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A restaurant worker looks at order tickets (via Daniel Bradley/Unsplash)

The Town of Vienna and Fairfax City believe two cooks would be better than one when it comes to concocting a culinary workforce program to support their local restaurants.

The economic development teams from both localities have joined forces to develop a program that could provide job training or help businesses identify prospective, qualified employees.

The initiative is still in its developmental stages, the Town of Vienna Economic Development Division and Fairfax City Economic Development (FCED) told FFXnow. A survey to get input from local businesses on their biggest staffing needs and concerns is set to close today (Friday).

“We have been collaborating closely with our local restaurateurs to gain a deeper understanding of their staffing requirements and needs through a survey,” Vienna Economic Development Director Natalie Monkou and Fairfax City Economic Development Programs Manager Tara Bowery said in a joint statement. “Once these are clarified, we will have a clearer picture of the potential program’s scope and can begin to solidify the programmatic details.”

The localities started discussing the idea of a workforce development program focused on food service after observing similar challenges for their businesses during the height of the pandemic, which strained an industry where business longevity was rare and work precarious even before COVID-19.

According to CNN, there were about 72,000 fewer restaurants in the U.S. last year than in 2019, with one research firm projecting in February that another 1,000 restaurants could be gone by the end of this year.

Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, the National Restaurant Association says that, as of August, employment has nearly returned to pre-shutdown February 2020 levels, but hiring is still lagging for full-service restaurants. Earlier this year, about 62% of restaurants reported being understaffed.

Despite those nationwide trends, the FCED and Vienna Economic Development Division say their culinary scenes are “growing and exciting,” as showcased in regular Restaurant Week campaigns that they organize, respectively, in summer and winter and in the spring.

“Through these events and other economic development initiatives, our respective economic development agencies have learned more about our local restaurants and food-based businesses,” the agencies said.

Monkou and Bowery hope that, by combining resources and experiences with promoting businesses both locally and regionally, they can enhance the planned workforce development program’s impact.

“Our interest lies in forging partnerships with regional agencies, recognizing that collaboration amplifies the impact of our initiatives,” they said. “…We believe that joining forces will bolster the culinary workforce, ultimately contributing to the economic vitality of our communities.”

There’s no set timeline yet for when the program could launch, but with the survey closing today, the economic development leaders expect to refine their vision over “the coming weeks.”

“Our economic development offices will continue working together and with our respective business communities in the coming weeks to define critical aspects of the program and develop the program scope and timeline to support the needs of our local restaurant community,” Monkou and Bowery said.

Photo via Daniel Bradley/Unsplash

The Auld Shebeen is among the participants in Fairfax City’s Summer Restaurant Week this year (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Lobster crab ravioli, Azerbaijani plov, lamb vindaloo, bubble tea and much more are on the menu for Fairfax City’s second annual Summer Restaurant Week.

Promotions start this coming Monday, Sept. 4 and run through Sunday, Sept. 10 at more than 30 locations, listed on the Fairfax City Restaurant Week website. Diners can explore $25 brunch and lunch menus and $40 dinner menus, plus two-for-$10 deals at participating establishments.

“It’s an invitation to sample and dine in the company of friends, inside or outside, in every corner of our city. It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year,” City of Fairfax Mayor Catherine Read said in a press release.

Though this is only the program’s second summer edition, Fairfax City has hosted restaurant weeks for six years. The Fairfax City Economic Development Authority and the Central Fairfax Chamber of Commerce are co-sponsoring the festivities.

The businesses participating in next week’s event include:

Audacious Ale Works, Baku Delicious, Bellissimo, Bollywood Bistro, Cameron’s Coffee & Chocolates, Capital Ale House, Curry Mantra, Draper’s Steak & Seafood, Dolce Vita, El Pollo Rico, Hamrock’s Restaurant, Jas & Fam Caribbean Flavor, Kim’s Kitchen & Bar, Marumen, Meokja Meokja, ONE Bar & Grill, Ornery Beer Company Public House, Patriots Pub and Grill, PJ Skidoos, Red Hot and Blue, Roots Natural Kitchen, The Auld Shebeen, The Wine House and Vivi Bubble Tea.

Commonwealth Brewing Company, Mackenzie’s Tunes & Tonics, My Empanadas, Ned’s New England Deck and Old Dominion Pizza Company are all participating in the summer restaurant week for the first time.

Local foodies can also partake in the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington’s Summer Restaurant Week through Sunday (Sept. 3). Several Fairfax County restaurants are participating in that promotional campaign, which involves the whole D.C. area.

