By Olivia Tucker | [email protected]
James Vincent Breeding, owner of Al’s Steak House, died on July 26 due to complications from diabetes. He was 52.
Jim, as most people knew him, was the owner of Al’s Steak House and a pillar of the Del Ray community. His legacy of hard work and big-hearted generosity will live on in the family, friends and business he leaves behind.
“He was always a good guy,” his wife, Dorothy Breeding, said, “[and] people liked him. He was a caring man and he could look intimidating, but once you got to know him, he had a good sense of humor, and all his guys liked working for him. He was fair.”
Breeding was born on January 23, 1968 in Alexandria. One of five, he and his siblings kept their parents, James and Myrtle Breeding, busy. He grew up attending Alexandria City Public Schools.
In 1984, he met Dorothy Bradley, a sophomore in his geometry class at T.C. Williams High School. She recalls feeling intimidated by his towering height – 6 feet 6 inches – and hoping that he wouldn’t sit next to her. But Breeding ended up seated right behind her in alphabetical order, and the two quickly became close friends. They would become a couple later in high school and go on to celebrate 32 years of marriage.
At T.C., Breeding played defensive tackle for the Titans and was a member of the 1984 state championship team. He was passionate about architecture and worked multiple jobs in high school, both for his brother’s family business, D&D Contractors, and for the Alexandria City School Board, where he helped ensure that local schools were compliant with new regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Former T.C. principal John Porter recalled Breeding’s “smile and kindness to others” as a teen.
“He also had the ability to get along with peers and adults alike – unlike many teenagers who didn’t feel comfortable with adults during those sometimes awkward teen years,” Porter said.
Breeding graduated in 1986. He and Dorothy were married in 1988, buying their first home in Woodbridge at just 19 and 18 years old. His wife said that because of their age, banks were hesitant to give them a loan, but a sympathetic real estate agent loaned them the $6,000 they needed. Breeding paid it back within the year, working odd construction projects for the realtor.
Breeding attended Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale for a year, hoping to pursue his associate’s degree in architecture. His work in construction and roofing soon proved too time-consuming to balance with classes, though, so he chose to focus on his career instead.
Several years later, he and Dorothy moved back to Alexandria, buying an old house on East Custis Street – just a block from Dorothy’s parents – that she described as a “fixer-upper.” Breeding and his wife poured numerous hours into the house, completely refurbishing it themselves and transforming it into the home where they raised their children.
In 1992, Breeding was broadsided in a car crash that put him out of work for two years. By the mid90s, however, he was back in business, building houses for D.R. Horton around the DC-Maryland-Virginia region. Breeding specialized in roofing for more than two decades and started his own company, Breeding Construction. He worked on construction projects up and down the East Coast, including roofs for Howard University, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and a dome skin roof over the presidential hangar at Andrews Air Force Base.
Breeding’s dream had always been to own Al’s Steak House, located at 1504 Mt. Vernon Ave. The Breeding family loved Al’s and were regular customers for years. Dorothy said that he would always tease longtime owner John Severson about buying the restaurant from him, joking, “When you’re ready to sell, let me know.”
After Severson died in 2015, the Breedings took over the shop, throwing themselves into renovations and purchasing new equipment.
“We jumped in with both feet,” Dorothy said. “Every time he had a crazy idea, I was right there with him.”
Just four hours into opening day in July 2016, though, the restaurant went up in flames – the result of decades of grease buildup in a wall cavity, Dorothy said. The family was devastated but worked hard to rebuild, and, buoyed by the support of the Del Ray community, reopened exactly a year after the fire.
Although health issues rendered Breeding increasingly sedentary, he spent as much time at Al’s as he could, supporting employees and conversing with customers. Dorothy recalls that he once asked her to buy a thermos for a homeless man who lived in the Del Ray neighborhood. Breeding gave the man coffee and a sandwich every day, she said, and would often pass afternoons talking with him while sitting in his truck outside the restaurant.
The COVID-19 pandemic separated the Breedings on their June 4 anniversary for the first time in 32 years, with Breeding in a care facility closed to visitors. One year, Dorothy said, she left work early and drove five hours to his construction site in Pennsylvania to surprise him.
“He was surprised,” she laughed. “He said, ‘Woman, you’re crazy!’ And I said, ‘Five hours isn’t going to keep us apart on our anniversary.’”
Breeding is survived by his wife, Dorothy, four children; Amanda Owens and husband Raheem, Emily Breeding, Shannon Bartolac and Tyler Breeding; and five grandchildren, A’Dyn, Brooklyn, Kloie, Peyton and Skylar. He is also survived by sister Terri Clark, brothers Geary and Glen Breeding, as well as many nieces, nephews and cousins. He was preceded in death by his parents, James and Myrtle Breeding, his stepmother, Phyllis Breeding, and brother Darrel Breeding.
A funeral service was held on Aug. 1 at Del Ray Baptist Church, where the Breedings were baptized together in high school and later married. Breeding was interred at Fort Lincoln Cemetery in Brentwood, Maryland. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the National Kidney Foundation, American Diabetes Association or American Heart Foundation.