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Highs and Lows snack shop on Richmond Highway (photo by Matt Blitz)

The owner of a local “exotic” snack shop has been arrested as part of a drug ring investigation by county police.

Last week, the Fairfax County Police Department announced it had arrested four individuals related to an investigation into an “extensive drug ring” in the Mount Vernon District.

One of those arrested was Matthew Powers, owner of the snack and collectible shop “Highs & Lows” which has locations on Richmond Highway and in Springfield Town Center. There’s also a shop inside the mall in Pentagon City.

Highs and Lows is advertised as having the “biggest selection of exotic sodas and snacks” in Virginia, with snacks “from all seven continents.”

Powers, who goes by the moniker “Fresh” and calls himself the shop’s “CE-BRO,” appeared over the summer on Fox5DC to promote the shops.

After a months-long investigation, FCPD says it arrested Powers and charged him with six counts of distributing narcotics and two counts of money laundering.

“During the operation, the detectives successfully confiscated a range of illicit substances, including Psilocybin and LSD, along with two firearms,” police said in the Sept. 18 press release. “Additionally, they seized over $138k in cash, discovered several bank accounts, valuable jewelry, and even a Porsche SUV – all believed to be connected to the illegal operations.”

The release notes that the seized narcotics have an estimated “street value” of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Powers is being held on a $10,000 bond.

FFXnow has reached out to FCPD for more details and to see if the stores were involved in any of the alleged illegal activity but didn’t hear back by publication.

As of yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon, Highs & Lows on Richmond Highway was closed, and its phone number was disconnected. FFXnow emailed the business for comment but has not heard back either as of publication.

Three others were also arrested along with Powers, all charged with similar crimes. Those three men are in custody at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center without bond.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck announces the 2023 Environmental Excellence Award winners (via Fairfax County)

A senior at Langley High School, a county planner who helped craft an environmental plan for Reston, and a local business dedicated to reducing waste are among the recipients of this year’s Fairfax County Environmental Excellence Awards.

Handed out annually since 2000, the awards recognize residents, county staff, businesses and other organizations “who demonstrate extraordinary leadership within the community and exceptional dedication to the preservation and enhancement of the county’s natural resources,” according to the Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination.

Announced at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 12), the winners were selected by the Environmental Quality Advisory Council, an advisory group appointed by the board. The council administers the awards with OEEC’s support.

“By giving their time, passion and expertise for the betterment of our environment, these awardees are true climate champions,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, who chairs the board’s Environmental Committee. “We applaud them for leading by example and helping to ensure that our county residents and visitors can enjoy a healthy and beautiful Fairfax County for decades to come.”

The lone winner in the individual county resident category was Mei Torrey, a rising senior at Langley High School who “promotes and actively seeks opportunities to increase awareness of, and take action on, local sustainability issues,” the OEEC says.

Now president of her school’s Saxons Go Green environmental club, Torrey has organized fundraisers and worked with the nonprofit Clean Fairfax to design and distribute reusable bags to local retailers and low-income communities, according to the county.

The 2023 award lineup features three winners in the “county employee” category:

Hugh Whitehead, an Urban Forester with the Urban Forest Management Division. In 2016, Mr. Whitehead initiated a tree planting program in partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools. Since 2016, a total of 494 trees have been planted at twenty-one different K through 12 schools including seven Title 1 schools. This program not only supports the Board’s Sustainability Initiatives, reforestation goals, and recommendations from the Joint Environmental Task Force, but furthers educational opportunities throughout the county.

Joe Gorney, a Planner with the Department of Planning and Development, Environment and Development Review Branch. Mr. Gorney works collaboratively with other county agencies on a diverse range of environmental review topics, working to create a sustainable future for residents and employees. He was the staff lead for the Environmental Plan guidance update for the Reston planning study, designating Reston as “biophilic” community.

Craig Carinci, Director of Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, Stormwater Planning Division. Mr. Carinci provides excellence in leadership through monitoring and improving stream health. During his tenure as Director, Fairfax County has restored over 100,000 linear feet of streams, facilitated by his open-minded leadership and business acumen that fearlessly encourages his team to push forward on initiatives and collaborate with partners to achieve cost savings.