Three people were shot outside Taco Baja in Merrifield on Aug. 26 (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 9:55 a.m.) A man from Falls Church has been arrested for allegedly firing a gun into a crowd outside Taco Baja (7716 Lee Highway) in Merrifield.

Police say their investigation indicates that  Jorge Armando Melendez Gonzalez, 25, approached a group of men standing outside the restaurant early in the morning on Saturday (Aug. 26).

“During the encounter, the suspect was assaulted by one of the men and the suspect opened fire into a crowd of people who were standing in front of the business,” the Fairfax County Police Department said. “The suspect then fled the area on foot.”

Police were called to 7716 Lee Highway at 1:51 a.m. for the reported shooting, according to scanner traffic on Open MHz.

Upon arriving, officers found two adult men in the parking lot with gunshot wounds. One of the men had been shot in the arm, while the other was shot in the abdomen, the FCPD says. Both men were taken to a hospital, one of them with injuries that police initially said were life-threatening.

Police identified a third victim when Inova Fairfax Hospital called 911 at 3:39 a.m. to report that a man had walked in with a gunshot wound to the arm, according to FCPD and the police scanner.

“Officers were able to determine the victim was related to the earlier shooting,” the FCPD said. “The victim’s injuries were considered non-life threatening and he was treated and released from the hospital.”

Gonzalez was arrested late Sunday (Aug. 27) night by detectives from the FCPD’s violent crimes division with the assistance of the Arlington County Police Department’s robbery and homicide unit and SWAT team, according to the news release.

He has been charged with three felony counts of malicious wounding and three counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony. He’s currently being held at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center with no bond.

“Detectives are still investigating if there’s any connection amongst all parties involved in this incident,” an FCPD spokesperson said.

Photo via Google Maps

District Taco has been in Tysons West since 2017 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 1:15 p.m.) District Taco is wrapping up its time at Tysons West.

The last day of business for the Mexican street food chain’s Tysons location will come on Oct. 1, the company’s chief operating officer, Chris Medhurst, confirmed to FFXnow.

As District Taco’s 10th location, the restaurant’s opening at 1500-C Cornerside Blvd on May 26, 2017 was a notable milestone for the business, which began in 2011 as a humble food cart working the streets of Rosslyn.

“This means a lot for the company considering the dream started with just a taco stand,” District Taco CEO and co-owner Osiris Hoil said in a press release at the time. “Everything is possible when you work with smart and enthusiastic people and that’s what District Taco has, plus delicious food.”

In recent years, the company has turned its focus to expansion, reaching 15 locations across the D.C. area and Pennsylvania with an opening in McLean — its first franchise — and a pending arrival at Old Keene Mill Shopping Center in West Springfield.

District Taco says it decided to consolidate operations at the 2,063-square-foot McLean restaurant after seeing “a significant upwards trend” in online pickup and delivery orders after launching a new mobile app and loyalty program.

“The new, smaller floor plan in McLean has been optimized for carry-out ordering, but still maintains the same throughput capabilities, and allows us to serve the same great food with a more convenient customer experience,” District Taco said. “We are really excited about consolidating our Tysons location with McLean, which has its Grand Opening on August 30th.”

All of the Tysons employees will get the option to work at another District Taco location, and a bonus “for being a part of the transition,” the company added.

Medhurst says the majority of workers will likely relocate to the McLean restaurant, but others can go to different locations “depending on what is most convenient for their commute.”

As for what will replace District Taco, a site plan from Tysons West property manager Rappaport suggests a Japanese restaurant called Umai Ramen and Donburi is already in line to take over the ground-floor space at Cornerside Blvd and Westwood Center Drive.

It’s unclear if that restaurant is related to Umai Ramen and Rice Bowl in Herndon, which says it infuses Japanese cuisine with southeast Asian flavors. An employee directed FFXnow to the business owner, who didn’t respond by press time.

Anchored by Walmart, Tysons West is also home to Moby Dick Kabob and Roaming Rooster, among other retailers. A Club Studio Fitness is slated to fill the second-floor gym vacated by 24 Hour Fitness in 2020, though no opening timeline has been announced.

People clinking beer mugs together (via kazuend on Unsplash)

A Reston-based pub was voted as the best place to get a drink in the D.C. area.

A WTOP poll by readers and listeners ranked Makers Union, which is located at 1811 Library Street in Reston Town Center, as the best restaurant to get a drink. The pub beat out hundreds of other bars in the area.

