Talk: Sue Christie

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Sue Christie, co-president, the McLean branch of the American Association of University Women [AAUW]. Founded in 1969, the McLean branch has a strong program in support of AAUW’s mission to advance equity for women and girls. In June 2022, the McLean branch achieved the distinction of being named a 5-Star Branch of AAUW. The recognition came in response to the success of their work in five areas: Programs; Advancement: Fundraising and Membership; Communications and External Relations; Public Policy and Research and Governance and Sustainability. Nationally, AAUW began in 1881. Nonpartisan, though not values-neutral, the group fights to remove the barriers and biases that stand in the way of gender equity. 

Q. Why and when did you first become a member of the McLean branch of AAUW?

I joined in June 2013 looking for both kindred souls and to level the playing field for women and girls.  It is easy to forget in a place like McLean that many girls and women in our community are hitting barriers every day and at every turn.

Q. What is your professional background?

 I have a BA from the University of Michigan.  My last position was Deputy Executive Director of the American Public Human Services Association where I ran the management and leadership consulting department.   Other jobs included Secretary of the Utah Department of Social Services and COO of the Colorado Department of Social Services.

Q. What are your goals as co-president of the McLean branch of AAUW?

My goal is the organization’s goal. My fifteen second sentence is that we at national and within the communities are trying to level the playing field for girls and women either in the classroom or the workplace. National has gotten very focused, and we have tried to follow suit, in doing things that speak directly to that mission.

Q. What are some of those “things” your organization is doing to speak to that mission?

We give grants, scholarships to two schools who have a lot of women returning who have had their education disrupted, who face more barriers than probably I or perhaps you faced, letting them start with a little more level playing field as they go back into the workplace. We recognize high school students in four schools. We’ve added two Title 1 schools [Title I is a federal education program that supports low income students throughout the nation.] in Northern Virginia, where those kids and those teachers have lots of resources but not equaling the ones sitting in the middle of McLean. We are looking for young women who are excelling in science and math and in computer sciences that’s offered in the school. We do an  essay contest for middle schoolers who are asked to identify and write about a woman scientist who we might not have heard about. I think we won’t see the end of that for quite a while given the number of women who have done good work that sit on the sidelines. We  try to be both in schools and with women in the workplace. We try and have programs that speak to that vision and we are now going fairly heavy into community involvement that is putting boots on the ground.

Q. Which colleges do you support?

The colleges are Trinity Washington University, Marymount University and Bennett College in North Carolina. We clearly are putting an emphasis not only on leveling the playing field in general but leveling that playing field for girls and women of color. They have an even bumpier road as it were.

Q. What does your membership look like here in McLean?

Our membership is sitting at just about 117. That is the largest in the state of Virginia. We have a a lot of women who care about these issues, very generous people who who care about these issues. As you would in most organizations, we also have a social component because that’s how people build relationships and learn to work together and find common cause. We have mostly retired women but not all. We are going heavy after the next generation because as all organizations know if we don’t pull in that next generation… .We welcome any individual who has earned an associate or academic equivalent, bachelor’s or higher degree from an accredited college or university. Undergraduate students who do not already hold a bachelor’s degree can join as student affiliates.

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From left to right: Juanita Cullen, liaison to Trinity Washington University; Anita Booth, branch co-president; Eva Salmeron, Marymount University; Saba Hashemi, Marymount University; Shandale Scott, Trinity Washington University; Katherine Healy, Trinity Washington University; and Sue Christie, branch co-president.

Q. What fields are the McLean AAUW members in?

We have women in journalism, psychology economics, mathematics, nursing, medicine, law, publishing… We have what I would call a pretty powerful set of women here. They care, they bring extraordinary  experience to the table. As we start to reinvest in the community and otherwise, we bring a lot of people who know how to make things happen. That’s basically about the best you can ask from an organization that’s volunteer.

Q. A lot of organizations find themselves changing, evolving — coming out of the pandemic. Did your organization shift in anyway?

One of the things we’ve done coming out  of the pandemic is sort of reorient ourselves, get a more rigorous strategic planning process and put the people in the right spots, branding. If anyone knew anything about AAUW, it was synonymous with book sales as our fundraiser. People know us as having done Stemtastic for high school kids but it spoke to the need for better branding. We’re in the process of upgrading our social media, piece by piece, we’re upgrading our look, making it  more dynamic as the need is clearly there in this area. We’ve tried to spend the last two years probably resetting; recalibrating; reenergizing.


Members of the McLean Area Branch have a long history of giving their time, energy, and voices to advocate for issues at the local, state, and national levels.

Q. What are some of the social events you mentioned earlier?

We have branch meetings; in December and May we do luncheons. We have a  potluck where we bring in the national fellows and grant recipients that we have endowed with national. So every year when they give those, we celebrate those women — who are really pretty heavy duty women coming in with their PhDs in some very esoteric areas —  that we all find very fascinating and they’re all going to take that back into the community generally to the benefit of women wherever they land. Then the various interest groups where small groups of people meet: book clubs; current events groups; things that keep us individually and collectively on top of  the issues; invested in issues; knowledgeable in issues.

Q. Besides, scholarships/grants, how does the local branch support national’s goals?

We do policy advocacy based on national and state of Virginia priorities We will  both inform our members; ask our members to act —  what we call 2 minute activists, like pick up the phone now. We are involved in Richmond’s Lobby Day and we can do that easier than national because we are physically located in the Washington, D.C area. We have been very very active — and again there  may be differences in different localities,  where are the pressure points in this area? Do we have  lot of companies giving maternity leave but nobody doing anything about child care? Do we have equal access to healthcare for women?  Although national doesn’t push on health care,  it clearly is a determinant for economic security. We used to — and are thinking about whether we continue— attend all the Fairfax County School Board meetings. We have in fact —  as National did —  put out a statement when the new educational requirements came out from the state of Virginia relative to teaching history and social studies. 

Gayle Jo Carter is the editor of McLean Today.

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at contact@mcleantoday.org.

Talk: Saehee Perez

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Saehee Perez, a McLean High School senior recently selected as one of Virginia’s delegates in the United States Senate Youth Program. The U.S. Senate Youth Program is a week-long educational program for high school students interested in government related fields. Two delegates are selected from each state, including Washington, D.C .to represent in this event.

Q. Explain to us, what is the U.S. Senate Youth Program?

The United States Senate Youth Program is a scholarship program where each delegate receives $10,000 for college and gets to spend a week in DC fully funded. They’ll get to meet different people from [the] government and top journalists [who] might come in as well. This is supposed to give high schoolers an insight into different government officials. 

Q. Why did you decide to apply for the program?

I am very interested in politics. It’s something that I want to study and pursue once I graduate. This program also has an alumni network of people that have been involved in politics since they were in high school. The opportunity to get to sit down with senators and have a meeting is amazing. Beyond that, being able to meet different people within the government. That’s something that I really wanted to experience because I’ve never been 100% sure about pursuing politics. I think it’s an opportunity for me to learn if this is the right path for me.

Q. Do you have any experience in government as a student?

I ran for class of 2023 president for junior and senior year [and won both offices]. This past year, I also ran for a SGA [Student Government Association] position and the difference between this and class council is that SGA is school wide. So in addition to being senior class president, I’m also an SGA officer.

Q. What are you most looking forward to in the program?

I want to be able to explore different career paths within the government [because] there are so many different options. Things such as national security that require good information on technology and computer science. Just being [able to] hear from people of all fields, who had a big impact on the government, that’s something that I’m looking forward to the most.

Q. What are your plans after high school?

I will be attending the University of Virginia next fall through the Posse Scholars Program. Right now, I’m really torn between the different majors. I’ve narrowed it down to public policy which is under the Batten School [The Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy] which is under the College of Arts and Sciences, and then government or foreign affairs.

Q.  What is a Posse Scholar?

[The Posse Foundation] selects a posse of students for their partner campuses and they offer full tuition scholarships to those students. You have to apply and [then The Posse Foundation] will nominate students and interview them as finalists. I sent in my application and got nominated. It wasn’t really something that I was imagining for myself. It’s easy to get into your head about these things, especially when you see every single person who was interviewing there was great. Genuinely, I think everyone there has the potential to succeed in whatever they do. It gets a little hard to be like, “Yes, I’m going to be the one that ends up with the scholarship.” So that’s why when I found out about it, I was surprised. 

