An Alexandria man was sentenced Friday to 33 months in prison after being convicted of threatening to murder African Americans at Howard University in D.C. John Edgar Rust, 27, entered a restaurant in Alexandria on Nov. 11, 2015, connected his laptop to the establishment’s wireless internet and posted a threat online to murder African Americans […]
An Alexandria man was sentenced Friday to 33 months in prison after being convicted of threatening to murder African Americans at Howard University in D.C.
John Edgar Rust, 27, entered a restaurant in Alexandria on Nov. 11, 2015, connected his laptop to the establishment’s wireless internet and posted a threat online to murder African Americans at the historically black university the next day, according to news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Virginia.
He also posted a statement on an online bulletin board under the username “watchouthoward” a few minutes later, linking to his initial post.
U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady ruled that Rust’s actions were a hate crime, which increased his sentence. In addition to serving time in prison, Rust was ordered to pay $6,458.28 in restitution to Howard University for expenses that resulted from Rust’s crime.
Federal Protective Services and the Alexandria Police Department gave the National Science Foundation the “all clear” after the organization found a suspicious package on Friday morning. The scene was cleared at 10:37 a.m., according to the National Science Foundation. It’s not clear at this time why the package was suspicious. While Federal Protective Services and […]
Federal Protective Services and the Alexandria Police Department gave the National Science Foundation the “all clear” after the organization found a suspicious package on Friday morning.
The scene was cleared at 10:37 a.m., according to the National Science Foundation. It’s not clear at this time why the package was suspicious.
While Federal Protective Services and Alexandria Police Department officers were investigating the scene, Eisenhower Avenue from Mill Road to Stovall Street was closed.
Further details about the incident weren’t immediately available.
By Jordan Wright When forensic sketch artist Kelli Schollard-Sincock was thinking about how she could make an impact in her community, she recalled a casual comment a friend made during a lecture the two women attended. The talk, held in Lorton, featured prisoners’ art the guards had collected, either through barter or outright payment, and she […]
By Jordan Wright
When forensic sketch artist Kelli Schollard-Sincock was thinking about how she could make an impact in her community, she recalled a casual comment a friend made during a lecture the two women attended.
The talk, held in Lorton, featured prisoners’ art the guards had collected, either through barter or outright payment, and she was impressed by the caliber of the work. Her friend said, “You should do that,” referring to teaching art within the prisons. The offhand remark didn’t register until she read a report that President Donald Trump’s administration planned to cut funding for the arts. She saw it as a call to action.
She started by asking Lieutenant Marybeth Plaskus at the Alexandria Detention Center if the center had a need for a prison arts program. Plaskus gave her the nod, and the first class took place in February 2017.
“We started from scratch with one classroom that was immediately filled with about 25 male students. That was such positive reinforcement for me. They were always thankful I was there,” she said.
Since its inception, the program has been hugely popular and has grown rapidly, expanding to offer classes for women.
After her success working in Alexandria’s prison system, she reached out to Fairfax County Detention Center and started another arts program there in August 2017. She now teaches
there twice a week, but due to a lack of space is no longer teaching in Alexandria. There is still more demand, though, Schollard-Sincock said. Her goal is to hire more teachers to fill the many requests for additional classes.
Initially, the challenge was to find art supplies, which are not funded by state or local counties. She had to get creative. Fortunately, that’s what artists do. She discovered the “Buy Nothing Project,” an online sharing organization for free items that operates locally through Facebook.
There, she posted a call for art supplies and had such a positive response that she spent four weeks driving all over the county to gather an immense amount of materials.
She had local help too. Del Ray Artisans heard about her classes and members thought
they could assist. Fundraising Director Joe T. Franklin Jr. and Acting President Drew Cariaso wanted to learn about her program and had her give a talk to their members. Member artists were so impressed with her outreach program that they held a fundraiser, including an in-house drive for materials.
“People have really taken ownership of the program,” she said.