Clyde’s — a chain that has locations throughout the region and is bringing a new one to Reston Station — and Bethesda, Maryland-based Caddies On Cordell came in third and second respectively.

Also named a runner-up for best brunch, Makers Union describes itself as a pub for the people. It has two new locations in the works at The Wharf in D.C. and at Metropolitan Park in Arlington, which are slated to open this summer.

According to its website, the pub uses local ingredients “whenever possible” and showcases destination drinks from local makers.

The poll also ranked restaurants and establishments across several other categories, including best bakery, brunch, burger, coffee shop, international cuisine, seafood and comfort food.

Other chains also ranked high on the lists. For example, Big Buns Damn Good Burger — which has locations in Reston, Herndon, Vienna and Fairfax — was voted as the best burger spot, and Ledo Pizza was named the best pizza spot.

Outside of Reston, Fairfax City’s High Side — an Asian street food restaurant and bar located at 4009 Chain Bridge Road — topped the list for best international cuisine. L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls and Our Mom Eugenia, which has restaurants in Great Falls and Merrifield, also made the top 10 for that list.

Photo via kazuend on Unsplash

Caliburger is no longer “coming soon” to The Boro in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Burger-flipping robots aren’t going to take over The Boro after all.

Caliburger is no longer planning to open a restaurant in the Tysons mixed-use development, a public relations representative for The Boro confirmed to FFXnow. The representative didn’t share what led to the change of plans, and Caliburger couldn’t be reached for comment.

The Seattle burger joint, which also operates a food truck in D.C.’s Wunder Garten, signed a lease for a 2,200-square-foot space at 8301 Greensboro Drive back in fall 2019, DC Eater reported at the time. The Tysons location would’ve featured the company’s first-ever full bar, new vegan products, and a burger-flipping robot called Flippy.

The restaurant was initially expected to open in spring 2020 until the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. A 2022 arrival was later floated, with Caliburger’s food truck even making appearances at The Boro.

When the restaurants Circa and Él Bebe opened at the development last December, property owner The Meridian Group said Caliburger was on track to follow late in the first quarter of 2023.

This is the second time that a tenant planned for the ground-floor suite under the ShowPlace Icon movie theater has fallen through. Adjacent to Tropical Smoothie Cafe, the space was destined for a Taylor Gourmet until the regional hoagie chain shuttered in September 2018.

Negotiations are underway with other food service retailers that have expressed interest in the space.

While it won’t address the same need, The Boro confirmed that Sandbox VR’s virtual reality gaming venue is still on its way, though the projected opening has moved from this summer to early October.

The Boro has some company in Tysons when it comes to prospective restaurants stalling. Chef Pepe Moncayo confirmed earlier this month that his plans for a Spanish concept at Capital One Center have been put on hold for now.

The chef’s team told FFXnow that he still hopes to open the restaurant Santi in the future when the economic conditions are “more favorable.”

Pizza Serata is one of two restaurants currently operating at The Kitchen Collective in Tysons (courtesy Pizza Serata)

The budding “virtual” food hall at Fairfax Square in Tysons will make its formal, in-person introduction to the community next week.

At its official grand opening on Friday, Aug. 25, The Kitchen Collective — known as TKC Food Hall for short — will start serving items from the health food cafe Soul Rebel and a brand-new dessert concept called Franki’s.

The newcomers will join Pizza Serata and Yasmine, two D.C.-based restaurants that have offered takeout and deliveries out of the pickup window at 8045 Leesburg Pike, Suite T3-120 since it opened in July.

The grand opening will kick off at 11:30 a.m. The first 50 people in line to place an order will get a $20 gift card to use for their next visit, TKC Food Hall announced yesterday (Thursday).

The food hall was developed by the team behind Joon, a Persian restaurant that opened in the former Chef Geoff’s space at Fairfax Square on June 13.

Co-founder Reza Farahani previously told FFXnow that, by taking advantage of Joon’s large kitchen, he and his chef partners can share resources and expand their brands to Northern Virginia without the expenses required to set up standalone brick-and-mortar locations.

“The multi-branded virtual food hall allows guests a convenient way to enjoy chef-driven meals from multiple brands under one check,” TKC Food Hall said in a press release.

Most of the announced concepts have already been established elsewhere. Pizza Serata operates out of D.C.’s Crooked Run Brew Pub, Yasmine is a Lebanese kebab shop in Union Market, and Soul Rebel is based in Jupiter, Florida.

Franki’s, however, is described as a “brand new cookie and brownie concept” named after Joon chef Chris Morgan’s 2-year-old daughter.

