Five years in the making, Society Fair is finally expected to uncork its first wine, wrap its first loaf of bread, slice its first sausage and sell its first fruit vinegar at 277 S. Washington St. in Alexandria on Jan. 17. “Friends, family and the curious” are welcome to attend the soft launch, says co-owner Meshell Armstrong.
You’d think she and her husband and business partner, Cathal Armstrong, who announced the opening of the $2 million food and wine emporium this morning, would be content with four popular places to eat in Old Town Alexandria: Restaurant Eve , Eamonn’s , Majestic and Virtue Feed & Grain .
“Somebody has to solve the economic crisis!” jokes the top chef.
His real reasons for adding another line to his portfolio involve staff morale and filling a hole in the marketplace. “Dan (Fisher) and Nathan (Hatfield) have been with me a long time,” says their boss, who tapped the veteran cooks to oversee Society Fair’s meat and baking departments, respectively. The combination wine bar, food market, butcher and bread shop will offer some of the restaurant group’s signature dishes as well as products that Armstrong and company prefer to use in their kitchens, including aged maple syrup from a supplier in Vermont and quince, raspberry and lemon vinegars from Beaujolais. The latter, says Armstrong, are good enough to drink on their own.
“If you like to eat, this is a good place. If you like to cook [ditto],” the chef promises. Alluring in purple paint and a pressed tin ceiling, the 7,000-square foot gourmet enterprise designed by partner Meshelle Armstrong extends to an outdoor patio and (attention, party planners!) an atrium designed to accommodate up to 300 diners for catered events.
Society Fair’s name is a nod to both the Royal Dublin Society, the famous exhibition hall in the chef’s native Ireland, and the festive “circus” air the owners hope to create.
The other principals in the project include John Wabeck, wine and beverage manager; Todd Thrasher, who has whipped up original wine cocktails for the occasion; and Rob Shinn, product developer.
Is this it for a while?
“We do have another Eamonn’s in the works” destined for Penrose Square on Columbia Pike in Arlington this spring, says Armstrong. But before that, the 42-year-old taekwondo student has a test coming up: He’s aiming for his green belt this Saturday, hoping to get a little closer to the black belt honor already bestowed on his 9-year-old son, Eamonn, whom dad is required to bow to in deference when they practice.