The Environmental Excellence Awards for organizations and businesses went to Trace the Zero Waste Store, which can be found at 140 Church Street NW in Vienna, and the grounds committee of the Montebello Condominium Unit Owners Association. Read More


You wouldn’t guess from looking at the warmly lit, orderly store that Vienna’s Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio is about to turn 70 years old.

The beauty and skin care shop will hit that milestone this Friday, Sept. 1, making it the town’s second oldest business to still be standing — after the Money & King Funeral Home, according to store owner Sharon Holland.

Anticipating that many potential attendees will be out of town for Labor Day weekend, Holland is planning to throw a birthday bash on Saturday, Sept. 9 instead. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., there will be food, champagne, games with prizes, store-wide discounts, and giveaways, including an offer of a gift with any purchase.

“It’ll be a lot of fun,” Holland said. “We usually have a lot of fun at our events. At Christmas time, we have an ugly sweater Christmas party, which always is a big hit, so that’s a lot of fun too.”

Established in 1953, the Vienna franchise of Merle Norman Cosmetics first set up shop on the west side of town before relocating to Danor Plaza when the shopping center opened in the 1960s. It has occupied the corner suite at 401 Maple Avenue East ever since, according to Holland.

The business came into Holland’s life through her marriage: her husband’s mother bought the store from its original owner in 1971, and she helped run it until they sold it to a friend in 1986.

During that time, the pair added a Merle Norman franchise in Fair Oaks Mall, and in 1990, they expanded further with a store in Centreville that lasted 25 years.

On Sept. 1, 2015, the same day that the Centreville studio closed — a decision influenced by her mother-in-law getting older and repeated rent increases — Holland brought their journey full circle by re-acquiring the Vienna location.

“We bought this one back, so it’s back in the family, so to speak,” Holland said.

A user of Merle Norman products herself, Holland attributes the Vienna studio’s longevity in part to the loyalty of “Merle girls” — as the company calls its regular customers.

Founder Merle Norman developed “Three Steps to Beauty” — a cold cream, Miracol lotion and a power base — while studying medicine and chemistry in college, according to the company’s official history.

After initially planning to sell the cream, a deal killed by the 1929 stock market crash, Norman instead opened her own store in Santa Monica, California, in 1931 and saw such success that 94 studios were in the works by the end of 1934.

Still owned by Norman’s family, the company has stayed true to her practice of letting customers try its makeup and skin care products for free before they make a purchase, Holland says.

“We’re not pushy, you know. We let you decide what you like, try it if you like it, that’s great. If you don’t like it, that’s fine too,” Holland said. “…Sometimes they come in and just chat. It’s a safe place for women to come, and yeah, they just like it. They like coming in here and the personal attention that they get, and you make friends. We make friends with all of our customers.” Read More

Amber Taylor has signed a lease to open Fonts Books & Gifts at 6262B Old Dominion Drive in McLean this fall (courtesy Amber Taylor)

McLean is getting its own independent bookstore, filling a geographical gap in between Vienna’s Bards Alley and One More Page Books in Arlington.

In fact, Fonts Books & Gifts owner Amber Taylor prepared to launch her own business by working as a bookseller and events manager at One More Page.

Taylor says opening her own store was her goal when she met with One More Page owner Eileen McGervey for coffee and a chat about four years ago. McGervey mentioned that she was hiring and suggested working at the Arlington shop would give Taylor useful experience.

“I immediately took her up on her offer (while still running my consulting business),” Taylor told FFXnow by email. “I truly believe the education she and her whole team gave me will be a key to my success. I’m excited to add another bookstore to the growing family of stores in Northern Virginia.”

Located at 6262B Old Dominion Drive in Chesterbrook Plaza, Fonts Books & Gifts will officially open its doors in October, but McLean residents can already support the business with purchases online through and, for those inclined toward audiobooks.

In addition to books, the store will sell “unique gifts, greeting cards, journaling supplies, candles, stickers, ‘dry’ spirits and non-alcoholic beer, and more,” according to a press release.