It will serve “a variety of large cookies with a soft fresh out of the oven texture and flavors ranging from ‘the cookie monster’ (brown butter chocolate chip, marshmallow, and heath bar) to a blueberry cream cheese white chocolate and many more,” according to TKC Food Hall.

In the future, the kitchen is expected to add the American Chinese restaurant Lucky Danger and the new concepts El Oso, which will serve Mexican street food, and San Tokki.

The Kitchen Collective is currently open for in-person and online orders for delivery or curbside pick-up from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.


Summer Restaurant Week starts later this month across the region, with more than 30 Fairfax County businesses scheduled to participate.

The biannual event by Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) is intended to encourage diners to eat out during a sometimes-slow time of the year for restaurants.

Hundreds of restaurants are participating during this year’s summer edition, including several Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport eateries — a first for the campaign.

“This year’s Summer Restaurant Week cycle is a special one,” RAMW President and CEO Shawn Townsend said in the press release. “Not only does the promotional week take place during the DC Jazz Festival, we have multiple restaurants participating from our region’s airports, allowing both locals and travelers to the area to take part in the special offerings.”

The restaurants offer brunch and lunch menus for $25 a person and dinner for $40 or $55 a person. There will also be alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink specials as well.

There will be 32 Fairfax County restaurants participating in the upcoming edition, which will run from Monday, Aug. 28 through Sunday, Sept. 3.

Dulles Airport


  • 2941 Restaurant (2941 Fairview Park Drive) — French cuisine
  • Alta Strada Mosaic (2911 District Avenue) — Italian food in the Mosaic District
  • B Side (8298 Glass Alley) — American food in the Mosaic District
  • Matchbox (2911 District Avenue) McLean, and Reston locations) — Pizza in the Mosaic District
  • TRIO Grill (8100 Lee Highway) — American food


  • Founding Farmers (1904 Reston Metro Plaza) — Locally sourced food and bar at Reston Station
  • Matchbox (1900 Reston Metro Plaza) — Pizza at Reston Station
  • North Italia (11898 Market Street) — Italian food at Reston Town Center
  • Morton’s (11956 Market Street) — Steakhouse at Reston Town Center
  • PassionFish (11960 Democracy Drive) — Seafood restaurant at Reston Town Center
  • Pisco y Nazca Ceviche Gastrobar (1871 Explorer Street) — Peruvian food at Reston Town Center
  • The Melting Pot (11730 Plaza America Drive) — A fondue restaurant


  • Agora Tysons (7911 Westpark Drive) — Greek/Mediterranean/Turkish
  • American Prime (1420 Spring Hill Road) — Steakhouse
  • Circa at The Boro (1675 Silver Hill Drive) — American bistro
  • Earls Kitchen + Bar (7902 Tysons One Place) — American food at Tysons Corner Center
  • Founding Farmers (1800 Tysons Blvd) — Locally sourced food and bar at Tysons Galleria
  • Jiwa Singapura (2001 International Drive) — Singapore cuisine at Tysons Galleria
  • Joon (8045 Leesburg Pike, Suite 120) — Persian food in Fairfax Square
  • Matchbox (1340 Chain Bridge Road) — Pizza in McLean
  • North Italia (1651 Boro Place) — Italian cuisine at The Boro
  • The Capital Grille (1861 International Drive) — Steakhouse and seafood restaurant in Tysons Corner Center. The Fair Lakes location at 12169 Fair Lakes Promenade Drive is participating as well.
  • Wildfire (2001 International Drive) — Steak and seafood in Tysons Galleria
  • Wren (1825 Capital One Drive South) — Japanese restaurant at Capital One Center
Gholam and Karen Kowkabi own Divan, a Persian restaurant in McLean (staff photo by David Taube)

A Vienna couple who own multiple restaurants in the D.C. area, including Divan in McLean, pleaded guilty in federal court earlier this week to evading over $1 million in taxes and stealing COVID-19 relief funds.

As part of the plea agreement, Gholam Kowkabi, 63, and Karen Kowkabi, 64, will give the IRS the $1.35 million that they failed to pay in taxes related to their D.C. restaurants Ristorante Piccolo, Catch 15 and Tuscana West, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. announced on Monday (Aug. 14).

Gholam must also pay the Small Business Administration $738,657 in restitution for spending money from Covid loans intended to support Ristorante Piccolo on a “waterfront condo in Ocean City, Maryland, as well as personal investments, vacations for his family, and college tuition for his child,” according to the Department of Justice.

