By Nicholas F. Benton and Matt Delaney
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that Phase 3 of his reopening process for the state in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic will commence next Wednesday, July 1.
For many Falls Church restaurants and other small businesses, this comes not a day too soon. The long-sought reopening of the central site that was Mad Fox Brewing Company in the 400 West Broad block of downtown Falls Church was launched in just the past week with the opening after almost a year’s hiatus of its successor, the Solace Outpost Brewing Company.
Another of the City’s most popular locations, the Ireland’s Four Provinces at the central intersection of W. Broad and S. Washington Streets, has been engaged in a relentless effort to stay in business, closed for the first months of the lockdown and slowly beginning, as with many other establishments, with carryout only, then the severe limitations on customers of Northam’s Phase 2 currently in place.
Colm Dillon, owner of Ireland’s Four P’s, as it is commonly known, was making it clear that his popular business, one of the most established and respected in the City, was on the brink and possibly unable to carry on past July. This was despite an extraordinary outpouring of support from his patrons, even as the restaurant itself was closed. Through a “Go Fund Me” appeal, over $52,000 was raised to help out his loyal staff rendered unemployed by the crisis.
Now, however, Dillon is buoyed by the governor’s latest announcement, which will enable his restaurant to welcome a full complement of patrons, including at his long bar, albeit under terms of “social distancing” (six feet apart).
It all depends, he told the News-Press this week, on whether the public will feel sufficiently safe and protected venturing out after three months of lockdown to enjoy what he and his fellow small business colleagues have to offer. That is a mighty incentive for him and all the Little City’s 130 restaurants to comply fully with the governor’s guidelines for maintaining a safe environment even as the virus still lurks.
At his press briefing Tuesday, Northam called for maintaining the fundamental components of a preventative program — namely, physical distancing and the wearing of face masks. He cited data showing a trend over time of declining new infections, hospitalizations, ventilator uses and deaths to justify his order that many small businesses, including restaurants, are hopeful will reverse the terrible drop in revenues they’ve endured under the pandemic lockdown over the past three months. Phase 3, in addition to opening up restaurants, includes that public gatherings can accommodate up to 250 persons, entertainment venues can operate up to 50 percent capacity, gyms at 75 percent capacity, outdoor sporting events retaining physical distancing and gradual lifting of restrictions for long-term care facilities.
Projections on how restaurants will come through the crisis have not been pretty up to this point. Some experts are on record predicting only 20 percent of restaurants in the nation may ultimately survive the crashing of their businesses since mid-March. But with news that those here will be able to, for all intents and purposes, fully reopen next week, maybe that projection won’t be so severe.
To be sure, this impacts the whole community, as in Falls Church there are over 130 restaurants who pay meals taxes that contribute valuable revenues to the City’s overall operating budget coffers. Other small businesses contribute sales and gross receipts taxes, as well.
The coronavirus pandemic caused the City’s new gastropub Solace Outpost to push back its opening from May to June, but this week began welcoming customers to the location that had been idling for nearly a year after Mad Fox’s closure last July.
An extension of Solace Brewing Company based out of Sterling, the Outpost introduced Falls Church to its exclusive beers and new food offerings called “Sauced” during a soft-opening held from last Wednesday through Sunday.
It’s a joint venture between Solace’s owners Drew Wiles, Jon Hummerick and Mike Arms, the Hilton brothers Ian and Eric, the owners of establishments such as Brixton and Player’s Club in Washington, D.C. and Steve Ryan, the owner of Blackfinn Ameripub, also in D.C.
“We’ve never been a part of anything with a food concept…[but] it’s been relatively easy” Hummerick said. “We’re the beer guys, so we do all the beer stuff and they let us do that. And they do the restaurant stuff and we let them do that.”
The sub-head to Sauced is “Pies, thighs and fries” where, as Hummerick described it, personal bar pizza pies star as the main course. The pizza is cooked akin to pies found in the northeast that feature crispy thin crust edges with a doughy middle.
Fried chicken thighs take inspiration from Blackfinn’s chicken sandwich, and will be cut up into pieces and come with five dipping sauces. And the fries come with a few distinct options, such as Currywurst and Beer Cheese and Bacon.
Introducing food into the equation may remind some of Mad Fox’s troubles in trying to balance operating both a restaurant and a brewery in one location. But Hummerick assured that the Outpost is clear about it’s priorities.
“For us, this, first and foremost, is a brewery,” Hummerick said. “From a food concept, we’re trying to keep it as simple as possible…[to] make people understand that this is a brewery first. The fact that we have the food is awesome, you know people want to eat when they’re drinking, but focusing behind our brand and focusing on making this a brewery, we’re hoping that we’ll do well.”
Solace Outpost is open from 2 – 9 p.m. everyday during Phase 2, but will switch to noon – 10 p.m. Sunday – Thursday and noon – midnight Friday and Saturday once Phase 3 kicks in next Wednesday.