Shakeup on King Streets Restaurant Row

Shakeup on King Streets Restaurant Row

No one ever said the restaurant business was easy, even restaurateurs on tourist-swarmed King Street.

Despite last month being bestowed the moniker of being the nation’s Most Romantic City by, and the area’s most Romantic Place for a Date by the Washington Post, rents have always been on the high side and street parking is often tough — two ever-present challenges to their business model.

For the revolving door of restaurants which have occupied the prime retail space at King and S. Union Street, the challenge this week was altogether different: Their bank had moved towards foreclosure on 100 King restraurant. 

But standing in the way of BB&T Bank foreclosing March 6 on their $3.5 million note to Washington real estate investor Peter Malios was a last-minute bankruptcy petition filed Wednesday in Alexandria Circuit Court by Malios and 100 King LLC, and a reorganization plan which brings in famed restaurateur Stephen Tedeschi as new owner.

“I moved to OId Town in December just to help out an old friend,” said Tedeschi, a principal in New York’s One Group, which owns the renowned restaurants STK-NY and One Manhattan in New York’s meatpacking district, and One Sunset and One-LA in Los Angeles. “We hope to re-launch 100 King as 100 Prime as a high-end steak and seafood restaurant with a trendy setting.”

Across the street, longtime Old Town restaurateur Franco Landini is in the midst of his own changes. After 30 years as partners at Landini Brothers, Franco’s brother Piero retired from the business last year and father-and-son owners Franco and Noe Landini hopes to close on the purchase of its longtime neighbor The Fish Market by next week.

“I’m tired…I just wanted to retire,” said the Fish Market’s owner Glenda Giovanni. “We’ll be 32 years at this location, and it was time for me to move on. I know Franco will do well in this location by providing even more fresh fish and perhaps making it more upscale.”

Franco Landini started in the Old Town restaurant business as a dishwasher in 1972 when Giovanni’s husband, affectionately known by most as “Mr. Ray,” was then an Old Town chef at The Gaslight, the location now known as 100 King. Ray Giovanni died in 1998, but most of his employees stayed on — 14 of them have tenure of 20 or more.
In Giovanni’s last will and testament, finally settled in a two-year dispute in 2000, his widow Glenda kept control of the restaurant while many longtime employees also received ownership stakes. The Giovannis vacated the 100 King location in 2000, then known as The Alamo, and the spot remained vacant for six years until Malios came along with partners and rehabilitated the historic building. The building was constructed in 1871 as Alexandria’s Corn Exchange, a grain warehouse where local farmers bought corn from farmers. It later became a tire store, but has been a restaurant for 50 years.
“We were doing very well as The Alamo, but the landlord hiked the rent to a point which was unachievable by us to make it work,” Giovanni said. “Old Town is unique..I love the changes happening here..A lot of new blood is coming in and keeping it new, keeping it fresh.”
For Tedeschi’s part, change is already underfoot at 100 King. In January, the restaurant won the designation of first Certified Angus Beef house (CAB) in the area, and last month 3,200 readers of The Alexandria Times named it number one in the Fine Dining category, knocking Restaurant Eve from its longtime perch. “Our motto in New York is ‘not your daddy’s steakhouse,’ and we hope to build a hipper, trendier steakhouse for Alexandria.”
This translates into design changes of the restaurant to make it trendier, as well as smaller portions of higher grades of steak (a concept he calls “the feminization of the steakhouse”), emphasizing “quality over quantity.”
As for Malios, “We did a lot of sales but did not make a lot of money…I’m grateful to my old friend for helping me out.”