Cafe 44 debuts on the Potomac

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The interior of Cafe 44 in North Old Town (Courtesy Photo)
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By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com

When government contractor Coggins International made the move from Atlanta, Georgia to Alexandria, President & CEO Jula Jane immediately noticed a lack of food options in their corner of North Old Town.

Coggins International, now located in an office park at 44 Canal Center Plaza, went from having a wealth of restaurants within walking distance in Atlanta to just a handful in Alexandria. Jane soon found a solution: starting a small restaurant of her own inside Coggins’ fourth floor office space.

“We pitched a glorified break room, knowing we wanted to turn it into a restaurant that could support the property,” Jane said. “There’s four big offices here, 1,000 tenants, with only a couple of food options, so I wanted to bring something that was high quality, fresh and [that had] approachable pricing.”

The concept started as a way to feed Coggins’ employees and the students – both civilian and members of the military – that come to Coggins for training classes, which can last anywhere from one to three weeks. The breakfast, lunch and happy hour spot, called Café 44, opened to the public last month on Oct. 2.

A restaurant located on an office building’s fourth floor was a tough sell to Coggins’ landlord at first, Jane said.

The building owner suggested putting the restaurant in the ground floor of the building.
At the end of the day, Jane said, positioning the restaurant on the ground floor instead of the fourth floor would have meant missing out on its view of the Potomac River.
“Once you find us and finally get up here, you’re like ‘ah, now I get it,’” Jane said.
Café 44’s menu includes breakfast sandwiches, quiche and pastries, as well as salads, sandwiches and soups for lunch. The restaurant also offers a full coffee menu and serves beer, wine and cocktails.

The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and hosts happy hour Tuesday to Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. Jane said the restaurant soon plans to introduce Saturday brunch, which will be offered from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

General Manager Joe Quintero pours one of Cafe 44’s signature cocktails (Courtesy Photo)

General Manager Joe Quintero and his wife, Courtney Quintero, who has a
background as a pastry chef, moved from Atlanta to Alexandria to run the restaurant.
Sean Corley, who previously worked at the now shuttered Carluccio’s in Old Town, is the restaurant’s head chef.

“In the beginning, it was just Joe, Courtney and me, feeling our way through feeding our team,” Jane said. “We really had a chance to design the menu, see what people wanted.”
Jane said the restaurant has evolved from sourcing all of their pastries through Junction Bakery and Bistro to making all of their pastries, including biscuits, in-house. She
said the restaurant’s “Sunrise on the Go” sandwich, an egg, bacon and biscuit sandwich, has been the most popular breakfast item so far.

Joe Quintero has been the creative force behind the craft cocktail menu, which features four signature cocktails, including Café 44’s take on an old fashioned: the “Cabin in the Woods.”

“It’s a hickory smoked old fashioned. We keep it very classic – and there’s a magic tidbit. I light a piece of hickory on fire,” Quintero said.

Jane said Café 44 is already eyeing expansion within the next few years. She said she plans to introduce a full-service restaurant in an adjacent space once the initial concept has gotten off the ground. She said the restaurant’s focus is hyper-local for now, drawing patrons from among tenants of the office park and residents of the surrounding neighborhood.

“We’re very tenant-focused,” Jane said. “Coming from a corporate background, I understand what a business owner and corporate staff need and are looking for.”

As for expansion plans, Jane says she’ll wait and see how Café 44’s initial phase goes – but that doesn’t mean she’ll stop planning in the interim.

“[The full service restaurant] would be your steak, seafood and pasta environment, where this is more of the casual sandwich, soup and salad environment,” Jane said. “It’ll still be approachable. You don’t have to feel like you have to be in a suit to be over there. There will be a killer champagne brunch, a big open bar and, when that wall comes down, that panoramic view [of the Potomac] is going to be great.”

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