The organization has been instrumental in helping her set up nonprofit “Inspiration Matterz,” which will allow her to expand the program and enlist additional art teachers. She credits William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center Program Directors Lenora Murphy and Latanya Ervin with keeping her program going, as well as husband Austin and son Gregory for support and encouragement. Schollard-Sincock chooses subjects that are executed in a variety of mediums.
“Men and women respond totally differently to the programs. My intention is to teach tangible skills, not just doing crafts. My very first student was an older gentleman. He told me, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here. The best you’re going to get out of me are stick figures,’” she recalled.
The program, however, clicked for the student, Robert McCrickard, when he started
painting. He now creates both paintings and photorealistic drawings.
“He is like the case study of why I’m doing what I’m doing,” Schollard-Sincock said.
Over the past year, she has seen a huge change in their attitudes.
“It’s empowering to learn that you have developed a skill. The biggest thing in these classes is getting them to trust me and not give up,” she said.
Recently, Leslie Montaigne, director of the Target Gallery at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, offered her the gallery for a show. She will host the show this Friday, “Off the Grid,” featuring 49 framed drawings from her prison art program.
Del Ray Artisans will host the opening night reception for “Off The Grid” in the Torpedo Factory’s Site 2 Community Gallery from 7 to 9 p.m. The show runs through Aug. 31.
Kelli Schollard-Sincock’s work can be found on her website, www.kellisincock.
Jordan Wright writes about food, spirits, travel, theatre and culture. Visit her website at www.whiskandquill.com or email her at Jordan@WhiskandQuill.com.
To the Editor: In the “Our View” editorial in the July 5 Alexandria Times, “Pondering patriotism,” you used some of Woody Guthrie’s song “This is your land” as an example of one of our most beautiful songs. When Guthrie first performed this song, many politicians were upset because they claimed it proved that he was […]
To the Editor:
In the “Our View” editorial in the July 5 Alexandria Times, “Pondering patriotism,” you used some of Woody Guthrie’s song “This is your land” as an example of one of our most beautiful songs. When Guthrie first performed this song, many politicians were upset because they claimed it proved that he was a Communist. I agree with you and feel that if we ever decide that we need a new National Anthem that this would be best song to use. Plus it is much easier to sing.
Second, in Lee Ann Gardner’s letter, “Reject hate and incivility toward everyone,” she used the term “illegal immigrants” to describe the people who have been treated so barbarically. These people are legally asking for permission to enter our country. They are trying to escape the problems that they face in their native countries by presenting themselves to officials at the border. Illegal immigrants are those that try to sneak in under the cover of night and not at a regular border crossing.
By Bryan Porter Imagine reading an advertisement for a job that described the requirements of employment thusly: “The successful candidate will be given no formal training and little instruction about how to perform the job. The successful candidate will immediately be asked to make extremely serious decisions and will have to argue her position with […]
By Bryan Porter
Imagine reading an advertisement for a job that described the requirements of employment thusly:
“The successful candidate will be given no formal training and little instruction about how to perform the job. The successful candidate will immediately be asked to make extremely serious decisions and will have to argue her position with 11 strangers in a small, windowless room. The pay is $30 a day.”
Would you willingly apply for the position? Probably not – and for this reason, this position is filled only by issuing a juror summons.
Jury service is an extremely important civic duty but, given how difficult it is to act as a juror many people are averse to serving. The stress level involved in reaching a verdict is even higher in serious cases, such as a murder. Compounding the problem, our system has evolved so that the judge and lawyers involved in a case provide only a modicum of information about the case to prospective jurors. While this system exists to avoid unduly influencing the outcome of a trial, there is no doubt that many jurors are stunned to learn that the judge is unable to answer many of the seemingly innocuous questions the complexities of a trial raises in their minds.
What little information people bring with them into the jury room often comes from television and the movies. This necessarily means that prosecutors often encounter prospective jurors who have preconceived notions about the conduct of a criminal case. Part of the prosecutor’s job is disabusing the juror of any inaccurate views they may harbor so that the matter is judged only on the evidence presented at trial.
For instance, anyone who has ever watched a police procedural knows the phrase “circumstantial evidence.” Because of cinematic portrayals, most lay people consider that term to be a synonym for “weak case.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Allow me to give “circumstantial evidence” a public relations makeover.
