The business has changed hands, renovations have been completed, a liquor license has been acquired, a new chef has been named, and now Argia’s is ready for the next phase in its long history of serving authentic Italian food in the City of Falls Church.
The restaurant was sold last December to Pragun Rana by founders Adam Roth, who also owns the gourmet shop Red, White & Bleu, and Aimee Suyehiro, the restaurant’s chef since Argia’s opened in December 1999. The change in ownership launched a weeks-long overhaul of the restaurant that has only recently been completed.
“When you build something 13 years ago, it goes out of date,” Rana said. “Everything has an expiration date.”
Argia’s closed in late January for renovations, and Rana had planned for the restaurant to only to be shuttered for 10 days, he said. But Rana explained that as some aspects of the restaurant were refurbished, others looked dated by comparison and required attention. Thus, Rana could not reopen the restaurant until Feb. 14.
Large red acoustic tiles were installed in the dining room to reduce noise. New carpets were installed and the walls were repainted – though the signature fresco in the dining room, the work of local artist Thomas Mullany, remains. A new countertop was installed at the bar, and the tables and chairs were redone.
Still, the restaurant was without one crucial component: the ability to serve alcohol.
Rana, a first-time restaurant owner, had not applied for a temporary liquor license while the business was changing hands and had to apply for a license after owning Argia’s, which meant the restaurant could not serve alcohol until the new license was acquired.
A crowd still turned out for its Valentine’s Day reopening, despite the fact that drinks would not be served.
“We still didn’t have the liquor license, but still they came and sat down, and we really loved that,” Rana said. “They didn’t leave.”
Still, business suffered as the restaurant was unable to serve wine from its lengthy wine list or pour pitchers of beer to accompany its pizzas. Rana got the call late in the Friday afternoon of March 1 that the liquor license was ready to be picked up. By the time he had returned it to the restaurant, dinner service had already begun and he had no time to make a formal announcement. But word traveled about Argia’s newly restored liquor license.
“Somehow people knew about it,” said Salina, Pragun’s wife. “This place was jammed.”
The big announcement was made the following evening to Argia’s hundreds of Facebook followers, with a post that read “Happy to report that as of Friday March 01, a refurbished Argia’s is back up and running!!”
Italian food was a family favorite for Salina and Pragun and their two children in their native Nepal. The family moved to the D.C. area four years ago to make a better, safer future for their children, Pragun says. Pragun, who worked in real estate and construction in Nepal, began flipping houses when he moved but became discouraged by a saturated market and looked for a different business venture.
The family had dined at Argia’s before. Their teens like the pizza; the favorites for Salina and Pragun are mussels and lasagna, respectively.
Argia’s cuisine had been crafted by Chef Suyehiro, who stayed on during the transition on a temporary basis. Last Saturday, her duties were assumed by sous chef Ryan Baldini.
Baldini, a Fairfax area native who studied in Rhode Island’s Johnson and Wales University culinary program, has worked at Argia’s for the last six years under Suyehiro’s guidance.
“She has taught the kitchen well,” Pragun said. “The line cooks know what they are doing.”
“We have a good group of people that we work with,” Baldini said. “It’s like family. It’s always been like that.”
When asked what draws customers to Argia’s, Baldini said “good food and good wine.” While Argia’s may seem different after the makeover, Pragun says that the Italian cuisine Argia’s customers appreciate won’t be changing.
“Physically we redid everything,” Pragun said. “But the food is going to remain the same.”