Those “personal investments” included Divan, a Persian and Mediterranean restaurant that opened at 1313 Old Chain Bridge Road in December 2021, per the press release.

A general manager for Divan said the restaurant had no comment on the case.

“This defendant robbed a program intended to help fellow restauranteurs and other small business owners who were struggling to stay afloat amid the devastating economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said in a statement. “He also created an elaborate scheme to hide assets and play a shell game with the IRS so he could avoid paying the more than one million dollars in taxes that he and his business owed. Our Office will continue to vigorously prosecute such frauds.”

Prosecutors say the Kowkabis admitted to “willfully” avoiding paying federal employment and income taxes and associated penalties from 1998 to 2018 by buying property through a separate entity and falsifying business records of the D.C. restaurants to hide personal purchases.

According to the DOJ, Gholam also obtained over $1.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds from May 13, 2020 to July 27, 2021 that businesses could use to cover payroll costs, rent and other expenses.

In these applications and loan agreements, Gholam Kowkabi fraudulently and falsely promised that the PPP, EIDL, and RRF proceeds would be used only for business-related and eligible purposes as specified in the applications. Instead, Gholam Kowkabi used a portion of the PPP funds, EIDL funds, and RRF funds for unauthorized purposes and for his own personal enrichment, including the purchase of a waterfront condo in Ocean City, Maryland for more than $500,000, two joint venture investments totaling more than $237,000 for the construction of homes in Great Falls, Virginia, and more than $78,500 to open Divan Restaurant in McLean, Virginia. Gholam Kowkabi spent more than $11,000 of COVID relief funds on his home mortgage, more than $14,000 on vacations, more than $62,000 on personal legal expenses, more than $20,000 on home improvement, and more than $5,500 on college tuition payments.

In addition to paying restitution to the SBA, Gholam has agreed to forfeit the Ocean City condo and the two joint ventures that were used to build the Great Falls homes and open Divan.

He pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion, which carry financial penalties as well as potential prison sentences totaling 25 years.

Karen Kowkabi pleaded guilty to five counts of willfully failing to pay taxes, a charge that could result in up to one year of jail time and fines.

“Tax evasion and misappropriation of COVID-19 relief funds undermine the integrity of our tax system and harm honest taxpayers,” Kareem Carter, acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s D.C. Field Office, said. “IRS Criminal Investigation remains steadfast in its commitment to upholding tax compliance and pursuing those who attempt to evade their tax responsibilities.”

Sentencing hearings have been scheduled for Dec. 1, 2023.

This isn’t the first time Gholam has faced prison on tax-related charges. In 2006, he was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for taking at least $2 million in sales taxes from D.C., becoming the first person convicted under the District’s then-new law imposing jail time for sales taxes evasion, the Washington Times reported at the time.

A map of Capital One Center in Tysons (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Santi is no longer coming to Capital One Center — at least not in the immediate future.

Michelin-starred chef Pepe Moncayo, who recently opened Jiwa Singapura in Tysons Galleria, has paused plans to bring a new Spanish restaurant concept to Tysons, he confirmed through a public relations representative.

“The financial climate and the escalating costs of materials and construction made us take the decision to put a hold into the project waiting for a more favorable time to arrive,” Moncayo said in a statement to FFXnow.

Moncayo and his partners behind the Spanish-Japanese fusion restaurant Cranes in D.C. leased about 7,000 square feet in the mixed-use neighborhood around Capital One’s headquarters, the Washington Business Journal reported in March 2022.

While little was initially shared about the concept, a now-defunct website indicated that it would be called Santi and celebrate “Spanish culinary tradition.”

Capital One Center doesn’t list Santi among the current and upcoming dining options on its website, but Moncayo still “hopes to bring the restaurant to Capital One Center at a later point,” his representative said.

For now, Capital One workers and Tysons foodies can still look forward to the impending arrivals of Sisters Thai, Stellina Pizzeria, the steak-and-whiskey restaurant Ox & Rye, the Tex-Mex concept Ometeo, and Starr Hill Brewpub, an expansion of the beer garden currently operating at The Perch skypark.

While none of the eateries have determined opening dates, Ometeo is expected to launch this year, a Capital One Center spokesperson confirmed. The other businesses are all projected to get 2024 openings.

In addition to Starr Hill Biergarten, The Perch is home to the bar Rhum Roost and a line of food trucks next to the Perch Putt mini golf course. The development also has Wren, a Japanese restaurant that opened with the Watermark Hotel in 2021.


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