As “Helter Skelter” prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi once noted, circumstantial evidence is best thought of not as a chain, where the breaking of one link causes the entire chain to fail. Instead, a better metaphor is a rope. A rope is made of hundreds of threads, and even if one thread fails, the rope itself is still strong because of the hundreds of other threads that comprise it.
Furthermore, DNA is circumstantial evidence. Fingerprints are circumstantial evidence. When I make this point in closing argument, I often see jurors’ jaws drop, but it’s true. The fact that someone’s DNA was left at a crime scene does not mean they committed the offense. There are other possible explanations about how the DNA got there, but the presence of DNA at a crime scene is a circumstance a jury can consider in making their decision. Depending on the case, DNA may be an extremely powerful circumstance – but it is a circumstance nonetheless. The only truly direct evidence is a video of the crime being committed or an eyewitness identifying the criminal. Depending on the case, these pieces of direct evidence may present their own problems.
Almost every murder case is built on circumstantial evidence. In a murder case, the best witness — the victim — is dead, and therefore obviously cannot testify. Usually, the only other witness is the defendant, and he probably isn’t going to take the stand and testify. So, if there are no other eyewitnesses, the prosecution absolutely must rely on circumstantial evidence. In fact, in almost every murder case, we necessarily have to build the case entirely on circumstantial evidence. If we did not, murderers would go unpunished.
Can you imagine a prosecutor telling the mother of a murdered child: “I’m sorry, yes, we have powerful circumstantial evidence, but since there is no direct evidence, we are going to have to let the murderer go free?” If this were our practice, we would, in effect, be telling prospective murderers “just make sure no one is watching, wear gloves and get rid of the gun before the police are on to you and you’re home free.”
This is not, and simply cannot be the law without reducing our society to a state of mortal peril. By necessity, prosecutors and detectives are often required to rely on circumstantial evidence to hold violent criminals accountable.
The writer is Commonwealth’s Attorney for Alexandria.
To the editor: The City of Alexandria hosted a May community meeting on safety improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles to be implemented next year when Seminary Road is repaved. The city’s representatives cited Seminary as “a corridor with a high number of KSI (killed or seriously injured) crashes.” All but one of the city’s […]
To the editor:
The City of Alexandria hosted a May community meeting on safety improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicles to be implemented next year when Seminary Road is repaved.
The city’s representatives cited Seminary as “a corridor with a high number of KSI (killed or seriously injured) crashes.” All but one of the city’s multiple options that were presented proposed reducing Seminary from two lanes to one each way, while adding two bicycle corridors as replacements.
The city’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan has included a form of this proposal since 2008, although a representative said a study was needed to assess the actual impact on traffic delays from a 50 percent road reduction, while another said, “there is no reason it could not be done” like it had been for King Street.
Whatever city leaders decide, it would be best to base the decision on available facts rather than opinion. According to Virginia’s TREDS database to which police report all traffic incidents, Seminary Road was actually one of the top three safest “corridors” in Alexandria the two years even before its speed limit was reduced to 25 mph in early 2016; since the 25 mph speed restriction, it has been one of the two safest roadways in the city – with only one traffic incident so far this year.
Seminary Road has had no bicycle accidents in the two and a half years since the speed was reduced to 25 mph, and only one during the two years before the speed reduction.
And there has been a single pedestrian incident since the speed limit was lowered. That one, as well as the five over the previous three years, were at two locations: three at the Inova Hospital intersection between 7 and 8 a.m., and three at Library Lane between 6 and 8 p.m.
As one of the safest Alexandria streets – even more so after its speed was lowered to 25 mph – does the city need to make Seminary Road “more safe” by replacing two of its vehicular lanes with bicycle lane corridors?
It is a heavily trafficked vehicle corridor now, particularly during rush hour as a connector between Quaker Lane/Duke Street and I-395.