At a Model UN conference

Q. When you’re not studying or being class president, what else are you involved in?

As far as school clubs, I’ve done Model UN since seventh grade. This was really the first club that I ever got involved in. It is also how I got over my fear of public speaking. The community and friends I’ve made there [have] always been really supportive. It feels like a second family. I’m part of the Virginia High School Democrats, which I’ve chaired for the last two years. We focus a lot on getting other high school Democrats involved within Virginia state politics. Every year that I’ve been involved in, we’ve managed to introduce at least one bill in each legislative session in Virginia, which I think is really cool. Not just the fact that it happened, but also that it’s 15 to 17-year-olds that are able to do this. Another thing that takes up a bit of my time is called the Pride Liberation Project, which is a coalition of different queer student advocates in Virginia working for better LGBTQIA+ rights.

Q. What’s a fun fact about you?

I am a plant mom, and I have about six or seven plants at home. I also studied abroad last summer in Taiwan through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLIY) and that had been a goal of mine since eighth grade. I grew up in a Korean, English, Spanish and Japanese household so I was always very inclined towards learning different languages. I am studying Chinese and I’m hoping to get fluent in it. Later on, I also want to learn Japanese, Spanish and Arabic in that order.


In Taiwan last summer, on a study abroad program through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLIY). “That had been a goal of mine since eighth grade,” says Saehee Perez.

Q. What’s the best advice you can give someone interested in getting involved in causes that are important to them?

Literally just show up. People notice when you show up, especially when you’re young because when you get involved in different things in politics, you’ll notice that it’s often people over 50. Just by virtue of being a young person, you will already stick out. Keep coming to different events and keep offering to help. There’s also that tier of young people — but still older than us —  always very willing to be mentors and willing to connect you to different resources. Just come to events since there’s half the battle already. People show up one, two or three times and then never show up again. That’s really the expectation. The bar is very low. So as long as you’re above that threshold, you can make a difference.

Dania Reza is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is a junior at McLean High school and is an assistant design editor-in-chief of her school news magazine, The Highlander. 


Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at contact@mcleantoday.org.

Talk: Alex Levy

In this week’s TALK series, McLean Today sits down with Alex Levy, artistic director at 1st Stage — https://1ststage.org/. 1st Stage has maintained an effort to create opportunities for the next generation of theater artists and professionals since its opening in 2009. Levy has embraced that vision, joining 1st Stage in 2014.

Q. What is the mission of 1st Stage?

1st Stage is a professional, nonprofit theater company. We are the only professional theater in the Tysons area and we were, at the time of our founding, the only professional theater in Fairfax County. Our mission is based around the idea of building community through culture and arts and storytelling. We have been providing resources for world class artists to do their best work. That’s been our focus since 2008.

Q. Was there anything surprising the theater learned when it was first starting out?

The company was started by Mark Krikstan, who was a beloved drama teacher at Marshall High School. Some of his students had become professionals and wanted to do theater in their own community, and so they started a company the way most companies start: a lot of volunteer and sweat, and effort. [They] really had the idea of it being a company for young people to get their beginning, professional resume going. I think the big surprise was that they discovered how much this community was hungry to have the arts in their community and so they grew very, very quickly. Mark recognized it was growing sort of bigger than anything he ever expected to run and left the company very early. [The] ambition of the company really changed its focus from being a company for beginning artists to being a company that really could bring in and support people who are at the top of their field, while still always maintaining an effort to create opportunity for the next generation of theater artists. 

Q. You joined in 2014. Can you talk about how you became an artistic director, and then how you got involved with 1st Stage?

I actually became an artistic director for the first time in a really young age and sort of accidentally. I came to theater a little bit later than some — sort of found my way in college and started working for a company in Chicago, right after college. Five years later, the founder of that company decided it was time to retire. I was asked to take over the company in my late 20s. It was a trial by fire for sure. I learned on the job, as we always do. Then, I stepped aside from that role to go back to school. I went to grad school in Los Angeles. I started just directing around the country, and then came back when the opportunity came to come to 1st Stage. I walked in as an artistic director with a very different mindset, having worked in the field a lot, having done it once before and really having a sense of the kind of artistic director I wanted to be in the kind of company I thought I could help 1st Stage become. It was exciting to get to sort of do it once knowing nothing and do it the second time knowing a little bit more at least.

Q. What does an artistic director do and what does that role include?

I’m in charge of all the programming. I pick the shows we perform; I set the strategic plan and mission; I hire directors; I direct myself; I help develop new works; I lead the charge on our youth engagement work. I’m also the managing director of the company too, so I also oversee all of the financial aspects, the marketing and the fundraising.

Q. What has kept you at 1st Stage for so long?

I love it here. I really do. The people are first and foremost. From the board to the staff to the artists to our audiences — there is a warmth and a community that I love. There’s a feeling of coming together. There’s a value in sharing and stories. There is a real belief in the work. There’s a joy in taking risk, of trying to do things that are hard and leading with a mindset of taking care of people, both on and off stage. That’s a pretty rare culture to find in any company and certainly in any theater company. I’m really proud that that’s who we are and it also makes me want to want to be here.

Q. How are shows chosen at 1st Stage? Do you take cues from Broadway or national trends or is it based off of the community?

It’s no one thing. It’s one of the hardest things we do and it’s a lot of pieces. Part of it is really recognizing who we are and what kind of short stories we tell. When I talk to the team and we’re looking at players, I talk about a number of things. We talk a lot about voice, plays that have a really unique and distinct voice that should be heard. We talk about ethicality, what it means to do a play versus anything else. What are the unique tools of play and how does it play right use them. We talk about the big ideas. I’m a believer that plays are an opportunity to really wrestle with big ideas. Is the play after a big idea? Is it digging in on something really meaningful? And then we talk about what it means to do a play here, at our theater in Tysons, in Virginia, in America and now. What is that conversation that happens with those plays? 

We look at a variety of other things: diversity of season and sort of all senses of that word. One of the things that I say to people often is that a season is a big jigsaw puzzle. You think you have it, but then for one reason or another a show has to be pulled out. It’s rarely just, ‘pull it out and swap in a different show.’ It’s almost always wiping the board clean and putting it back together again. We think about what conversations we have had recently, whose voices haven’t been heard. We look for a variety of genres, style and structure.

 I think about how the rest of the country and commercial theater, like Broadway, influences us. I think I have a relatively unique position at 1st Stage where we have an audience that I think is a very sophisticated audience, but not necessarily a super sophisticated theater-going audience. And by that, I mean they’re not necessarily keeping trends on what’s happening in New York and around the country. The bright side is I have very little pressure to bring in a show just because it was hot somewhere else. The difficult thing is we have a really high bar on telling great stories. We can’t get away with bringing in a show because it did well somewhere else. It really has to be a show that we believe in and believe has the depth that is worthy of our stage. I’m always keeping an eye on what’s happening around the country. Unlike many theaters, I don’t have the pressure to get the hottest, newest thing all the time.

Q.  Who is this community that doesn’t seek the newest or the hottest?

I think we have a super smart audience and so recognizing that they are capable and willing and wanting to learn and dig in deep into complex ideas. We have a community that’s in the midst of a big change. Tysons and Fairfax County are really communities in transition in a lot of ways. They’re growing very, very fast. If you drive around Tysons you see construction everywhere of big developments. They are diversifying and they are getting younger, in many instances. Families are moving in. It’s exciting to be at the center of that and recognize that as a cultural center, we have to help bring those different parts of the community together. The biggest trend that’s happened is the pandemic, right? So, we were closed to a live audience for about eighteen months and audiences are finding their way back slowly and making choices… I don’t think anybody’s date nights are what they used to be. I think our older audiences are more hesitant to come back. There’s a lot of change that’s happening in the field as well. 

