Chadwicks celebrates 50 years

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Chadwicks celebrates 50 years
Chadwicks restaurant has been on the Alexandria waterfront for more than three decades (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)
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By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]

When partners Mike Kirby, Tom Russo and Joe McGuinness opened Chadwicks in Old Town back in 1979, it was the second in what would become a trio of restaurants.

The original Chadwicks restaurant opened 12 years earlier in Georgetown, back in 1967. Three years ago, the lease on that location was bought out by another area institution, Mr. Smith’s, and Chadwicks of Georgetown closed. The third Chadwicks opened by the trio was in D.C.’s Friendship Heights neighborhood, but it changed hands and is now called Chatters. As the Chadwicks brand celebrates its 50th anniversary, the Old Town location is the only one still standing.

The restaurant’s longevity is often attributed to its constant crowd of locals, many of whom have been coming to the restaurant for decades. Serving those long-time patrons is a staff that also has many multiyear veterans, such as manager and longtime bartender Karen Bettius, who started at the restaurant in 1998.

The first floor bar is a popular fixture at Chadwicks (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

“I just really liked the people here. The customers would say ‘welcome to the bar,’” Bettius said. “We had two bartenders who worked here who had so much fun on Friday and Saturday nights. I don’t think they even did it for the money – they were doing it for the fun of it. You could tell because they were in their glory. They were making people sing to the jukebox. It was fun.”

Bettius said there’s relatively low turnover at the restaurant. Chadwicks has busboys, waiters and kitchen staff who have been working there longer than she has. She’s watched many Chadwicks employees work their way up from the lowest rung on the totem poll, including Sean Hall, who started working in the kitchen the same year Bettius started. He’s now the head chef.

“Whenever anyone called out, whenever a dishwasher went on vacation, I covered their shifts, while still covering my own shifts. It taught me a good work ethic,” Hall said.

“… I was terrified. I was fresh out of high school. I went from living at my parents’ house and never really being told what to do to working in a hectic kitchen where everyone was yelling and screaming,” Hall said.

Since starting at the restaurant in the late 1990s, Hall has come a

Diners eat at Chadwicks during their lunch hour (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

long way from his days of being chided for not peeling shrimp fast enough. He now works alongside Chadwicks owner Trae Lamond, who in 2015 purchased the restaurant from the Russo family following owner Tom Russo’s death.

Hall spearheads adding new items to the menu and planning menus for specialty events like Chadwicks’ beer dinners. Hall said he likes the camaraderie at the restaurant. He also has a sentimental attachment – he met his wife, Angela, when they were both Chadwicks employees in the early 2000s. He first met her when he came into the restaurant on an off night and she was in the midst of training to be a waitress. They married in Las Vegas in 2005.

“I met my wife here, at one point I worked with both of my brothers here, I worked with my best friend here, he met his wife here, we both had our kids at the same time at the same hospital two days apart,” Hall said.

“…[For] anyone who has ever worked here and hasn’t completely screwed up and isn’t welcomed back, you always feel like you can come back. Many people have left, come back and left,” Hall said. “Kids will go to college, and they’ll come back to work on their vacations. They grew up coming here with their parents, and then they work here as their first job or summer job.”

Trae Lamond first started at the restaurant after he graduated from college in 2004. He was living in his parents’ home at the time and, in the midst of job hunting, decided he would get a temporary job in order to afford rent at a place of his own.

Trae Lamond started at Chadwicks as a waiter in 2004 and bought the restaurant in 2015. He owns it with his wife, Carolyn (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

He walked into the restaurant with the intention of being a bartender. Bettius, by that point a Chadwicks veteran, interviewed him for the job.

“I wanted to be a bartender day one, which any person who comes through the doors will say,” Lamond said.

“He was just this kid out of college,” Bettius said. “He wanted to be a bartender and thought he could walk right in here and become one.”

Bettius wouldn’t have guessed at the time that Lamond would one day buy the restaurant – but now she says it’s a perfect fit.

“It’s like he was meant for this job,” Bettius said. “He always knew what he was doing as a bartender, but I had never worked with him in a management capacity. He just took to it like it was meant to be. He was always the cool kid. He always knows what should be
done.”

Lamond started waiting tables and eventually worked his way up to becoming a manager, with the condition that he would still work bar shifts. He became a full-time bartender and then bar manager in short order, using that time to build up the Chadwicks beer selection, which, at the time was limited to about 10 bottled choices. Now, the beer menu boasts around 60 offerings.

“… Chadwicks [of] Georgetown wasn’t really keeping up and if you were to go and visit Chad’s a year ago [now Chatters in Friendship Heights], you would have seen the same thing. It wasn’t progressing. There was no cocktail menu, the most exotic beer was Sam Adams. With all the crazy trends with restaurants, you’ve got to pick one or two of them at least,” Lamond said. “Friendliness goes pretty far, but I’d like to think … a couple of us really chipped in and helped keep this place current through the 2000s.”

By the time Stephanie Russo, Tom Russo’s wife, sold Chadwicks’ Georgetown location, Lamond was eagerly looking for a way to buy the restaurant.

“The opportunity was there, but it took about two years to get there and then it was ‘it might happen, it might not happen.’ In two years, I had plenty of time to learn the do’s and don’ts of looking for a whole boatload of money,” Lamond said.

“We met with venture capital, banks, I floated the idea past family

Bartender works at the first floor bar (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

and friends. We made a pretty good deal.” Since closing on the purchase in July 2015, Lamond has focused on keeping the restaurant the same for the local crowd. The menu, which Chef Sean Hall describes as “classic American with a little bit of creativity,” is a constant, though some menu items change seasonally.

“I’ve been here long enough that I know this place has survived being what it is that I didn’t want to screw that up,” Lamond said.

“… I’m sure there’s other mainstays, but at this end of the river at least, I think we have the most loyal, regular crowd,” Lamond said.

That’s a point Bettius, who stops to greet most individuals who sit at the restaurant on a recent midday afternoon, wholeheartedly agrees with.

“There are people I’ve known for so many years,” Bettius said. “When you’re working in the restaurant, if you didn’t get to know the people, you’d never guess they’re the kindest people in Alexandria. They’re really good people.”

The bar on the first level of Chadwicks is adorned with multiple small plaques. Names like Frank Mann, Jamey Ferguson and, indeed, original Chadwicks Old Town owner Tom Russo are permanently attached to the bar the men once frequented. Each time a new plaque is installed by a longtime patron’s friends, the restaurant has a small ceremony, usually comprised of a toast.

As the Old Town waterfront changes and expands around it, Chadwicks remains a constant.

“Within five years, we’ll be the only building that hasn’t been [re]developed within a two block radius of the waterfront,” Lamond said. “We’re the only thing that has stayed, which in a town where history is a big deal, this one building staying the same is a pretty cool thing.”

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