Don’t forget there are 1,750 more parking spaces to be opened at the Mark Center BRAC building after the Defense Department demonstrates “congestion hasn’t [yet] reached failing levels of service.” And it is where the emergency response vehicles egress to and from Inova Hospital and Fire Station 206 – unlike King Street.
In view of its excellent safety record relative to all other Alexandria streets – particularly with the lack of bicycle accidents – it seems maintaining all four of Seminary Road’s lanes for vehicle use at 25 mph makes factual sense, while also preventing any increase in traffic delay. If desired, it would seem reasonable to mark the curb lanes as co-lanes for both bicycles and vehicles in order to serve as a reminder of the occasional bicyclist’s equal right of way.
To address the relatively small number of pedestrian incidents, city funds could be spent wisely at two intersections. At Inova Hospital, a railing that prevents bus passengers from crossing Seminary other than at the light and cross walk is one option. At Library Lane, putting back the fence that prevented crossings other than at the nearby light and crosswalk is another.
An objective review of traffic incidents in Alexandria during the last four and a half years of traffic incidents reveal that a 25 mph Seminary Road has made it one of the safest city streets – not “a corridor with a high number of KSI (killed or seriously injured) crashes.”
But a comprehensive review also shows that there are significant traffic safety problems elsewhere that should be addressed with greater urgency. Regrettably, a number are in less fortunate neighborhoods that might not get as much of a voice in how limited resources are spent, nor be provided a series of public meetings that elicit their safety concerns. However, in government policy, facts should matter, as should equal accountability to all citizens.
Just when it seemed the news couldn’t get any worse for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, on Sunday it did just that: Metro workers voted to authorize a strike – during the very week when the eyes of the country were focused on the District for the Major League Baseball All-Star game. While Sunday’s […]
Just when it seemed the news couldn’t get any worse for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, on Sunday it did just that: Metro workers voted to authorize a strike – during the very week when the eyes of the country were focused on the District for the Major League Baseball All-Star game.
While Sunday’s vote authorized a strike, workers didn’t immediately call one, and to their great credit, WMATA workers did not strike this week. But the mere threat of a Metro stoppage, during a week that should have been purely a celebration of baseball in D.C. with no dark clouds lurking, was unfortunate.
It’s difficult to overstate how significant this all-star game was for the District, the Washington Nationals and to baseball itself. Being granted an allstar game is a stamp of approval for a team and city. It’s an acknowledgement that Major League Baseball believes your team, and city, is functional enough to pull off the game’s annual self-celebration. The game is a showcase of its biggest stars and the home team serves as host and ambassadors for the sport itself.
The Nationals pulled off the organizational facets with aplomb, and on the field outfielder Bryce Harper won the Home Run Derby – and was named the best dressed all-star – while Nats ace Max Scherzer was the starting pitcher. He whipped the crowd into a frenzy by striking out the game’s first two batters. Even better, the game was a back-and-forth romp. But it should never have been threatened by a Metro strike.
These comments are not an indictment of Metro workers, whose contract reportedly expired two years ago. At some point, when an agreement can’t be reached, workers have to use whatever leverage they have – and there’s no greater leverage than disruption of service. So, thank you to Metro workers for not striking during All-Star Week.
This almost-strike, instead, falls at the feet of WMATA management, and is only the latest in a long line of almost unbelievable mistakes and mismanagement dating back almost to the system’s inception. While the troubles go back much further, in the past 3 ½ years alone:
– Alexandria resident Carol Glover, a 61-year-old asthmatic, died in January 2015 when a fire in a tunnel caused riders on her Metro train to become trapped in a smoke-filled car for 45 minutes. Glover’s death was the catalyst for the widespread Metro track repairs that are still ongoing.
– Those extensive repairs led to equally extensive delays, and many riders have just stopped using Metro.
– During the repairs, fares have gone up, while service has been more limited. Making riders pay more and giving them less is not a long-term recipe for building a successful business in any arena. The systemic funding shortages have required localities, Alexandria included, to pony up more money on an annual basis just to fund ongoing WMATA operations.