Q. What shows are you looking forward to in the New Year?

Our partnership with a company called Arts On Horizon [is going to] bring family shows. It’s something that we’ve been planning to do before the pandemic and then we had to pause it. There are a series of three shows throughout the year that are aimed for kids as young as two and up to eight years old and they’re free. We’ve got underwriting to allow them to be free. And we’re really excited to have families back here, to have that energy in here. 

We launched again, just before the pandemic and then sort of had to pause it, what we call our Yes Pass which is a youth engagement subscription. This is something that we were really excited about and is a place where 1st Stage is leading nationally. We’ve been able to offer free subscriptions to every high school student who goes to school in Fairfax County or lives in Fairfax County. They just have to go up on our website and subscribe for the Yes Pass and make it a free subscription for the whole season. We’re super excited to be creating space for young people that way. 

1st Stage favorite Jaysen Wright returned home to star as Jay “The Sport” Jackson, the African-American heavyweight champion in The Royale. Inspired by the 1910 “Fight of the Century” between the famously fast-talking African American boxer Jack Johnson and the retired heavyweight champion James “The Great White Hope” Jeffries.

Q. Are there ways in which the community has impacted 1st Stage or influenced 1st Stage?

I can’t say too strongly enough what the last few years have told us about the community. If you had told me on March 13 of 2020 that we were closing for even a few weeks, more than a month or two, I said that it was an existential threat to the theater. We wouldn’t make it. If you’d told me it was eighteen months, we’d be done. A lot of theaters did close their doors for good during the pandemic. We saw extraordinary support from our community, in donations, in people buying subscriptions to seasons that may never happen and foundational support. It was our community telling us that they cared that we were there and they wanted to see us open our doors again. I’m fascinated by the depth of experience in our community. 

We do a series of what we call “Community Conversations” where we, after most of our matinee performances, we invite folks in to talk about issues that the show brings up. And our community is so full of experts who are working in government or academia or the nonprofit sector, in the social service sector, who can talk about ways that we let issues that are brought up in the plays and ways in which we can support their work. Being in the Washington area, even knowing that you are always speaking to people who impact our audience. That’s an exciting thing to think about when we’re programming our shows.

L-R Jacob Yeh and Tamieka Chavis in
​​​​​the 1st Stage production of The Rainmaker, which just finished it’s run December 22.
Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Q. Are there ways in which you would encourage the community to become more involved?

First and foremost is showing up right now. It just means so much right now to sort of vote with your feet. I know we all gotten out of the habit of going places, doing things, but it matters and it matters to our audience too. We have a lot of volunteer opportunities, if people are interested. They can always sign up. It’s a great way to build community that way too. We’re always looking for people who want to join our board of directors. We’re always looking for people who want to help out in a number of ways and, quite frankly, I would get in trouble if I didn’t say that we are in the midst of our end of year fundraising campaign, so if folks do have the wherewithal to make a contribution, it goes a long way, especially right now.

Claire Schiopota is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is majoring in journalism at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism. Claire has previously written for Ohio University’s The Post and at the University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service. 

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at contact@mcleantoday.org.

Talk: Doug House

This week in our new TALK series, McLeanToday.org interviews Doug House, owner, Chain Bridge Cellars. We learn how a University of Virginia philosophy major came to be in the wine business. Plus — just in time for the holidays —  House offers up a selection of great gift ideas. A visit to this neighborhood wine shop, which features a wide array of vintages as well as offering free tastings and classes, should be on everyone’s to-do list.

Q. Tell us the story of how you became the owner of Chain Bridge Cellars. 

I had a consulting firm for about fifteen years here in Northern Virginia. I sold it in 2004. I was ready to move onto new things but I had a two year non compete in that space so I had to find something to do until I could work back in the competitive strategy world again. I was interested in wine and thought it was kind of an interesting business and figured it would be fun to learn about it so I decided to look for a job in the trade.  I was poking around and I emailed the woman who owned this store then, Cecile Giannangeli [Cecile’s Fine Wines].

I offered to take her to lunch and her response was “I have no time for lunch” but if you’re interested in a job, I’m hiring right now. Come talk to me.”

So I went to work for her in fall of  ’06 and in 2008 she decided she was done with owning two stores at the time and after some consideration — This is a lot more fun than the consulting business was — my wife and I decided to buy it. We will never forget the day we bought the store because we came out of the closing, got into the car, turned on the car radio and Lehman Brothers went bankrupt while we were in the closing. It was just a really stupid time to buy anything but “Ok.”  We’ve been doing it ever since.

Q. So this wasn’t some back in the day 25-year-old’s American dream?

Oh no, no. I did not grow up in a family with a wine culture. I got a little bit interested maybe in the mid ’90s. But I got really interested in the late ’90s. The online world opened up at that point and I stumbled into a discussion group online and that turned into a tasting group here in Washington. I was in a tasting group for about five years and that just got me really interested in wine and where it came from. Before that I never thought about it at all.

Q. So it could have been a bread store or something?

It could have been in some ways. The wine business is uniquely  attractive to somebody like me. I set out to be a small business owner. In the  late 80s when I was working at Marriott, I realized that was the space I wanted to be in because of how it lets you interact with employees and make a difference in their lives. The nice thing about the wine business, especially here in Virginia, is it’s a reasonably complex retail business but not wildy complex.

Q. What does that mean?

In Virgina,  we don’t deal with spirits [Virginia is a control state, spirits are only sold in state-run stores] so the entire large volume spirits world isn’t something you have to deal with, meaning it’s  complex  but we only have about 1,000 SKU [pronounced “skew”;  short for stock keeping unit, is used by retailers to identify and track its inventory, or stock. A SKU is a unique code consisting of letters and numbers that identify characteristics about each product, such as manufacturer, brand, style, color, and size]  store so it’s not like you’re running a 6,000 SKU store. 

And bizarrely a great asset for somebody like me is that Virginia Is a C.O.D. state [cash on deposit] for wine purchases. We have to pay for wine when it comes in the door which actually acts as a wonderful moderator on getting super excited and buying too much wine thinking you’ll pay for it by selling it. During the recession and some of the other times that have been kind of weird, that has been an asset. 

The biggest thing is that I don’t want to make something. I don’t really want to bake bread or make food. That’s not my gig but the wine business lets you make wine a little bit in retail because you know when we drink wine, we’re drinking what’s in our glass but also what’s in our head. When somebody comes in to buy, there’s a chance to tell them things about the wine and sort of contextualize it and give them something to attend to so in some ways we’re like the last step of winemaking before someone takes something home and drinks it. That’s been really enjoyable. I really enjoy having a chance to do that

House with his wife Meg, in Paris, in the spring of 2022. “Meg is interested in enjoying wine. She likes to enjoy wine and she travels with me sometimes. She will help out in classes but I would say she is a casual enjoyer of it rather than an information absorber about it.”

Q. Where do you get your “interesting” wine recommendations from?

If you go back to when I started in 2006, there were really three main wine publications that we followed. The Advocate and Spectator and Stephen Tanzer were who we paid attention to.  The critics universe now is so big and there’s so many of them and they cover so many wines, it’s become incredibly difficult to use them as sources. We taste wine every week. I have people who are trying to sell me wine and they bring wines in so we typically get introduced to a new region or a  new thing that way and then based on what we’ve tasted and the little bit we’ve heard  there, we’ll go off and learn more about it and decide if we’re really excited about. 

Q. Some people might find they feel intimidated coming into a wine store, especially not maybe knowing much about wine but liking it none the less. Do you have people who come in and know nothing about wine? 

Oh my gosh, yeah. That’s kind of what a store like this is for. There are serious wine collectors and experts out there in the world who do read all the critics and they know everybody in Burgundy and they know everybody in Bordeaux. To be honest the way the import trade and and access to wines in California work, if you’re that kind of a buyer, we can be an okay place to shop but if you know what kind of wines you want to buy, you can buy them online and frankly get better pricing or even in some stores in D.C.  We refer people who come to buy certain kinds of wines to other stores because  they just do a better job than we do. 

