Fire strikes Al’s Steak House on grand reopening

Fire strikes Al’s Steak House on grand reopening

By Regine Victoria (Courtesy photo)

A fire broke out at Al’s Steak House July 6, the day it officially reopened after being shuttered for several months.

The Alexandria Fire Department responded to the eatery on the 1500 block of Mount Vernon Ave. at about 3:41 p.m. after an onlooker outside the restaurant noticed smoke that appeared to be seeping from the restaurant’s roof.

A customer inside the restaurant also reportedly observed smoke coming out of a light fixture. The customer alerted the owners, and they thought they remedied the problem by shutting off the light, but the smoke continued to spill out.

Fire department Battalion Chief Michael Cross said that upon arrival, firefighters led “a quick and aggressive at- tack,” and were able to get the fire under control in about 30 minutes. There were no injuries, he said.

Cross said the fire started as a result of an improperly installed grill, the heat from which caused the walls to ig- nite. He said fire officials are examining how to prevent future incidents stemming from improperly installed appliances.

The Breeding family is the latest to own the restaurant, having been patrons of Al’s Steak House for many years. The previous owner, John Severson, died in August 2015 and the restaurant closed shortly after. He worked in the eatery growing up, and then bought it in 1965.

“Our daughter, Emily, is the business owner of the establishment,” said Dorothy Breeding. “As her parents, we’re doing our best to support her and to help her through this.”

Breeding said her family has not yet received an official report determining the cause of the fire, but the damage is extensive. There is damage to the roof, ceiling tiles and much of the restaurant’s perishable food is ruined, among other losses.

The family expects repairs to take anywhere from four to six months.

“We know that the fire hurt the community as much as it hurt us,” says Dorothy Breeding. “We hope to restore the establishment. It’s been a community staple for years and we want to continue its legacy.”

Longtime Al’s Steak House patron Pat Malone said he was the first customer when the restaurant reopened last week. He was still at the restaurant when the fire broke out, and said the fire was tragic.

“I was so sad — I went to Al’s as much as anyone,” Malone said. “I told [Sheriff] Dana Lawhorne, ‘I’ve never seen this many fire apparatuses in one spot in Alexandria in my many years of Alexandria memories.’ And he said he hadn’t either. It was extensive.”

On Thursday, Holy Cow in Del Ray will be selling select Al’s Steak House menu items from 5:30 to 10 p.m. to raise money to help the Breedings with repairs and other expenses. Holy Cow Del Ray is located at 2312 Mount Vernon Avenue.

“Al’s Steak House makes the best cheese steaks in the area,” said Mike Anderson, owner of Holy Cow and several other Alexandria restaurants. “You can imagine how devastated we all were when the fire broke out. My friend, who saw the smoke from the street, sent me a picture and we both thought, ‘this won’t be good.’”

Anderson said as a fellow restaurateur, he understands the pain the Breedings are going through, and that the whole community is here to support them.

Bill Blackburn, owner of Pork Barrel BBQ, recalled about how Al’s Steak House has stood as an iconic restaurant for generations. No matter how conditions were around it or how times changed, it remained a local food treasure. He says the incident couldn’t have occurred at a worse time.

“The fire is the worst possible thing that could happen to a restaurant, especially on its opening day,” Blackburn said. “Restaurants are the most vulnerable at the start and Mike and I felt horrible. We were sitting around thinking how we could help and that’s when Mike came up with the fundraiser.”

Blackburn and Anderson, who both said they loved the steak house and its cheese steaks, decided the pop-up fund- raiser would be an effective way to support the Breedings and get the community involved.

Anderson also has set up a GoFundMe page where residents can donate to the effort. For more information, visit