said.

“I don’t think there would have been the money to rebrand. But seeing as there were emotional ties to Frozen Dairy Bar business…they decided in 2014 to rebrand it to bring it into the metropolitan type of restaurant that it is now.”

The Frozen Dairy Bar stand, the original iteration of the restaurant, opened in 1950 and operated until 2004 as only a frozen custard shop. (Courtesy Photo)
The Frozen Dairy Bar stand, the original iteration of the restaurant, opened in 1950 and operated until 2004 as only a frozen custard shop. (Courtesy Photo)

The Eakin family spent over $250,000 to renovate the interior of the restaurant as part of the rebranding campaign. What was once a shop with over the counter and delivery service is now a full-service dining room. Instead of just frozen custard, pizza and other light fare, FDB Eatery’s menu is more of an “American-type” bistro, Natoli said.

There are many things about FDB Eatery, which the Aiken family trademarked as part of the rebranding process, that honor the tradition of what was once a Falls Church institution. Natoli said they decided to change the name the way they did in order to reflect the fact that they serve more than just frozen custard and pizza, but kept the FDB as a nod to those who have patronizing the business throughout the years. Also, the menu, which now includes Duck Empanadas, Fried Oysters and Cabernet-Braised Short Ribs, still has pizza and frozen custard.

“We have pizza as our mainstay on our menu – it’s New York style and it’s very good – and we have our full menu for takeout,” Natoli said. FDB Eatery has one of a kind pizzas like the Drunken Duck Pizza and speciality toppings like exotic mushrooms and grilled jalapenos.

“So we have a niche with the pizzas and we have a total niche with the custard,” Natoli said. “Frozen custard, because it’s also a mainstay in our business, we serve things in our dining room that are phenomenal that use the custard like our Bananas Foster and some really awesome sundaes and parfaits that use the custard….That’s one of the things we did with the rebranding. We added some really high-end items in the dining room that feature the frozen custard.

“At one time it was a really simple product. When it was just the iconic, old ice cream stand that stood on this property for many, many years. Back then it was just chocolate and vanilla. Later on they added shakes and sundaes to the menu, but now we’ve taken it to another level where we offer a lot of interesting blend-ins and toppings and we make a lot of cool desserts with the frozen custard.”

Natoli said that FDB Eatery’s target market is two-fold – they are offering up something for the foodies and for young professionals with families. And they rebranded in order to fit in with dining scenes like the ones in Clarendon in Arlington and the Mosaic District in Merrifield.

RYAN COOLEY, general manager and executive chef of Seven Corners Pub, stands behind the restaurant’s bar, where he sometimes serves as a bartender. Formerly Public House No. 7, the restaurant has undergone a transformation over the past year and is now attempting to win back the trust of the Falls Church community. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)
RYAN COOLEY, general manager and executive chef of Seven Corners Pub, stands behind the restaurant’s bar, where he sometimes serves as a bartender. Formerly Public House No. 7, the restaurant has undergone a transformation over the past year and is now attempting to win back the trust of the Falls Church community. (Photo: Drew Costley/News-Press)

Only minutes down Arlington Boulevard in the direction opposite the Mosaic District, Seven Corners Pub recently opened as a rebranding of Public House No. 7. But the impetus for rebranding was altogether different for the owners and manager of Seven Corners Pub.

“When we took over here in February of last year, we took over the name Public House No. 7,” said Ryan Cooley, general manager and executive chef at Seven Corners Pub. “And the place had kind of tarnished name with it.”

Cooley said that he and the owners tried to make internal changes at the restaurant, such as repairing and renovating the interior of the restaurant, hiring new staff and doing a menu overhaul. But that just wasn’t enough.

“We tried to change everything up, clean the place up and get the trust of the community,” Cooley said. “And it just wasn’t happening.”

So they (mostly) got rid of the English theme of the old restaurant, changed their name and are now marketing themselves and operating as an American bistro style pub.

But, like FDB Eatery, Cooley kept a few menu items, like the Shepherd’s Pie and Fish and Chips, that are a nod to the restaurant’s old theme. And Cooley and the owners have been putting in footwork around Falls Church to gain the community’s trust.

“We’re basically trying to rekindle the relationship with the neighborhood and make sure that everyone knows that we aren’t drunken buffoons like the last guys who were here,” Cooley said. “We’re a professional business and we’re going to carry ourselves that way.”

Cooley said that there were staff at the restaurant who weren’t delivering good customer service, so there was an overhaul in that arena. He said that he wants staff that actually care about the community they’re serving.

And although he said that the target demographic for Seven Corners Pub is young professionals, he wants the restaurant to have a familial feel.

“We’re trying to make it more of like a Cheers, like that neighborhood kind of pub that welcomes family and friends and stuff like that,” Cooley said. “Now we’re kind of a family-based atmosphere.”