Our core customer is somebody who either  just likes the experience of  wine and wants to engage with it or explore or somebody who doesn’t know anything about wine at all. We meet a lot of people this time of year, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, you’ll get a lot of people who are walking into a wine store for like the only time that maybe they intend to walk into a wine store all year. The rest of the year they buy their wine at the grocery store. That’s the opportunity to connect with those people and maybe build a relationship, maybe get them intrigued about what they find when they drink a bottle of wine and then they come back saying “I was intrigued by that, what comes next?” and maybe you have  a chance to work from there.

Q. What kind of events does the store offer?

We do free tastings every Friday and Saturday which is a great way to explore the wines we are promoting, our featured wines, and also get to know other wines from other places. Before the pandemic, we also had a  pretty active class program that we are restarting. We’re doing champagne classes right now. We do four of those between Thanksgiving and Christmas which are always a blast. 

We just set a class schedule for the first quarter,  to do some classes on Thursday nights and occasional Sundays. We also do some special tastings. we’re having a portfolio tasting with a local importer and taste fifteen of their wines. We try to do things like that. Once a quarter at least, we’ll do festivals in the store. We have a classroom space in the store that sets up real nice.

Q. Will the new businesses that have opened, Lidl, or are opening near you make a difference in your business? Matchbox, Best Buns?

In my little part of McLean, the issue is just having people in the trade area, This is a trade area that  sort of historically rolls up the sidewalks at 6 o’clock. So Lidl being here is just sort of neutral; Matchbox and Big Buns across the street I believe will help our business. I believe it will bring people into the trade area for for lunch and bring them in for dinner and we’re going to monitor that.  Right now we close at 7 p.m. all nights. We might look at staying open another hour if there are enough people in the trade area who want to be here. We think that will be really good for us.  We were super excited to see that development happen. 

Q. How are the Virginia wines?

There are many terrific wines in Virginia and I’m very impressed with what Virginia winemakers do. I will say that Virginia is a very expensive place to grow wine because of the nature of our climate and how hard that hits the grapes and how hard that makes the wine makers, wine growers work. So what we find is that for a given level of quality and style, a Virginia wine is typically more expensive than a similar wine from California or Washington. 

Here in the shop we have a  small selection of virginia wine which are purchased mainly for gifts or for the few people interested in exploring Virginia. What we tell people is it makes more sense for you to get in your car and go meet the people who are growing the grapes and making that wine and to buy the wine directly from them because then when you’re drinking that wine, you’re not just drinking what’s in your glass but the experience of having been there knowing about it and maybe becoming part of their story. There are plenty of great  Virginia wines, at the retail level they’re less important for a retailer than they are to be sold right at the winery.

Q. Is it mostly McLean residents who are your customers?

The core has always been McLean, Great Falls, Vienna and some of North Arlington  but we’ve always had customers, a good number of  customers who drive to the store from D.C. and I have a customer or two from Gaithersburg. The pandemic kind of expanded our reach. We expanded our free delivery zone during the pandemic to go all the way to Arlington and Falls Church. That helped to really expand our connection to those people and now that the pandemic is over, we see a lot of those people in the  shop too. 

Q. Are you still doing expanded delivery?

It’s been interesting — that’s ’s the big change post pandemic. Before the  pandemic we would get orders through our website but it was typically people buying wines that were on promotion or particular wine or two. During the pandemic, people got used to actually shopping online, browsing and putting together a set of wines. Before the pandemic, maybe  twice a month, we’d see an order with five or six different wines on it, now we’ll see ten or fifteen of those a week — a lot of those people are still using delivery service, they’re working from home. So we take the order on line and call them up and schedule a time and get them over to them.

Q. I noticed you studied history and philosophy at U VA, somehow this makes sense for a wine store owner. Let’s discuss this. 

[Big laugh] I will say that the wine business is retail first, that’s actually what we forget is that the wine is second, retail is first and retail is about how you treat your customers; how you interact with them; figuring out  how your going to price; figuring out how your going to promote ;that’s all the retail stuff. The wine stuff, again especially for my customers: we need to know things about wine but the reason that my long time customers are my long term customers is less about how much we know about wine and more about how much we know about them. That’s really the essence of the business. 

If you get retail right, the wine stuff is learnable and it’s obvious because you’re being presented with it all the time. Nobody out there is really talking to you about how do you greet customers; how do you ask the a question that causes them to break their to-do list mentally; to open up and give you some ideas about what they really want to buy and how do you move past selling them just what they want to do buy. A retailer who is just filling orders is ripe to just be beaten online. For our store what we try to do is we try to help customers take home everything in the shop that they’re really really happy to have especially those things they had no idea they wanted because if we only sold them what they know that want, then it’s just an online business and we’re not adding enough value in the experience, to justify our margin.

Q. You can say that about almost any brick and mortar store, right? 

I believe that the fundamental problem with retail in this country is that the the model of retail developed in the ’50s,  ’60s and  ’70s where being in the right place and having the right stuff in your shop was what it took to be successful —  and then maybe having good enough service so that people felt nice when they came in that they prefer you to somebody else. Today you have to create value. You have to create value in the assortment but you especially have to add value in the experience so the customer when they come into the store you can’t just let them just buy what they came to buy, what they thought they wanted, you have to help them discover stuff.  Ultimately, to get people to happily pay you the margin you need them to pay you, you have to be delivering something beyond the product, there has to be something more or you get killed online. 

Q. That’s pretty profound. So maybe that is philosophy.

More interesting than the English Analytic Philosophy I did my first year in college [laugh out loud].

Just in time for the holidays —  House offers up a selection of great gift ideas: https://mcleantoday.org/holiday-gift-ideas-from-chain-bridge-cellars/

Gayle Jo Carter, the former entertainment editor at USA WEEKEND magazine, has interviewed newsmakers for AARP, USA WEEKEND, USA TODAY, Parade, Aspire, SurvivorNet and Washington Jewish Week.

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at contact@mcleantoday.org.

even dishwasher safe!


Talk: Lori Carbonneau

This week in our new TALK series, McLeanToday.org interviews Lori Carbonneau, executive director, McLean Project for the Arts [MPA]. The MPA  is a leading contemporary visual arts 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Their mission is to exhibit the work of emerging and established artists from the mid-Atlantic region; to promote public awareness and understanding of the concepts of contemporary art; and to offer instruction and education in the visual arts.

Q. So, are you an artist?

Depends on who you ask. I would say no but my colleagues, the creative vision at the MPA, would say every one of us is an artist. I’ll never forget the first board meeting that I led. With my business and corporate consulting background, I had put a lot of thought into the message that I was getting across. Afterwards, my colleague who leads our outreach program —MPA ArtReach — said to me “You chose such a beautiful color palette for your powerpoint.” I realized then that’s there’s a whole different way to look at work, a whole different way to look at business. Combining my analytic background with something quite so evocative as art has been a wonderful learning experience for me.  

Over the pandemic, I did take time to pick up watercolors and do some work, though it still only hangs on my parents’ walls.  My inspiration in this was my grandmother — who was busy with a full career and raising her children. When she retired to Sun City, Arizona, she picked up a paintbrush and became an accomplished oil painter as part of a senior center. Which is exactly a lot of the outreach we do. So, it’s quite lovely to me that MPA comes full circle in that way. 

Q. Tell us about that MPA art outreach? 

MPA ArtReach was founded 30 years ago. It brings to life one of the most distinctive elements of MPA’s work. Let me stop for a moment and put MPA’s work on the spectrum of art institutions, with museums downtown at one point on the continuum with their collections and the curated story that they tell about a particular history or a particular people, and on the other end of the continuum would be a commercial gallery representing current artists in whom they have a commercial interest. Instead, we are a teaching institution in the middle of that continuum where we are able to show work from very exciting, established and emerging artists from throughout the mid-Atlantic, presentingwork which represents the next chapter in the canon of art history. We raise money and are grant-supported as well, so we are not dependent on the sales of our work nor are we beholden to a collection. We’re able to push the conversation through art and each exhibition brings to light a contemporary story.  

Our wonderful director of outreach, Sharon Fishel, with our artistic director and touchdown, curator, Nancy Sausser, writes a curriculum around each gallery installation, so every exhibition has a deliberate teaching element to it. During different times of the year our MPA ArtReach audiences vary.  Our signature program is with Fairfax County Public Schools for which Sharon writes curriculum that ties to the Virginia Standards of Learning. We raise money to pay for the buses to allow field trips for students from throughout the region, including Fairfax County Schools, Title I schools, and many others, to come into the gallery. 

