It's 1 o'clock in the afternoon the temperature is soaring above 90 degrees and two lines have already formed inside the unpretentious store with the unassuming name in the heart of Old Town Alexandria's restaurant district.
"150 and 65 is 215 and 35 is 250 and 30 is that'll be $2.80, m'am, thank you very much and have a real nice day," 22-year-old Anthony Gee, the fastest talker in the place, says at supersonic speed to a delighted customer. By the time the cash register matches his mental calculations, Gee is already with the next patron.
At a nearby register, Gee's father, Tony, is entertaining the exiting customers. "Say, brother, did you enjoy your lunch?" says the heavy-set, neatly-trimmed elder Gee to a man headed out the door. He gets a quick wave and a nod in reply.
All right family . . . Was it to your satisfaction? . . . Come back now. Here, why doesn't everybody just take one of these?"
He hands them each, about seven of them, a small rectangular-shaped piece of paper that says, "Anyone who remains calm in the midst of all this confusion just doesn't understand the situation."
This is lunch time at The Snack Bar, an Alexandria institution -- probably the simplest and least expensive cafe in Old Town and the only black-owned business along restaurant row on the city's popular, suburban-trendy lower King Street.
No fancy decorations, stereo music, snappy waiter outfits, tongue-twisting menus or elegant facilities here. The Snack Bar thrives on low prices -- most expensive item: a $2 hoagie -- two old cash registers, a couple of long counters, two small dining rooms with shabby booths and a group of grammar school desks scattered about the front for hurried customers.
Tony Gee, 39, owner of the cafe and architect of its carnival-like atmosphere, likes it that way. "You know, it's not that we go out of our way to be nice, but you treat people like you wanta be treated," Gee says as he breaks from the rush-hour madness.
The establishment has claimed, at one time or another such notable patrons as boxer George Foreman, actor Robert Duvall (of "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now," whose family lives in Alexandria), actress Eva Gabor and a slew of congressmen and local dignitaries such as Alexandria Mayor Charles Beatley.
Gee, an ordained minister and pastor of the Third Baptist Church in Alexandria, attributes his success to low overhead, friendly service and a style unlike others.
Just as The Snack Bar's decor stands out from that of the fancier neighboring businesses, the outside too stands out along the north side of the 100 block. It is marked simply by a white coat of paint trimmed in black and a dark-striped canopy just below the plain hanging sign that says, simply, "Snack Bar."
"I once saw an article in a newspaper, back in 1962 . . . that said personalized service had become archaic and 'thank you' was no longer in the American vocabulary," says Gee.
For that reason Gee, who started at The Snack Bar 21 years ago as a porter, at age 19, says he has always put a personal zing in his service. It adds to his customers' day and makes them feel at home, so they'll come back. It must be working. Gee says he averages around 800 customers daily, of which he estimates 500 are regulars.
"I've gotten to know about 90 percent of all people who come here," he says. "This is my life." He took over ownership of the cafe in 1975, where themotto, he says, is "NO tipping please."
In addition to Anthony, Gee's crew includes another son, William, 19, and his daughter, 17-year-old Tracy.
"It's fun," says Anthony, "especially when its busy." A former salesman, Anthony says he's convinced that he's having so much fun there, he plans to stay awhile because, "This is it."
Jane McDonald, a retired government worker, agrees.
"He sort of aims to please," McDonald says, as she unwraps a chicken salad sandwich. "He runs a very tight ship."
But perhaps Bill Fox Sr., an Alexandria native, best sums up the feelings of Snack Bar fans. Fox says he's been going there since it first opened, and is a good friend of Tony Gee.
"Let me put it this way," says Fox. "It's no Waldorf-Astoria, but I'd rather eat here than there."