A fire shut the doors of Al’s Steak House last week, but that didn’t stop hundreds of people from lining up outside of an Alexandria restaurant Thursday night for the Del Ray neighborhood’s most famous cheesesteak sandwich.
More than a half dozen neighborhood restaurants, their owners and chefs banded together to host a fundraiser to support the Breeding family, who had their steak-and- cheese shop burned out by an accidental fire on their opening day July 6.
July 6 might also have been called a kind of reopening day. Owner Emily Breeding, 21, her mother Dorothy Breeding and their family had invested their modest family fortunes to revive an Alexandria institution and one of their favorite eateries.
“Al’s is a part of us all. I ate Al’s as a kid. And I raised our kids on Al’s,” Dorothy Breeding said.
“We're not giving up,” Emily Breeding continued.
“Heck, we were just getting started,” her mom said.
Still, the future of the restaurant remains in doubt.
Enter fellow Del Ray Avenue restaurant owners “Mango” Mike Anderson and Bill Blackburn, of Holy Cow burgers, who decided to close their menu and use their space to serve the famous cheesesteaks to raise money to keep the Breeding dream alive.
“You could always count on getting a great sandwich at a reasonable price at Al’s,” said Anderson began eating there in 1972.
“I hope that they can be lifted like Phoenix rising and resurrect the place.”
Al’s Steak House was a legendary fixture in the community over five decades, but the shop closed in December after long time owner John Severson died in August.
The Breeding family bought the business with the intention of bringing Del Ray the same steak cooked low and slow and topped with choice of cheese and fixings. However, fire ripped through an inner wall on their first afternoon serving customers, and left smoke and water damage and an uncertain future.
Dorothy Breeding said they are waiting to hear from insurance people to determine how much total damage was done. Fire officials told them the fire smoldered in a wall and spread up toward the roof.
They hope to be able to reopen within four to six months, she said, but even that is uncertain.
Blackburn said fellow restaurants such as Cheesetique, Evening Star, Taqueria Poblano, Del Ray Pizzeria, St. Elmo’s coffee pub brought in guest chefs and helped buy enough steak, bread and toppings to make 400 cheesesteaks. The group brought in Severson’s son Bo to teach them the exact recipes down to how properly shred the lettuce and onions.
Organizers planned to make one sandwich every 40 seconds for the few hours they were open. They sold $20 sandwiches at a clip of 1 per 30 seconds to a crowd that stood in half block long line in nearly triple digit temperatures.
“You could feel this building on Twitter and Facebook,” Blackburn said. “I think this was exactly what the Breeding family needed.”
The Breedings agree. They family praised the generous support from fellow businesses and customers since the first day of the fire.
“I am in awe. People have reached out to us...it’s been uplifting and given us a lot of hope,” Emily Breeding said.