A name steeped in history

A name steeped in history
The 1799 Prime leadership team, L to R: General manager Jeremy Davis, COO and co-founder chef Sonny Tena and co-owner and founder Jahmond Quander.

By Kassidy McDonald │ kmcdonald@alextimes.com 

There are hundreds of years of American history behind the name 1799 Prime, an elegant steakhouse set to open on 110 S. Pitt Street in mid to late July, as 1799 was the year that restaurant founder Jahmond Quander’s enslaved ancestors were freed at Mount Vernon upon the death of George Washington.

“For me, 1799 was kind of the beginning of the promise of freedom for my ancestors and what have you,” Quander said. “So for me, it was very fitting for my flagship location, here in Old Town, which is where we arrived on slave ships, to call the restaurant 1799 Prime Steak and Seafood.”

Quander is one of the oldest documented African American family names of people who came to North America as slaves. Quander family records have been so meticulously kept that the family members can trace their lineage back almost 350 years to Colonial Maryland, according to the 1799 Prime website.

One of Quander’s ancestors, who arrived in America on a slave ship, was asked his name. The ancestor, who had been taken from Ghana, responded with a name that was misinterpreted as “Quando.” In the 18th century, the spelling was transposed to Kwando and then much later to Quander.

Quander ancestors wound up working as slaves on George Washington’s property in Mount Vernon. Jahmond Quander said one of his ancestors was a seamstress for the Washingtons. Nancy Carter Quander and her mother Sukey Bay were among the slaves who worked as spinners and cloth makers at River Farm, one of George Washington’s five farms that made up the Mount Vernon Plantation and Estate, according to the 1799 Prime website.

Jahmond Quander has personal ties to Mount Vernon, as he previously worked there as the Director of Food and Beverage Operations. Quander’s history is entwined with that of Alexandria, and various facets of the restaurant, from the layout to the artwork to the food, reflect that heritage.

Each of 1799 Prime’s dining rooms will have its own personality as well as a name that relates to the history behind the concept of the restaurant.

The Peacock Lounge will offer a one-of-a-kind bar experience that will have signature cocktails made with the restaurant’s own herbs growing outside. Foodies may want to sit in the Potomac room because the chef will send most of the menu items he is experimenting with there, or people may choose to sit in the George Washington room where the skylights offer an airy feel.

During the winter months the fireplaces inside the dining areas and bar will be turned on to provide guests with additional comfort and ambience. During warmer months from spring through fall, the outdoor patio will be open for dining.

The outdoor dining space will also feature a custom mural done by artist Sabrina Rupprecht that depicts scenes from Quander’s, and Alexandria’s, history – though the recruitment of the muralist was accidental.

When Quander and General Manager Jeremy Davis were out to lunch one day, they were startled by a commotion across the street. The pair went to go check it out and saw a young woman was painting a mural of a lion. Quander and Davis were so impressed with Rupprecht’s talent that Quander wanted her to paint his logo.

When Rupprecht saw the outdoor space where the logo would be, she was inspired by Quander’s family story and decided that the logo would not be a good fit for the space.

Instead, she had an idea to paint a nine-panel mural. Rupprecht began researching the Quander family’s history in preparation, and even read a book that Quander gave her that his uncle had written about their family tree.

Rupprecht wanted to tell the family’s story visually, but not make it so complex that diners could not understand their history without words. The nine panels she created act as a timeline and span from the 1600s to 2022.

The arrival of Quander’s ancestors to the United States from Ghana is the first big milestone that Rupprecht’s mural depicts. The second milestone is Mount Vernon, which is an important place for both Quander and many of his ancestors because hey both have worked at this location.

The next image of the mural is a walnut tree, which holds significance to Quander’s ancestors. Rupprecht discovered that they used to gather around a walnut tree to eat meals and have meetings while she did her research. The next image includes Alexandria’s waterfront, where Rupprecht inserted historic landmarks, like the Torpedo Factory Art Center, to make it clear to 1799 Prime diners that this image is Alexandria.

The final panel of the mural depicts a present day Jahmond standing outside 1799 Prime’s front door.

“The last image was kind of like my dream coming to fruition, owning a restaurant with me standing at the door frame of my local restaurant,” Quander said of the mural.

The restaurant as a whole will be a sort of “melting pot,” in terms of character, dining spaces and a menu created by Co-Founder and COO Sonny Tena that they hope will be exciting for patrons.

Tena met Quander while working together at The Blackwall Hitch on Alexandria’s waterfront. The two hit it off and became friends and eventually business partners. After more than four years working together, they knew it was time for the two of them to open a restaurant of their own.