Q.  I’m not sure everyone realizes the MPA is a teaching place, right?

Yes, though it’s not a “Come, let’s give you a drawing lesson” teaching institution. While that’s important too, it’s “Come, let’s sit in front of this art and understand what the relationship between art and geometry is or art and literature.”  Art helps give language where language is challenging and it helps kids look at something on the wall and be inspired by a professional artist and say ‘Huh, okay, I can see how they formed that or I can see the layers in that” then they create their own piece that is inspired by the work of those artists on the wall.  

Q. What does your outreach to seniors encompass?

We work with several programs in the area who are serving senior populations. We work with Fairfax County senior centers as well as the private senior communities. We also work with those with intellectual and physical disabilities. 

What was amazing during the pandemic is how our outreach programs grew.  MPA ArtReach just thrived.  And for people who were really quite homebound, it was quite a gift to have Sharon come into their lives. We worked with many of our partners to reach people however we could, including preparing programming and delivering it through Meals on Wheels, or delivering art supplies to their homes. 

From left: MPA Board member, Pamela Danner; state senator Barbara Favola; MPA Executive Director Lori Carbonneau; Fairfax County Board Supervisor John Foust; Roberta Longworth of Fairfax County Park Authority Foundation; and Fairfax County Park Authority Executive Director Jai Cole. 

Q. How many employees does the MPA have?

We’re about a dozen on staff including a fantastic curator, artistic director, Nancy Sausser, who has a profound reputation in the region for developing that vein of work that I described in showing the best of contemporary art that’s moving the conversation forward. We were just written up in The Washington Post again. It’s quite distinctive that nearly everyone of Nancy’s exhibition is reviewed in the Post. In addition to Nancy and our gallery manager is our is our outreach and education staff, along with our teaching faculty, our development and our admin team.  

Q. How did you find yourself Executive Director of the MPA? Were you searching or did it find you? 

I was a religion major undergrad and then got my MBA, so the idea of: “How is it that you can do well while doing good?” has always been a theme in my career.  It was time for me, with my third child settled in school, to put my periscope up. I considered going back to the corporate or consulting world, but MPA was a lovely opportunity to be entrepreneurial and contribute to our community in such a meaningful way. I was at a New Dominion Women’s Club event when my dinner partner, Senator Barbara Favola, introduced me to my then predecessor. I was interested in what she did and her description of a project I thought I could help her on. So, becoming Executive Director was a natural evolution starting with my help on that project.  

Q. What’s the most challenging thing about your job?

Going back to “Am I an artist?” —  my colleagues joke that I bring the art of a spreadsheet. It’s challenging but fun to think about the sustainability and growth of a non-profit with my business background. One of the tenets that we comport ourselves and our community with is: This is a community arts organization therefore by definition it should be a source of joy and not of stress.  So, my challenge as Executive Director, in partnership with our board, is to keep that spirit of joy even those there’s all sorts of buffing winds around us is a deliberate choice. That can be hard work! Holy cow, those first three weeks of the pandemic shut down could have been cripplingly stressful but for that sense of joy. 

One of things that is hard to get used to as a businessperson is having a finite amount of cash in the bank and not having an inherently sustaining business model. People vote with their feet; they vote with their support. So, finding ways to be relevant and engaging is strategically important.  Also finding community partners, such as The Mather, who find value in our mission, is essential to MPA’s success. 

Another challenging part of the role stems from the fact that despite having a small staff, we are a huge organization.As has been the case throughout my career, my interest in building teams is the most satisfying part of what I do. We are a dozen people on staff, but our 44-person board and 40-person advisory board and the concentric circles of the artists, volunteers and leaders in the community whom we touch is vital to who we are. It takes a whole lot of communication and coordination. So, my biggest challenge right now is to move us onto Microsoft Teams so we can stop drowning in email! 

Celebrating at the MPA’s 60th Gala Anniversary

Q. Can you share with us your long term vision for the MPA?

For a number of years, MPA has been in conversation with the Fairfax County Park Authority to build an arts and education center to complement our gallery and studio at the McLean community center.  Our studio there, the Duval Studio, is a marvelous multi-purpose space for painting and drawing, mixed media and live drawing classes and camps. But you can’t do heavy equipment-based arts, like pottery and print making and paper making in a multi-purpose studio. So, we are excited about the idea of building an arts and education center where the galleries are core to the teaching environment and house studios which also allow us to teach four or five different medium space studio spaces for artists of all ages and levels of accomplishment. 

We’ve worked through the public approval processes to get the concept of such an arts center approved at Clemyjontri Park where Mrs. Leibowitz’s home would be our offices. With further approvals, we would enter into along-term lease and construct an art center around the home. These are long processes so being patient is part of the effort. 

Q. In your quest to combine your work experience with your desire to do something good, what expresses that working here at MPA?

One such example is the electric connection of witnessing a hugely accomplished professional artist describe their work to a young audience who is inspired by it.  You wonder whose career you just watched blossom.  

Another example is experiencing how art builds community. Our current show is called Continuum: Artist Teaching Artists, recognizing artists not only for the body of work they’ve built but how they’ve done it by teaching others.  The eighteen artists in the show are all university professors who significant bodies of work and have nurtured the works of hundreds of artists behind them as well. There is a community built among working artists. Making art is fairly insular: it’s you and your work. So, MPA aims to be a place where artists and artists of all ages and all levels of accomplishment feel welcome.  Our goal is to then help the rest of us realize that even if we’re not making art, there’ s community to be found in it.  

MPAartfest is a great example of a day that brings to life MPA’s goal of building community through art. Having grown up in Vienna where there is a vibrant town hall, I feel personally compelled to do what we can do to foster community among McLean’s two unincorporated zip codes.

Q. For those who have yet to experience the MPA, what would you say to encourage them to come over?

We’d want to share that MPA is an open, welcoming environment where teaching is taken very seriously.  Sometimes people have concerns when they think of a gallery, as I sometimes feel too, wondering “what do I need to know before I walk in?”. MPA deliberately suspends that concern: All you need to know is that we are part of your community, andwe welcome you.  I’ll also love to remind the community that we are a local 501C 3 and we very much need your support, particularly as we look to grow. 

As I learned when researching for my comments at our MPA’s 60th Anniversary Gala, MPA was founded in the window between the construction of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile Crisis. All of us look back on those and recognize them as highly stressful world events. We are proud and grateful to realize in sixty years, we have continued to knit together a community that can remind us, even in times of other challenging world events, to stick together and it’s going to be OK!! 

MPA’s highly regarded ArtReach program takes art lessons into Fairfax County Public Schools and senior centers.

Gayle Jo Carter, the former entertainment editor at USA WEEKEND magazine, has interviewed newsmakers for AARP, USA WEEKEND, USA TODAY, Parade, Aspire, SurvivorNet and Washington Jewish Week.

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at contact@mcleantoday.org.


Talk: Louise Waxler

This week in our new TALK series, McLeanToday.org interviews Louise Waxler, executive director  of McLean Youth Soccer [MYS]  —  MYS offers year-round programming for children aged 3-19 years old from the recreational level through the elite level in the form of teams, leagues, camps, clinics and more.  Waxler, above, surrounded by MYS boys:  Senior Day at Lewinsville Park.

Q. Were you a sporty kid?

I was a sport kid in my younger days. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania — Pittsburgh.  My brother Tony and I both played multiple sports. Tony played basketball, baseball, football and went on to be very successful in Major League Baseball. He retired six years ago as the director of scouting for the Atlanta Braves. Through high school, I played basketball, softball, field hockey, and volleyball.  

Q. I bet there wasn’t a girls soccer program for you to join back then?

No, you’re absolutely right.  There was no soccer program offered for female athletes during my era of growing up.