– Finally, of course, there’s the ongoing debacle surrounding Alexandria’s Potomac Yard Metro station. For the uninitiated, the city announced two months ago that the cost of this station has risen by around $50 million, while the south entrance, the one most accessible to nearby residents, had been eliminated. City residents were kept in the dark about this elimination for a year. WMATA and Alexandria officials have subsequently pointed fingers without accepting full responsibility.
The issues surrounding WMATA, which seem to be endless, beg the question as to whether the system’s operations need to go into receivership like the District of Columbia did in the mid-1990s.
Then, Anthony Williams ably led the District of Columbia as chief financial officer and later mayor, after Congress took control of the city’s finances. Williams, who, ironically, is probably the one individual most responsible for bringing major league baseball back to D.C., would seem an ideal person to right WMATA’s listing ship.
Williams, who is 66, may not be interested. But something, possibly a drastic measure, is necessary to fix the train wreck that is the region’s Metro system.
By Jane King As we grow older, our focus turns to assuring that high-quality, affordable health care is available where we live. What we may overlook is the fact that every aspect of community life can influence our ability to continue to live independently and comfortably. When members of the Alexandria Commission on Aging became aware of the AARP/World […]
By Jane King
As we grow older, our focus turns to assuring that high-quality, affordable health care is available where we live. What we may overlook is the fact that every aspect of community life can influence our ability to continue to live independently and comfortably.
When members of the Alexandria Commission on Aging became aware of the AARP/World Health Organization Network of Age-Friendly Communities, they were excited about the possibility of joining. They knew that, through the network, they would have the
framework for developing a strategic plan that encompasses the characteristics of
a community that benefits all ages.
In June 2016, with the consent of the mayor (and unanimous consent from city council), Alexandria applied to and was accepted in the network (the first in Virginia), and gained access to a national forum for the exchange of information, ideas and programs. Alexandria then had two years to develop an Age-Friendly Plan, which the Commission on Aging had decided to undertake as volunteers. The plan was submitted to council and approved, again unanimously, in May. AARP approved the plan in June.
The city, in 2012, adopted a “Strategic Plan on Aging, 2013 – 2017, The Alexandria of Our Future: A Livable Community for All Ages.” The plan, developed by the Commission on Aging, is an important continuation of the work to advance Alexandria’s accommodation of the needs of its older residents.
AARP/WHO designates eight domains as the crucial elements of an age-friendly community. The domains include outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information and, finally, community and health services.
Over the past two years, the Commission on Aging, focusing on the eight domains,
conducted a variety of activities as part of developing the plan. Committees of the Commission worked to assess the needs of older adults and adults with disabilities. The commission and Senior Services of Alexandria conducted many listening sessions with members of the public, older adults who participate in various programs and Department of Community and Human Services staff who serve older adults and adults with disabilities.
AARP conducted a 500-person phone survey of Alexandrians who were 50 and older focusing on the domains of livability. In November 2017, the Commission on Aging hosted a day-long workshop to elicit participants’ assessment of needs and priorities in housing, transportation, health and civic engagement. The workshop participants included representatives of service providers, nonprofit organizations, transportation officials, residential facilities, members of faith communities and local government staff.
The commission selected 17 goals to pursue from 2019 to 2021, with the assistance of city staff, city nonprofits, businesses, the faith community and others. To address Alexandria’s diversity, the plan emphasizes the importance of outreach to all residents about the services available to them. Affordable housing and assisted living, safe streets and walkways, enhanced opportunities for employment and improved mental health care are just some of the important goals in the plan.
Local nonprofit leaders have partnered to launch a living wage program in the city, the new organization announced on Monday. The living wage program certifies employers who pay their workers a wage in line with living costs in the city. Alexandria businesses are at gold level if they pay $15.70 per hour, silver at $14.13 […]
Local nonprofit leaders have partnered to launch a living wage program in the city, the new organization announced on Monday.
The living wage program certifies employers who pay their workers a wage in line with living costs in the city. Alexandria businesses are at gold level if they pay $15.70 per hour, silver at $14.13 per hour and inspirational at $11.23 per hour.
