WEDNESDAY, JULY 14 2010 07:19:12 PM
The Mad Fox Brewing Company opened its doors to pre-opening guests last weekend and on its first general opening day, it was packed to the hilt, much the surprise of owner and chief brewmaster Bill Madden., shown here in front of one of the giant stainless steel serving tanks. (Photo: News-Press)
New Business May Offer Boost to Local Economy
Monday night around 9 p.m., a small entourage of Falls Church City officials and their friends, departing from early-ending City Council and Planning Commission meetings, descended on the just-opened Mad Fox Brewing Company in downtown Falls Church and were astounded at the sight of a capacity crowd of happy patrons filing the long bar and abundant dining tables. It was a Monday night! The place had just officially opened that very day!
More than the pre-opening offers of gratis meals to Falls Church “A-Listers,” their families and the company’s investors over the previous weekend, Monday’s stunning turnout marked, in the eyes of the City officials beleaguered by the long and persisting effects of the Great Recession, the first tangible evidence of brighter times ahead.
As successful as other Falls Church restaurant institutions have been drawing crowds, including Ireland’s Four Provinces, the Dogwood Tavern, Argia’s and, of course, the State Theatre, there’s simply never been anything like what the Mad Fox Brewing Company looked like on its maiden night in business.
Mad Fox owner Bill Madden didn’t expect it. He’d angled for the proverbial “soft opening,” that two or three week period most new restaurants utilize to better train their staff, including their waiters, bartenders and chefs, to minimize unhappy customer experiences once a “grand opening” is announced.
“Soft openings” are supposed to be under the public radar, held devoid of formal advertising and other forms of brouhaha. But there’s no underestimating these days the power of blogs and tweets, andNews-Press reports of the restaurant’s imminent opening.
Beer and food supplies for Monday night were taxed to the hilt, but patrons did not appear to mind any delays or deficiencies in service due to the inexperienced staff.
THE NEW MAD FOX Brewing Company at 444 W. Broad in downtown Falls Church eventually hopes to have outside seating for up to 75 patrons. (Photo: News-Press)
Most surprising to the initial weekend patrons, and widely disseminated on the Internet, including on the News-Press website, was not only the expected delight of the variety of boutique beers brewed on the premises, but the dazzling array of high quality cuisine items on the menu.
Far from the expected burgers, fries, chicken wings and chili offerings of other brew pubs, Mad Fox’s menu features duck breast, lamb chops, sea bass, cioppino, three varieties of mussels and eight varieties of both large New York-style and individual-sized Neapolitan pizzas. That’s for starters.
There’s also an amazing array of toppings, including premium toppings and sauces, for the pizzas, and additional entrees such as stuffed meatloaf, steak frites, half boneless roasted chicken, 10 oz. New York strip steak, shrimp and grits and crispy tofu.
On the list of appetizers, in addition to the mussels (of Wallonian, Bloody Mary and Meuniere varieties), are fried green tomatoes, frickles, soft baked pretzels, tuna tartare and pork bellies, in addition to the expected fries, onion rings and wings. There are two soups – gazpacho and soup of the day – six salads and eight sandwiches (including the Mad Fox Burger, of course).
Also least expected at a brew pub is the selection of wines provided by general manager Bruce Hicks, a veteran of 30 years of restaurant openings in the D.C. area who fashions himself as a wine aficionado.
Bill Madden and wife Beth, two of the four principals of the company, were on hand to talk at length with patrons throughout the pre-opening weekend, even turning times when Madden was busy doing what he does best: brew the beer.
He was seen in high rubber boots and a barley-stained shirt welcoming patrons on Monday. He’s brewing seven beers now, and eventually will offer 20 varieties out of the giant stainless steel vats that are readily visible to customers.
“Things are going phenomenally well,” Madden crowed. “Falls Church has been great and we’re happy to be here.”
Eventually, the establishment hopes to get a license for live music, with a small elevated stage area near the long bar set up for such a use, and outside dining that could accommodate up to 75. There are 320 parking spaces underground at the site.
With the outside dining, especially, the plaza in the center of the larger Spectrum development could take on the look of a “mini-Shirlington,” Hicks observed. With the Panera Bread and Koi Koi restaurants across the plaza, currently vacant retail spots can now be expected to fill up quickly, in addition to the 181 brand new residential condominium units directly above the complex.
“This could be a game-changer for Falls Church,” observed one City official Monday night. The entourage from City Hall included Councilman and former mayor Robin Gardner, city treasurer Cathy Kaye, commissioner of the revenue Tom Clinton and Planning Commissioners Lindy Hockenberry and Melissa Teates. Another former mayor, Dan Gardner and spouse Deb, who reside in The Byron across the street, meandered in to join his friends there.
Tuesday, the place was filing up again when a violent thunderstorm knocked out its power for almost an hour. With it still light outside, illuminating the inside through its large windows, patrons yelped when the lights went out, but then went on buzzing and eating as if nothing had happened.
In addition to the meals tax and other revenues the Mad Fox will add to City coffers, it has overnight become one of the top half dozen private sector employers in the City, with over 100 on the payroll already and up to 300 eventually. A large number of the employees are City residents, and range in age from high school to senior citizens.
Training classes for new hires are going on constantly and it is in the works to offer partial health insurance benefits and a week’s vacation after a year, two phenomenal benefits for employees of such an establishment.
Environmental concerns also drive the company policy, as all the “to go” boxes are biodegradable and the leftover burned oatmeal and other remnants of the brewing and dining process are shipped to farms for use as livestock feed.
While the explosive turnout on Monday caused the restaurant to be temporarily sold out of some of its cask beers, that should not recur as Madden begins to complete the one-to-three week process for completing new beers. The production system on site is also ready for beer that will be aged out of bourbon barrels that will result in much stronger flavors. Among the Virginia-based bourbons whose barrels are set up for this is the Cactoctin Creek brand, which is also served, of course, over the bar.
Falls Church is rapidly becoming “cosmopolitan with a home-town feel,” one observer noted. In addition to the Maddens, Rick Garvin and Randy Barnette play leadership roles at Mad Fox, and there are 42 investors.