Q. You shared your brother’s incredible sports journey. Tell us yours.

In college, back in the ’60s, I pursued physical education/health at Slippery Rock [University in Slippery Rock, Pa.] but we came from a blue collar family — my dad was a steel worker — and it was difficult to pay for college for my brother and I. My brother had a baseball scholarship so he was taken care of but when it came to me it was a struggle to pay for college tuition. During my junior year of school my mom became ill and passed away. It was a financial burden for me to continue my degree.  It was a difficult time.  I had a year left and I just couldn’t complete it.

You know what?  Her passing didn’t stop me from pursuing what I loved at a later time in life — and that was sports. After I married and had kids, I became involved with sports once again, specifically soccer. I was recruited — as a volunteer — to assist with managing the Columbia Invitational Soccer Tournament in Maryland. I took over that in 1986 and stayed with that for 20 years. Along the pathway that led me to my career in the sport, I was approached by John Hendricks, who was the founder of the Discovery Channel. We were at a tournament in 1999 —  his daughter’s team was a finalist in the tournament playing —  and although I had never formally met him, I found him to be one of the most caring and passionate individuals who had a love for the women’s game.  I recall this man wearing a Discovery bomber jacket approaching me to introduce himself. He told me that he was going to start a women’s professional soccer league right after the Women’s World Cup and asked if I would be interested in joining the league, which left me speechless. Next thing I knew I was on the 24th floor in Bethesda at Discovery headquarters [which since moved to Silver Spring] and I was offered a position with the soon to be Women’s United Soccer Association and the Washington Freedom.

So it was John Hendricks who launched my professional career in soccer in October of 2000. I started with  the Washington Freedom as Director of Operations in grassroots outreach. My connection to the youth game was very strong.  I had also run the WAGS Soccer Tournament for three years so I had developed a reputation within management and operations, particularly in the women’s game. I worked for the Washington Freedom until that league suspended operations.  During the time period between the launch of the secone league in 2009, the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer), current MYS Technical Director, Clyde Watson, former Washington Freedom coach, Jim Gabarra and I created the Washington Freedom soccer club. I stayed with the WPS and went on to be the general manager of the Philadelphia Independence. Unfortunately, sustaining a women’s professional soccer league in the USA struggled and so the WPS suspended operations at the conclusion of the 2011 season.

After 11 years in pro sports, I decided to return to the grass roots game. McLean Youth Soccer had decided to hire an executive director for the club and had advertised for the position. A few people called me from McLean and said, “Hey Wax, you should apply for this.” So I did and I was offered the position in April 2012 and have been rooted in the program since.

Q. What’s changed most with MYS in your ten years as executive director?

We’ve gone from a volunteer organization to a professionally managed operation. Prior to my position, the volunteer board of directors managed the operations of the club.  We transitioned from that to staff. That was a slow process. It took probably two, three years. For me it was important to learn the culture of the community, the membership and the coaching staff. To come in and learn about the people that you’re working with: who your members are:  what they prefer;  listening to people versus coming in and deciding everything is broken and we’re going to make change.  It was a gradual process for me to hire management staff. We professionalized it. We built from the bottom up.

The ribbon cutting opening ceremony on October 30, 2021, of the McLean Youth Soccer Holladay Field, located at 1311 Spring Hill Road. The project converted an existing grass field to synthetic turf. In addition to creating a full soccer field that can also be used for football, lacrosse, and field hockey, the project brought two underground stormwater management facilities, a bleacher pad, an access trail, and landscape improvements. Picture above includes Waxler; donors and notables:  Jai Cole, FCPA Director, John Foust, Dranesville Supervisor, Roger Krone, CEO of Leidos, UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba 

Q.  What’s your staffing size now? How many players?

Full time staff — you’ll probably be shocked at this —  is seven who work remotely. We’re still small.  We work from home. The overhead —  for us it’s like why spend the players money when we can put it back into the program. With technology such as Zoom and Google Meet, we can conduct weekly staff calls or “meet” on an as needed basis.     MYS membership is currently comprised of 1700 recreation players and 1150 travel players. The recreation number fluctuates as we offer fall and spring sessions.

Q.  What would surprise us to learn about MYS?

There’s so much that we do in the community that people are not even aware of —  we’ve partnered with FCPS to build eight synthetic turf fields. All those fields that the kids play on —  McLean Youth Soccer paid for most of them. The newest, the Holladay Field that opened in the fall of 2021 was funded partly by Leidos and the Ambassador from the United Arab Emirates. Leidos CEO Roger Krone and United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba, wanted to contribute as soccer fans but more importantly to contribute to the youth of the community. Then I went to Fairfax County and said I had this money and we would like to convert that field to turf because we need another surface. The County contributed the remainder and the field opened last October. [Collectively, the private funding amounted to $725,000. The project also used public money from the county’s 2016 park bond.]

It’s not just about youth soccer. It’s about kids at all levels and all sports.    We believe that we can enhance recreational sports for both youth and adults by investing back into the community.   You can go to Lewinsville Park on any given afternoon and see football and McLean High School field hockey and McLean High School soccer. We are about to embark on a capital campaign to raise funds to build permanent restrooms at Lewinsville Park and hope the community will support our efforts.  The cost of the project is approximately $650,000 with a projected completion date of early 2025. In addition to the restrooms, a shelter and equipment storage facility for the club will be incorporated into the design. 

Q. What are McLean families looking for when they come to MYS?

A professionally managed organization that can offer their children a positive soccer experience. The procedures and policies that we have in place align with best business practices for non-profit organizations.  

Managing Stress seminar: Dr. Lauren Gregg (in blue jacket), former assistant coach of the U.S. Women’s National team; WWC champion and Olympic gold medalist with MYS coaches at McLean High School

Q. What’s the most challenging thing about being the executive director of MYS?

That’s a loaded question. The most challenging aspect is to continue to be innovative with new programming while providing customer satisfaction for our membership. I ask myself —  it’s not the how it’s the why.  Why are we creating new programming? What are the goals and the end results for the players? What are their aspirations?  There are 70 travel level teams that offer different pathways for players: players at the elite level; those players that are looking for us to help them with a college pathway; and those who simply love to play. It’s about providing opportunities for everyone.

Q. What’s the most fun part of the job for you?

Being able to watch our players on the field.  I love the camaraderie that is established on teams as well as players being proud to wear the McLean badge on their uniform. When I come to McLean, I try to go to all the fields, starting with the rec kids in the morning —  I’ll go to Springhill and then I ultimately wind up at Lewinsville because we have two fields and I can see a number of games and see and talk to some of the parents, coaches and players. Aside from watching these players, the support the players have from their families is quite special. The parents are proud of their kids and it’s enjoyable to go out and see them.

Q. Given your profession, is soccer a family — your husband and two daughters — affair for you?

I don’t think my family has had much of a choice. People used to tease my husband — we bought him  a t-shirt when I was running the Columbia Tournament. On the back it said simply “Louise’s husband.” He enjoys the game. He loves watching the Premier League.  My oldest daughter was not a soccer player, she pursued non-athletic interests. My younger daughter started  her “soccer career” when she was four and she continued through the college game as a member of the University of Arkansas women’s team. Playing was definitely her passion.  

Q. What are your goals still for McLean Youth Soccer?

To be the best soccer organization in the DMV area; continuing to be innovative by offering the best soccer experience for all ages — from ages 3 to 23 and beyond. I’m proud of the diversity and quality of our coaching staff —  many of whom have played at the highest levels representing their respective countries.  Obviously a field complex would be superb; an indoor facility for winter training would be wonderful and I just want us to remain a viable entity to provide a sport for those kids that choose to play. We’ve created a wonderful culture in McLean.

Ribbon cutting and MYS festival at the Holladay Field: Jessica Long, Paralympic gold medalist in swimming; Cindi Harkes, former pro player and Age Group Director for MYS; Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, Olympic gold medalist in 100 meter hurdles ; Andi Sullivan, U.S. Women’s National team member and former MYS player 


Gayle Jo Carter, the former entertainment editor at USA WEEKEND magazine, has interviewed newsmakers for AARP, USA WEEKEND, USA TODAY, Parade, Aspire, SurvivorNet and Washington Jewish Week.

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at contact@mcleantoday.org.