Fonts also plans to host author events and book signings, book club meetings, journaling classes, comedy nights, and other activities, including fundraiser evenings to benefit local schools and nonprofits.

Some events could be held in a small outdoor reading area behind the 1,045-square-foot store that can accommodate eight to 10 people.

“One of my favorite things about local bookstores is the community they nurture,” Taylor said. “Customers and booksellers develop long relationships, driven by a shared love of books and stories. They help each other explore unknown worlds and topics. And, there is always something new coming in the door.”

Though originally from Ohio, Taylor says she has been an Arlington resident for 25 years, 10 of them in a neighborhood right on the McLean border. She notes that her daughter attended the Montessori School of McLean, which is directly behind Chesterbrook Plaza.

While this is her first attempt to run her own bookstore, Taylor says “books have always been an important part of my life and that of my family.” An avid reader, she has aunts and cousins who’ve worked as librarians and publishers.

She’s eager for Fonts to join Fairfax County’s growing independent bookstore scene, which also includes the kid-focused toy and book store Child’s Play at 6645 Old Dominion Drive.

“The importance of books and stories has just always been part of me,” Taylor said. “I am thrilled to now be a member of the independent bookstore community, especially at a time when it is more important than ever to support diverse and creative voices.”

FOX5 reporter Erin Como stands in front of Mercury Fountain at Reston Town Center (via FOX5)

Reston was under the lens on Friday (Aug. 25), as FOX 5 featured the planned community in its series on notable neighborhoods in the D.C. region.

The series, called Zip Trip, broadcast from Reston Town Center’s pavilion in the morning. The show highlighted the top five attractions in Reston: Reston Community Center (#5), Tephra Institute of Contemporary Art (#4), Lake Fairfax Park (#3), Lake Anne Village Center (#2), and the town center (#1).

Reporter Erin Como said that Reston Town Center “offers all forms of fun,” ranging from the iconic Mercury fountain to shopping and events under the recently renovated pavilion.

Featured businesses and other organizations included:

Bike Lane Brewing & Cafe and the Lake Anne Brew House put their drinks to the test in a battle of the brews, while NOVA Wild presented its animal friends — including recent additions to the rebranded zoo’s family.

The feature also included a roundup on the real estate market in Reston.

Rob Tucker, a local pickle ball and tennis instructor who works for Reston Association, was recognized at the a hometown hero during the trip.

“My work is to promote the live, work, play motto,” Tucker said.

The last Zip Trip for the year will take in National Harbor on Friday (Sept. 1). FOX 5 visited 15 cities in the summer tour.

Screenshot via FOX5


A popular taiyaki pop-up based out of Chantilly is settling down near the Dunn Loring Metro station for its first-ever permanent shop.

After working the D.C. area’s farmers market circuit since 2021, Rice Culture will start selling the fish-shaped, Instagram-ready Japanese treats out of a brick-and-mortar store in the Shops at Avenir Place — potentially as soon as this October.

The new location at 2672D Avenir Place will offer an expanded menu with taiyaki ice cream to take advantage of the space built out by Bruster’s Real Ice Cream, which closed in 2020, Rice Culture co-founder and baker MikkiJo Bayawa says.

“We’ll be serving Asian-inspired soft-serve flavors in the taiyaki, and the taiyaki will act as the cone,” Bayawa told FFXnow. “So, that’s something that’s going to be new and exciting, a menu item that we wouldn’t have been able to serve at farmers markets.”

Rice Culture began early in the COVID-19 pandemic out of a similar craving for comfort that spurred a national frenzy of bread-baking.

A native of New Jersey, Bayawa moved to Northern Virginia about five years ago to work on Amazon’s data centers. Upon arriving, however, she found no substitute for the taiyakis hawked at the Jersey-based Japanese grocery store Mitsuwa — a void that particularly stood out once the pandemic limited her and fiancé Kevin Tsai’s travel away from their Centreville apartment.

So, she decided to fill the gap herself, buying a machine that could make up to six taiyakis at a time. Though the waffles are traditionally filled with red bean paste or vanilla custard, Bayawa experimented with different flavors, from cream cheese and Nutella to ube jam — a nod to her mixed Japanese and Filipino identity.

