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Leaders Urge Priority Action to Fill Vacancy Left by Mad Fox

Gabe and Katherine Thompson (center, right), along with Falls Church’s Kristen Hamilton (left), will open Thompson Italian restaurant next Wednesday. Thompson Italian is one of several new eateries slated to open in the Little City in the near future. (Photo: Thompson Italian)

The City of Falls Church’s economic development team confirmed Tuesday night that finding a replacement for the recently-closed Mad Fox Brewing Company is “an absolute strategic priority for the City,” and that point being made clear, they said, to those marketing the site, some viable potential new tenants are already stepping forward. One, in particular, they said, another brewpub operation, a small chain, is showing a keen interest.

James Snyder and Becky Witsman of the City’s development team confirmed this at Tuesday’s meeting of the Economic Development Authority at City Hall, and it was also echoed by City Councilman Phil Duncan, who was present as the chair of the Council’s Economic Development subcommittee that had already discussed and OK’d action on the matter at its meeting last week.

The sudden shuttering of Mad Fox at its pristine location in the center of the 400 block of W. Broad Street came as a shock to many last month, although its financial woes were known to insiders for some time. Still, in its nine years, the establishment had been a major factor in evolving the City’s self-image from a residential suburban village to a more urban, vibrant place, hosting Chamber of Commerce and other local group luncheons and holding many public events that spilled over into the small public plaza adjacent the space that featured live music.

City leaders do not want the process of that transformation to lose steam because of Mad Fox’s closing, and in fact, as Duncan pointed out, the City is taking a more aggressive role in prompting commercial property owners to do more to get their vacant retail spaces filled up on West Broad. That goes for the recently-closed Locker Room Sports Bar space, as well.

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But as the Mill Creek developers of the 4.3-acre Founders Row mixed-use project continue to dig deeper holes into the 900 block of West Broad in anticipation of hundreds of new apartments, “senior living” spaces, restaurants and a multi-screen movie theater, changes are happening up the street at the Falls Plaza shopping center, with a Jersey Mike’s going into the former Chef Express site, Tasty Dumpling going to the former Pita Pouch, Rania’s Love Vegetarian going into the former Zinga space and Plaka Grill moving to the former Native Foods Cafe site by November, as Witsman spelled out to the EDA members Tuesday.

The biggest piece of good news, however, is the imminent opening of the long-awaited new Italian restaurant at the location of the former Argia’s Restaurant at 124 N. Washington St. Thompson Italian, a snappy incarnation of the original hopes and dreams of previous Argia’s owners, has announced that it will open its doors to the public next Wednesday, Aug. 14, and the anticipation has risen to a small roar throughout the D.C. region.

The former RPM Italian executive chef Gabe Thompson has brought his considerable reputation, having commandeered the kitchens of some of Manhattan’s top Italian restaurants, to the site. For him and his wife, pastry chef Katherine, the restaurant will be their first in the D.C. area, and it is expected to draw major attention from throughout the region.

(In other words, start booking your reservations now.)

In an interview by Tierney Plumb on Eater DC, the Thompsons describe their effort as a “family affair” with solid roots in the Falls Church area, as Katherine explained that her mother ran an art studio in Falls Church in the 1990s and her dad taught art in Arlington County public schools. Her artistic parents played a major role in designing the new interior of the restaurant, which is blue-toned and includes “abstract art, neon signage and reimagined concert posters” that fit in with its location adjacent the popular State Theatre live music venue.

In New York City, the Thompsons were part of the team that opened Dell-anima in the West Village in 2007, and became chef partners at three popular Italian restaurants across Manhattan, L’Artusi, Anfora and L’Apicio. Before that, Gabe Thompson was at Le Bernardin and Katherine at Per Se.

Their new restaurant here will feature “a modern take on Italian food.” There will be “eight types of pasta (in full and half portions) to start, like a ricotta gnocchi with 24-hour braised Rosetta Farm lamb, and a short fish and meat section that will include market fish with clams, corn and guanciale,” according to Plumb.

The bar will have four draft lines, with one reserved for prosecco, with “lots of local distilleries and breweries on the list.”

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The Thompsons said they “chose to open their restaurant in downtown Falls Church because it has a small city feel to it. It’s really charming.”

Meanwhile, the new restaurant’s neighbor, Clare and Don’s Beach Shack, is continuing its dispute with the City over responsibility for storm drainage lines leading out of the restaurant, and a face-to-face meeting with City officials is set for Friday.

Further down the block, at the intersection of Broad and Washington, the News-Press has learned that plans are currently being actively developed by the Insight Property Group for a revival of their mixed-use plans that had earned Council approval there two years ago. The Broad and Washington plans hit a snag last year when Todd Hitt of Kiddar Capital, a partner in the proposed development, was arrested for fraud last October.

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