Q & A: Giri Sastry

In the latest interview for McLean Today’s Talk series, we chat with Giri Sastry, the owner of The Union Restaurant — https://theunionrestaurant.us/. As the owner and chef, Sastry is committed to the goal of quality food at a good cost.

I

Q. For those who haven’t yet been in to grab a bite to eat and chat with you, what would you tell them about The Union?

It’s a very interesting story, you know what I mean? I opened in February of 2020, a month before you know who was here. I want anybody and everybody that walks through these doors to relate and find something to eat. My menu is “world cuisine: ” I have a little bit of Asian, Indian, Mexican — everything. I want to be the best restaurant in town. I don’t want to be the biggest. I don’t want to be the most profitable. Good food does not need too much: Good food and good price. Very casual atmosphere.

 Q. Covid-19 is the “you know who” you are referring to.  What was that like starting a business at that time?

We had a good first month of February, and then towards the end of March I shut it down for two and a half months… I’m the owner. I’m the chef, so that’s how I kind of made it. I would take the order, go back [to the kitchen], cook the meal, and bring it out. I had a bartender make the drinks and that’s kind of how I survived.

Q. When did you find out you wanted to become a chef?

Well, you’re taking me back 20 years… It was an interesting journey. I don’t know how many people tell you, [but] this is the calling, right? I was on track to become a microbiologist. One day I woke up and I’m like, okay, this is what I want to do. So, that’s how I started.”

Q. What was your path through the culinary industry?

I went through culinary school back in India… and then it kind of led me here into the U.S. When I got to the U.S. in 2002, [I] started my career with The Ritz-Carlton and worked my way up. I did a bunch of freestyling after that. Before I decided to open my own place, I was executive chef and food & beverage  Director for ten years at The Mayflower Hotel.

Q. What are your biggest influences?

I grew up in the DMV area and it always inspired me how culturally diverse this place is and how culinarily diverse this place is. You name it. You have all the places available to you at your fingertips, whether it’s Indian, Korean, Japanese, sushi, Korean barbecue, tacos – everything is right here. It’s [such a] culturally rich location – that’s what inspires me.

Q. I read that you learn to cook from your mom. Does family mean a lot to you as a chef?

That’s where it all started way back – ’93, ’94 – that’s where I come from. It caught my attention like, ‘Oh, how is this done?’ My roots back there, it’s all hardcore Indian, right? I’m from South India, so it’s all about something I would cook at home. I started spending a lot of time with my mom in the kitchen and that kind of grew… I would say [I get] a lot of conceptual, inspirational guidance from my wife. She’s been a source all along, since we got married. She’s been a source all along, since we got married and we both grew from scratch. I was a chef. She was a finance manager at the same hotel. That’s how we met. That’s how we got married. Same inspiration, same vision and we grew together.  Today, if I want to do something and I have a vision conceptual-wise, I would definitely talk to her before I implement anything.


Q. Was opening your own your own restaurant something you knew you always wanted to do or did that idea come later?

It’s an ambitious dream … I’m just starting out with it. I’m not a one and done kind of guy. I need to leave a footprint in society. That’s my plan.

The Union boasts of it’s world influences

Q. Could you talk about your favorite dish and why is that your favorite dish?

That’s a tough one. It’s like asking me about my babies. It’s gonna be a hard one to pick. [The menu is] meticulously put together. I keep them seasonal. I keep Brussel sprouts and apple cider for winter. I do fattouch, which has pomegranate seeds, then all these fresh ingredients.

Q. Why did you decide to open your restaurant in McLean?

McLean is a very cute fun neighborhood. It’s a good mix of residential and commercial, more residential. The kind of food I do and the place I put together, I don’t think anybody does it here with the quality and price point I put up. When I wanted to go into my own business and open my own restaurant, I tried – I am trying – to break this barrier of “good food does not need too much commitment.” You don’t need to make a reservation. You don’t need to valet your car and break your bank while having a good meal. That’s where I come from. My menu is not too big. I try to keep it very limited, so I can prep it fresh everyday and give you quality. If you ask my clientele and look at my reviews, that’s exactly what you’re gonna get. It’s so fresh, it’s so good.

Q. How has the community responded? 

I had a few customers come through Covid, when I just opened, but then they became our regulars. Now, two and a half years later, I got a good base that knows me.  I touch every single one of my tables. I touch everything. Every time you’re here – rest assured – I will come by and say, “Hey, how’s everything?” 99.9% of the time the response is the same as last time. That consistency is the key. Being able to put a quality product out there and to maintain that quality every single time we execute a dish.

Q. What plans do you have for the future of The Union restaurant? You mentioned having a second location that recently opened.

I just opened up one in Arlington. Like I said, I’m not one and done kind of a guy. I am planning to grow this brand. For me, it’s more a brand representation kind of thing, where if you are in McLean, you know “The Union.” If you happen to be in Arlington and you see “The Union,” you know exactly what to expect. I am planning to open a few more.

Sastry hard at work at The Union

Claire Schiopota is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is majoring in journalism at Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism. Claire has previously written for Ohio University’s The Post and at the University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service. 

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at contact@mcleantoday.org.

Q & A: Sarah Schallern Treff

In the latest interview for McLean Today’s Talk series, we chat with Sarah Schallern Treff, The Alden Theatre’s Performing Arts Director — pictured above second from front right with her Alden colleagues.

Q & A: Tim Reed

This week in our new TALK series, McLeanToday.org interviews Tim Reed, the founder and Chairman of We Rock Cancer —   a McLean based non-profit working to provide free early detection skin cancer screenings and to increase skin cancer awareness. The charitable organization’s fourth annual fundraising Concert to Rock Cancer,  featuring Bruce In The USA and local D.C. artist Laura Tsaggaris — https://werockcancer.org/events — rocked Capital One Hall last week.

Q. Take us back to the beginning of We Rock Cancer.

I was diagnosed with skin cancer. I caught it early. I’m an Air Force vet so I had surgery at Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center] and they were fantastic. Everything was great but it opened my eyes to the importance of early detection. So I started looking in my network at ways I could combine my love of music and my radio background and the performing artists that I knew to try and come up with a way to make early detection screenings more available. [Reed lost his father to kidney cancer at a young age, making him even more aware of the difference that early detection and treatment can make.]

Luckily, we are blessed to live in an area with plenty of dermatologists but I think [screening] is sometimes a B or C priority to people. How can we get it moved up on the importance level? How can we make it accessible and right here? Something you don’t have to make an appointment for; something you don’t have to go the doctor for. It takes five minutes. The blaring point for me is that it’s the most common form of cancer in America and it’s the easiest to treat as long as you find it early. That seems like an easy thing for us all to get behind and make this not the number one form of cancer. If we just find it and treat it, we’re on our way.


Q.  Why choose McLean to set up your nonprofit?

I’ve lived in McLean since 2008. I know the area. I have a consulting business, I still do.  We Rock Cancer [started in 2019] is certainly a place I focus my passion for music and trying to increase cancer awareness. Since I was here, the infrastructure is here, it was a convenient place to start it. Fairfax County has been a fantastic supporter in multiple ways: the grant support; Arts Fairfax for their support to be the first organization that recognizes that we’re a hybrid. We’re not a ballet company or a symphony but they recognize the power that music can have in bringing these things together and they support us as well. 

Q. It must have been serendipity then that Capital One Hall opened here?

Arts Fairfax is a presenting partner with Capital One Hall so they were supportive in helping us get performance times there for our annual event as well. It’s perfect and right here in McLean, easier than hosting somewhere else and it’s world class. All the artists that have seen it are over the moon about playing there.

Q. What’s behind this thing you call “rock-and-roll entrepreneurship?”

That’s leftover from my doctoral dissertation. [Reed’s doctoral studies led him to create a symposium and graduate course on “Rock-and-Roll Entrepreneurship”  which serves as the foundation for bringing key music stakeholders together to do good.] Looking back you can see I was always trying to cram two things that weren’t necessarily thought of together,  together. I went to the University of Colorado and studied Strategy and Entrepreneurship.  One of the first things I wanted to do was approach entrepreneurship through a rock and roll perspective.

