Iconic Herndon breakfast spot serves up eggs, family values
Thursday, March 18, 2010
For the Kreugers, managing the family-owned Virginia Kitchen is a labor of love.
Linc Krueger and his wife, Julie, have owned and managed the iconic Herndon breakfast spot for eight years. In 2002, Krueger left his job as a retail manager for Brooks Brothers in the District and took over the restaurant from his ailing father-in-law, John Andrews.
"It was in danger of closing its doors, and we had a decision to make," he said. "In the end, it was an easy one, because we realized that the family restaurant was bigger than any one person."
The restaurant opened in 1973 as a Waffle King owned by West Virginia native Andrews, who had developed the brand into a franchise of 13 locations in Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio.
In the mid-1980s, Andrews sold the franchise and opened Virginia Kitchen a few hundred yards down the road from the former location of the original Herndon Waffle King.
"My father was a self-made man who put every inch of himself into this restaurant," said Julie Krueger, the eldest of Andrews's four daughters. "When he began suffering a series of strokes in late 2001, my family knew we had to keep it alive somehow."
Waitress Doris Jordan, 59, began working as a cook at the original location in 1981.
"Twenty-nine years ago I was in my car with my husband and kids and I decided to apply for a job at the Herndon Waffle King," she said. "I was hired on the spot, and I'm still here. My husband even had to drive the kids home that evening because I started working right then and there."
Jordan called Andrews a "tough but generous" man who often took employees on trips to Atlantic City and once sprung for an employee cruise on the Caribbean.
"He really treated us like family," she said. "And he treated customers that way, too."
That family theme is evident throughout the establishment. Mugs display a silhouette of Andrews's grandmother, and framed hand-drawn caricatures of restaurant staff members hang on the floral-printed walls. Menus feature photos of regular customers.
According to regulars, Virginia Kitchen is best known for two things: hearty breakfasts and hospitality.
"The home-style cooking and the friendliness of the staff are unparalleled," said Mike O'Reilly, former Herndon mayor. "I honestly have out-of-town friends that visit me just so they can eat there."
Lines of customers regularly extend out the front door and into the parking lot. Inside there are pots of jam and preserves on every table, fresh pies daily and generous breakfast platters with names such as "the Country Boy" and "Johnny Reb's Grandpa."
"Breakfast is certainly what we are known for and is our No. 1 niche," said Linc Krueger, who estimates that the restaurant serves more than 1,000 people on a typical weekend. "We go through 2,700 eggs and squeeze approximately 1,500 fresh oranges a week."
For the lunch crowd, there are daily specials and sandwiches named after restaurant employees. "If someone works here for 10 years, they get a sandwich named after them," Krueger said.
"We don't go on weekends for breakfast anymore," said longtime patron John DeNoyer, 83, of Herndon. "I prefer to go on Thursdays for lunch when it is less crowded and they have roasted turkey and Mexican scramblies with hot jalapenos."
"As good as our food is, I think that people come here because we are authentic and we treat people well," Krueger said. "Coming from a larger corporate culture into a smaller family-owned business, it has been amazing to me how much we have become a part of people's daily lives and routines. I find it extremely rewarding, and I plan to continue the tradition."