The private program is envisioned as a road forward for increasing the housing options available to minimum wage workers in the city. Living costs in the city have far surpassed the wages of such workers in the city, and Virginia doesn’t allow individual communities to raise minimum wage.
Employers apply for certification by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and, after being certified, the program encourages customers to support those businesses through advertising, as well as in other ways.
The program was founded by Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, and the Rev. David Gortner, associate dean of church and community engagement at the Virginia Theological Seminary, in collaboration with other leaders in the faith, civic and business sectors.
By Missy Schrott | email@example.com As Joan Leko walked into Alexandria Pastry Shop on a late Friday morning, she was greeted by familiar faces and the scent of fresh baked goods. She ordered a coffee and sat down at a table in the middle of the café’s sunlit seating area, where she pulled out a […]
As Joan Leko walked into Alexandria Pastry Shop on a late Friday morning, she was greeted by familiar faces and the scent of fresh baked goods.
She ordered a coffee and sat down at a table in the middle of the café’s sunlit seating area, where she pulled out a crossword puzzle and got to work.
Shortly after, her friend Helen joined her to chat over a cup of coffee before continuing on with her day. Then three more friends gradually joined Leko’s table.
Almost every day of the week, at any given time, variations of a group of about 10 locals, ranging in age from 60 to 90, can be found frequenting their favorite neighborhood sweet spot, most likely gathered around a table decorated with coffee cups, muffin wrappers and newspapers.
“It’s kind of like Cheers – everybody knows your name,” Ken Erickson, one of the shop’s regulars, said.
“We call it the Cheers for senior citizens,” Marilyn McKeown, another pastry shop groupie, joked.
Many of the shop’s frequent guests have been visiting for decades. Leko has been coming to the Bradlee Shopping Center pastry stop since it opened in 1988. The shop will celebrate its 30th anniversary on July 21.
As the regulars lingered over their coffees and helped each other with the crossword, Alexandria Pastry Shop founder and owner Tom Lally buzzed around the café.
It only takes a few minutes of observing Lally to understand how he’s kept the small business thriving for 30 years.
Cutting through the kitchen from his office to the café, he took time to ensure operations were running smoothly, sampling homemade buttercream frosting, checking to see if stacks of cakes were cool and skirting around bustling bakers with the ease of someone who dodges flying dough on a daily basis.
He appeared equally at home on the other side of the doors, greeting customers by name, stepping in to help out a busy cashier at the register and sliding wedding cake samples in front of a bride-and-groom-to-be.
While the pastry shop has won numerous awards and accolades over the years from publications like the Washingtonian, Lally said he considered his greatest accomplishments the relationships he’s developed with his employees and customers.
Over the course of 30 years, Lally has kneaded Alexandria Pastry Shop into more than a place to grab your morning coffee, a light lunch or a sweet treat – he’s made it a community institution.
Lally has always loved pastries and fondly recounts childhood memories of visiting neighborhood bakeries with his mother.
He graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in food service and housing administration and worked in several D.C. area restaurants and bakeries before he switched to bakery sales.
He met his wife and settled in a house about a mile from the Bradlee Shopping Center, which Lally decided would be perfect for a bakery.
Lally said that his decade in bakery sales gave him a foot in the door in the industry and allowed him to open Alexandria Pastry Shop quickly in the former High’s Dairy Store location in 1988.
“We were on a bare bones budget,” Lally said. “And we begged, borrowed, stealed equipment, and loaned and financed everything we could do to get the place open.”
From the moment the bakery first opened, Lally said it’s been his philosophy to make everything from scratch with the best available ingredients, from imported chocolate to fresh eggs to real vanilla bean.
Adhering to the highest standards of quality has allowed Lally to build a reputation in the community. Over the years, Alexandria Pastry Shop has made its mark on Alexandria as a go-to casual lunch spot and bakery, as well as a successful catering business and wedding cake designer.
“I hear people say, when they want a special birthday cake, when they want a special party cake, they come here to get stuff that’s going to taste good,” he said. “During the holidays, we’ll have people come and say, ‘I don’t know what we would do without you. You’re a tradition at my home.’”