“Sonny is the most talented chef I’ve worked with in my career. Chefs miss it, sometimes. Sometimes they have the culinary skill, but they don’t have the executive skill to do the paperwork and all that stuff. Or vice versa. Sonny possesses everything. And he also is great at it,” Quander said of his business partner.

Tena says the menu he has created for 1799 Prime is the culmination of his 25 years in the restaurant industry.

“It is inspired by all the years of experience and now it comes to life. I don’t just make menus for someone else. I make the menu now for the business that we own, and it is something we can be proud of,” Tena said.

Quander stresses the importance of making food that will be safe even for patrons with serious allergies, and 1799 Prime will use a red- ticket system where the food for diners who have special dietary requirements will be flagged in the kitchen in order to enhance food safety.

Quander’s extra cautious practices with food safety come from his mother, who worked in the Alexandria Health Department for more than 40 years. His experience watching his mom and hearing stories from health inspectors in the department made him aware of good food safety practices from a young age.

There will also be options for vegans and vegetarians, even though the restaurant is considered a steakhouse. Quander says the restaurant will strive to include menu items for all diners’ personal preferences.

“We can cater to just about every palate, you know, so even vegetarians and vegans, we can take care of them as well. Usually they’ll make the server aware that they’re vegetarian and say, ‘Hey, can you suggest anything?’ It is always, ‘We have salad.’ But we’ll [1799 Prime] have different options, whether it is an Impossible burger or veggie primavera,” Quander said.

With Quander, Tena and Davis having so much combined restaurant and hospitality experience, they have high hopes for the future of 1799 Prime in Old Town. They hope their dedication to hospitality and giving the customer a different dining experience will set them apart.

When describing his team, Quander said that the 1799 Prime team has become a family.

“What makes this restaurant special is the people that are involved,” Quander said. “In being involved with Chef Sonny, with Jeremy, the entire management team, the synergy we all have with the employees that we’ve already hired. That is what sets us apart. Hospitality comes from the people that you surround yourself with.”

A Prime Location 

By Denise Dunbar │ ddunbar@alextimes.com 

When 1799 Prime Steak and Seafood opens in Old Town at 110 S. Pitt St. next month, it will be the fourth restaurant to grace the historic building, which was built in 1813.

The previous three restaurants all had long tenures at the site. The most recent occupant was the acclaimed Restaurant Eve, which opened in 2004 and had a 14-year run before closing four years ago this month. Restaurant Eve was a chef-centric restaurant operated by Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong.

Long-time Alexandrians remember Santa Fe East, an eclectic restaurant offering mostly southwestern cuisine that garnered accolades when chef Alison Swope ran the kitchen for a few years in the late 1980s into the 90s.

Even longer-tenured residents may remember The Wayfarer restaurant, which was a city mainstay in the 1970s into the 80s. The Wayfarer had hearty fare and brick and beamed dining rooms reminiscent of an English pub.

Prior to becoming host to restaurants, 110 S. Pitt St. was owned by Wellie Goddin, and a series of other businesses were located in the building. Before being bought by Goddin, the house was owned by the great-grandmother, then grandmother, of current Alexandria resident Ann Hepburn Webb, who said her great-grandparents Emma and Joseph Armstrong bought the building in 1918.

Webb said her great- grandfather was a wallpaper hanger, and though he died of appendicitis in 1929, his widow and their children Robert – Webb’s grandfather– and Margaret remained in the house after Joseph’s death. Robert married and moved to Miami but returned after losing his job in the Great Depression.

“They moved in with his mother, my great-grandmother, at 110. So that’s how my mother ended up growing up here,” Webb said. “Around 1965 they sold it to Wellie Goddin. … I believe Mr. Goddin used it as his offices.”

There are several connections between 110 S. Pitt’s various occupants through the years. Webb’s great-grandparents had the same last name, Armstrong, as Restaurant Eve’s owners, though were apparently not related. In addition, 1799 Prime’s owner Jahmond Quander is a friend of Jay Ariail, son of John and Leslie Ariail, who played a leading role in Restaurant Eve’s ownership group and were also part owners of the building at 110 S. Pitt.*

Quander said he met Jay Ariail when they both were in high school, and it was Ariail who told him about the availability of the 110 S. Pitt location.

“I can’t begin to express how happy and grateful I am that Jay brought this to my attention. He was instrumental in helping me to bring my dream/goal to fruition,” Quander said. “Never give up on your dreams and goals because it’s a game of timing and sometimes you never know when it’s going to happen so stay ready.”

*(Disclosure: Alexandria Times co-owners Denise and Will Dunbar were also mi- nority owners of Restaurant Eve and 110 S. Pitt St.)