Within a couple of hours of posting some of her creations on Instagram, a “complete stranger” reached out and asked if they were for sale, she says.

“I just got excited and I was like, yeah, sure, I’ll deliver them to you too,” Bayawa recalled, dating that first delivery to January 2021.

From there, the operation grew quickly. After five days, Bayawa and Tsai had to cut off orders, and within a week, baking and delivering the treats became an all-day affair, prompting a search for a professional kitchen and additional staff.

In March 2021, Rice Culture moved into Chantilly’s Frontier Kitchen, and since then, it has regularly appeared at farmers markets, festivals and shopping centers throughout the D.C. region, including the FreshFarm market at Merrifield’s Mosaic District and The Block food hall in Annandale.

Rice Culture can’t claim to have introduced taiyakis to the D.C. area. That honor appears to belong to the Lai family behind the now-shuttered Vietnamese restaurant Four Sisters, who offered taiyaki ice cream at their Boba & Bites shop that opened at the Mosaic District in 2018.

However, Rice Culture remains rare in the region for specializing in the desserts and serving a wide variety of flavors, with 10 or more on rotation every month.

“I think that’s really appealing to customers in this market who want to try something new,” Bayawa said. “They want to try something different, and they want to try also something that is Instagrammable, something they can share with their friends, and our product definitely meets that market need.”

With Rice Culture now successful enough that she could leave her Amazon job, Bayawa has big ambitions for where the business could go, looking at Loudoun County, Maryland, D.C. and even the New Jersey and New York area as potential areas for expansion.

But the temporary pop-ups will be paused once the Dunn Loring store opens, possibly returning in the winter or spring depending on how long it takes to “work out the kinks.”

“We’re trying to create a recipe and a process where anyone that we hire can make the taiyakis just as delicious as me and Kevin, so that me and him can look at growing and opening multiple Rice Culture stores,” Bayawa said. “So, if that means taking a step back from the farmers market, that’s something that we might have to do.”

Mike Pilon and his daughter Zoe promote the Iron Dome pizza oven at a market this week (courtesy Mike Pilon)

A Restonian is changing how pizza is made with a new Iron Dome Pizza Oven.

Mike Pilon, who has lived in Reston since 2007, has created an oven that he says transforms the way fresh pizza is made.

The dome is a portable pizza oven that uses two independent heat sources — a bottom baking steel and steel plate inside a carbon steel dome.

Pilon says he was inspired to create a product without the cost and hassles linked with traditional pizza ovens.

“My goal was to create a product that makes the art of pizza-making accessible to everyone , and I believe the Iron Dome Pizza does just that,” Pilon said.

According to Pilon, the dome can bake pizzas in under 90 seconds, heating up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit during that process.

Pilon’s traditional profession is far from the world of pizza-making. He has more than 15 years of experience in the management consulting industry and currently offers consulting services to PasteGroup LLC in support of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Pilon says he has been in and out of entrepreneurship throughout his career. He previously launched, which provides interactive mapping services to real estate and destination marketing companies. He then created a general mapping website. The venture shut down in 2019.

He says he came up with the idea for the Iron Dome after heating a piece of metal with a high heat capacity to a high temperature and then allowing the heat to be released in a controlled way.

“I love to cook, and one day, while waiting for a pot of water for pasta to boil, I thought about how much energy is wasted through heat loss above the lid. I investigated and prototyped some ‘pot-toppers,'” Pilon said. “But even though there was some time/energy savings, I didn’t think it would interest many people. However, it led me to the idea of the Iron Dome Pizza Oven.”

The device is compatible with gas stoves, electric burners and outdoor cooking set ups.

So far, Pilon has been selling pizzas using the Iron Dome Pizza Oven on Wednesday afternoons at the FreshFarm Market in the St. John Neumann Catholic Church parking lot (11900 Lawyers Road). They’ve been selling out each week.

The patent for the pizza-making oven is pending, Pilon said. It’s available for purchase via Etsy for around $120.