The pastry shop’s menu is constantly evolving and expanding, both to keep up with food trends like the cupcake boom-and-bust and to take advantage of seasonal ingredients. This summer, Lally landed a hit with a blueberry lemon cake and, more recently, has been experimenting with fresh peaches.
Lally said he makes it a point to continue learning from fellow bakers, whether it’s through visiting local pastry shops while traveling or by taking advice from his customers in Alexandria.
For example, one Christmas in the shop’s early years, Lally said he had tried and failed to make a German Christmas stollen.
“It was the worst stollen,” he said. “But this German lady came in one time, and we talked, and I said, ‘We just have this terrible stollen,’ and she goes, ‘I have a family recipe.’ I said, ‘Will you give it to me?’ And she said, ‘Sure,’ and it’s the best. We’ve been using it for like, 20-some years.”
Lally said it’s the daily interactions like these, with his customers and staff, that make the job worthwhile.
Regulars like Leko and her crew said they return to the pastry shop day after day for the atmosphere, the company and the food.
“Everybody knows everybody, plainly,” Leko said. “If you go somewhere and then you don’t want to go home yet, you come here and you have coffee and cake.”
The regulars in Leko’s group all live nearby, but most hadn’t known each other until they started meeting at the pastry shop. The informal gatherings escalated from once a week, to a couple times a week, to not being able to walk into the shop without recognizing at least one person.
“It’s like when you’re a kid and you’re growing up and you call somebody, ‘Hey, can Johnny come out and play? Can Suzie come out and play?’” Erickson said. “We’ve kind of got this routine here, where you know you’re going to find your friends here.”
Erickson said he likes that the group can hang out for several hours without feeling rushed to pay the bill and leave as they would at an ordinary sit-down restaurant.
Each day, the group spends time together talking about their families, doing the weekly crossword puzzle, sharing book recommendations and, of course, splitting a pastry or two.
“We do not feel old, and I think that’s the important thing,” McKeown said. “We all come from different [backgrounds], yet we’re all able to sit, have a cup of coffee, share something and feel that this has been an important part of our day.”
“I’ll tell you what I like,” Ella van Bakergem said, pausing to carefully slice her fork into a piece of triple chocolate mousse cake. “Well, first of all, I like the pastries. That’s the number one thing that drew me here in the beginning.”
Besides the desserts, van Bakergem said she liked the ambiance of the pastry shop. Unlike other cafés or restaurants, the floor plan is open, there isn’t loud music blaring and the seating isn’t taken up by businesspeople on laptops, she said.
“You could go in the coffee shop starting with ‘S’ and ending with ‘K’ next door, and it’s not the same,” McKeown said.
While the regulars are hooked on the café’s character, cakes and companionship, some customers are drawn to the shop by tradition.
“The children coming in who were looking at the cookies in the cookie case, … we’ve done their wedding cakes,” Lally said, “Now they’re coming back with their children, and they’re looking in the cookie case. It’s been a generational thing for people.”
Lally said his key to maintaining such a loyal customer base, beyond producing quality products, has been ensuring positive customer service.
“When I hire people to work up front, I try to hire attitude, not experience,” he said. “We teach them how to answer the phone, how to address people, and I say to them, ‘You’re going to learn things here, how you want to treat people when you go out to a restaurant, because you’ll see how people treat you here.’”
One of Lally’s college-age employees, Andres Montenegro, said Alexandria Pastry Shop gave his father one of his first jobs when he emigrated from Bolivia.
When asked about the shop’s secret to success, Montenegro said it boiled down to customer service.
“Since it’s a small shop, we don’t have the resources that big companies do, so I think customer service is the main thing that helps people feel like they have a good connection,” he said.
Lally said, in the end, he attributes the shop’s 30 thriving years to quality and service.
“I have a couple doing a wedding cake tasting over there, and the bride said she doesn’t eat cake” he said as he helped clean up from a lunch rush, glancing over his shoulder at a couple sitting at a cozy corner table.
“She’s on her second slice,” he said, “so we’re doing something right.”