Two longtime family-owned restaurants in the Chantilly Park Shopping Center have closed their doors for good.

Located side-by-side to one another, Bravo Peruvian Chicken (14513 Lee Jackson Memorial Highway) and Picante! (14511-B Lee Jackson Memorial Highway) have both recently announced permanent closures.

Mexican restaurant Picante has serviced the area for the last 29 years, according to a statement released by owner Guillermo Manoatl on Instagram last Monday, July 31. The statement was also posted in the former storefront’s windows.

Dear Picante Loyal Customers,

Picante has closed its doors permanently as of today! We would like to thank you for letting us serve you for the past 29 years! It has been an honor to have been able to share my grandmother’s recipes with all of you!

Unlike Picante, Bravo Peruvian Chicken has yet to publicly confirm its closure or remove its signage from the shopping center, but it has been marked permanently closed on Google, and its phone number has been disconnected.

“We are a group of Peruvians who came to the United States to conquer the ‘American Dream’ while maintaining our roots and love for our culture!” Bravo Peruvian Chicken’s website reads. “Bravo Chicken is a proud example of it.”

The Chantilly entertainment center is officially under new ownership (courtesy Mini Monster Golf)

A family entertainment center in Chantilly is officially under new ownership.

Creepy Greens Entertainment, LLC has taken over Mini Monster Golf and is now fully operational.

An application submitted to Fairfax County seeks permission for a special permit so the new owner can provide laser tag, arcade expansion, and a kitchen and cafe area that is currently unused.

“The previous owners of the store were granted this special permit and the new owner, Creepy Greens Entertainment Inc., hopes to retain it,” the application says. “No additions, expansions, or use case changes are planned.”

A company representative told FFXnow that the application before the county was necessary in order to “reflect the new ownership.”

The special permit plan aims to maintain the existing character of the area, according to the application.

The facility is open in the fall and winter Monday through Thursday from 2-9 p.m., Fridays from 2-10 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 10 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 8 p.m.

In the spring and summer, the hours will be Monday through Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m., according to the permit application.

Maximus call center workers organized under the Communications Workers of America protest outside the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in D.C. (courtesy CWA)

A union representing Maximus call center workers filed unfair labor practices charges against the Tysons-headquartered contractor this week.

In charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Tuesday and Wednesday (May 23 and 24), the Communications Workers of America alleges that the government services company, which operates call centers for Medicaid and Medicare, has retaliated against employees and illegally tried to discourage them from unionizing.

The CWA says it filed the complaints because Maximus is laying off more than 700 call center workers this month who handle customer service for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

At a protest organized by Call Center Workers United, which is part of the CWA, a worker who handled calls for the CDC for three years said yesterday (Thursday) that he was laid off two days before Mother’s Day despite having a “great performance record with no discipline.”

“I believe the real reason I was laid off was in retaliation for speaking out about Maximus’ working conditions, and to scare my co-workers from supporting a union. But we have a right to speak out and tell the truth, and to organize to improve our working conditions,” Daija Arrington said at the rally in D.C. outside the Department of Health and Human Services, which operates both CMS and the CDC.

According to the charge sheet, Maximus violated federal labor laws in April and May by retaliating against employees involved in union activities by laying them off, threatening them with layoffs or worksite closures and offering severance agreements with conditions limiting their ability to talk about their experiences with the company.

The CWA also alleges that Maximus made “implied promises of benefits” to employees and forced them to attend a meeting to discourage them from unionizing.

Though the charge is tied to a call center in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which has served as an organizing base for the union, the recent layoffs have affected employees across the company’s 10 centers, most of which are in the South, according to the CWA.

Another 143 workers at the Hattiesburg call center were reportedly laid off in January.

When contacted for comment by FFXnow, Maximus said that “the allegations were just made available to us,” but it is “confident that the company complied with all applicable labor requirements.”

“Given the lack of specific detail, including dates of alleged occurrence and names of workers, we are unable to respond directly to the allegations,” Maximus said in a statement. “We pride ourselves in complying with applicable labor laws across all our operations and will cooperate fully with any request from the National Labor Relations Board.” Read More


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