Q.  Do you play any instruments or better yet, play in a rock band?

I wish. I played clarinet growing up  and I play a little bit of piano. I’m still learning. We have to have goals. I was never in a band. I think it came from my early days in radio. I was always around music. I was a radio personality in Florida and in Syracuse, New York and things were going great. I loved that job but again, a part of my entrepreneurial strategic outlook kind of informed off me wisely that that’s something you want to do for a while but it’s not something you do for a long time, only a handful [can] if you want to have a satisfying financially productive career.  

Q. How has the transition been into working full time for We Rock Cancer?

It’s been eye opening. I was always the guy who would go out on stage and say “Will you please welcome Sammy Hagar” or do the interviews or do the radio bits. I was always involved with that part of the business. I was never involved with the promoting parts or the signing contracts with bands to perform, arranging for venue space or working through tech advance. That part of business is a whole other part of business that has been eye opening. I’m not sure that’s where my talents lie but you learn a lot.

Q. What do your events look like for We Rock Cancer?

We have at least two or three  different models for our awareness/screening events. One is we do a ride along where our artist partners are performing at an area venue. They might invite us down to screenings for the fans before their show. We have done that at City Winery and some other venues. We call that  “a ride along” where they do all the production and then we do “a self-produce,” such as September 16,  where all we have is the empty canvas of Capital One Hall and we have to fill it with our artists/partners and we have the risk of selling tickets. That’s a complete We Rock Cancer production.

Tim Reed —  Rock-and-Roll entrepreneur

Q. Tell me about the mobile screening vehicle that you use for screenings?

Early on at our first screening events we had pop up tents/privacy areas. We could only go to venues that could support that space so that was limiting in terms of what we could do outdoors. We wanted to go to construction sites and other sun intense occupations’ work locations. We quickly determined we needed a mobile screening vehicle to do that. It’s once one of the best decisions we ever made. It’s turn key. Now we can go anywhere there is a road and be ready in fifteen minutes.

Q. How many events will you have?

Our goal is to work up to one a month post Covid. Covid really slowed us down. We have outreach going on in underserved communities, especially to try and screen agricultural workers and day laborers. We’re going to screen construction workers at the Capital One Hall [on September 16]. There’s a lot of construction going on there. So we’re going to coordinate with those folks to come get screened. We’ll do bilingual screenings as well for everyone who needs that service. Our other outreach, in addition to the underserved community, is the outdoor running community. They’re very aware and of course they’re out in the sun all the time. They have been very supportive so we’ve done a couple events with them every year. And then of course, the music.

The staff of We Rock Cancer

Q. Did you turn to anyone for advice in starting a nonprofit?

A lot of self learning. We did talk to a couple of other organizations that do mobile skin cancer screening: the Sun Bus in Colorado; Polka Dot Mamma [Melanoma Foundation] were organizations that were really, really helpful to us. We found that the skin cancer community is very supportive too. One organization Helms Hope in Texas we talked early on to for ideas. They started an education program for barbers and hairdressers [who unlike ourselves can actually see anything suspicious on the tops of our heads]. They introduced us to a legal firm that helped us with the Trademark process.

Q. So you need one big donor to come along?

Every single event we have, we have met someone we didn’t expect to be there either as a fan or a runner at one of our race events. We’re still young. We have to make some decisions. Do we remain a local McLean organization and do our best? We would love to have more dermatologists be a part of the team too. The ones we have are awesome but it is difficult for someone to come out after they’ve worked a full week and do screenings for another couple hours. That’s certainly a need that is as important, honestly, as funding because I can do a lot of things —  I can dig ditches and set up tents and hand out information but what I can’t do is skin cancer screenings. If you are a dermatologist or PA that would like to help out with our screening mission, I’d love to talk to you!

Q. Is your primary goal to stay local with We Rock Cancer or do you want to expand?

I’ve answered this question [before] by saying “I don’t see why there is not one of these in every town in America.” There certainly should be a We Rock Cancer branch or at least a chapter in Nashville, in  Austin, in Los Angeles. Pick a place where live music is important to the people who live there. It’s just a function of money and support and people who recognize the importance and value of this. 

Reed with We Rock Cancer supporting musicians Jarod Clemons [center] and drummer Vini Lopez [right]. Jarod Clemons and The Late Nights are a classic rock/blues band, based out of the Jersey Shore.  Clemons is the youngest son of the late great saxophonist, well known in his own regard and for being part of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Lopez is a drummer who backed Springsteen in several bands, including Steel Mill and the E Street Band. He also played on Springsteen’s first two albums, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK?

Tap us at contact@mcleantoday.org.

Q & A: Amir Mostafavi

McLeanToday.org kicks off its brand new interview series with a conversation with Amir Mostafavi, the owner/founder/CEO of South Block Juice Co. — Northern Virginia’s first Cold Pressed Juice company offering smoothies, acai bowls, juice and juice cleanses throughout D.C., Virginia and Maryland — whose newest store will open in McLean’s Chesterbrook Shopping Center.

Q. When will South Block’s McLean store open?

That is the big question. Right now we’re in for permits, we’re waiting on our permits to start building. That process is unpredictable. We’re hoping to be open late winter, early spring of 2023. It’s hard to predict. Follow us on our Instagram page @southblock to stay up to speed on our opening date announcement.

Q. There’s a lot of excitement about it already…

Amazing. Since that wrap [on the store] went up. We’ve gotten a lot of messages about it.

Q. Why McLean for your newest store? 

I grew up in McLean. My dad [Hassan] had a video store in the Langley Shopping Center in the late ’80s, ’90s, through the early 2000s. I went to McLean High school, Longfellow [Middle School],  Kent Gardens [Elementary School]. I always wanted to be in McLean. I knew we would end up in McLean one day.  I always would drive through McLean and daydream about where we are going to go.

Q. How did the McLean store magic finally happen?

I started in the juice bar business soon after college in 2004. I started the brand South Block in 2011 in Arlington. The McLean location will be our 14th location. When I signed the lease in Pike & Rose in Maryland, it was our first Maryland location, it’s with Federal Realty. They bought the Chesterbrook shopping center and so they presented that opportunity to me there. I was very familiar with Chesterbrook shopping center. I was excited to know they were planning to do a renovation as everyone knows in McLean, it’s overdue for a face lift. It felt like that was the right time and the right spot to go in there.

Q.  Did you work at the McLean video store back in the day?

Oh yeah. That was pretty much all of my high school and even college when I came back. I went to Virginia Tech and I spent my summer vacations working in the video store, a good 8 years.  A lot of my friends from high school worked there.  It was a community gathering spot for McLean. When I started my juice bar, I took a lot of those lessons from the video store with me. A big lesson was the connection to the community we had there. My mom, Mary Ann, who passed away in 2019, worked a lot of the daytime shifts and she had her own book of Mary Ann’s picks.  People would come and they’d know her, she’d know them and she would know what movies to recommend to them. I saw that connection to people and to the community and the support we got from the community that really allowed us to be in business all those years in McLean. With South Block, every community we go to we try to build that connection with the people in that community because I know how important that is to the success of the business.

Q. It was a Box Office Video, right?

Yes. I actually designed the logo. I’d always been into art. I ended up going to school and getting my degree in graphic design. I created that logo I want to say when I was in 8th grade, so I was probably 13 or so. That was the first logo I ever did, that propelled me into graphic design.

Q. Is South Block all in the family, too?

My dad, who lives in Vienna now, owns a restaurant there now called Rose Kabob. He retired for like a month or two, he can’t stop. My brother Rahmein works with me. I convinced him to join me in South Block four years ago. My youngest brother Ali is an investor in the company, I’ve only raised money from friends and family. My sister Roya is not officially involved but she’s done things to help with some store openings. She’s a National Sales Director at Mary Kay and so she’s worked with a lot of women to empower them in the workplace. I brought her in to show people some soft skills.

The Box Office Video crew back in the day: Hassan, Roya, Amir and Mary Ann

Q. Was that your dad’s first business or was he a serial entrepreneur?

He was a professor.  He used to teach marketing and business at Towson [University] in Maryland. He also taught at Morgan State, at Kent State. He spent his career teaching business and marketing, then he decided to start his own business. He’s always had different ideas. The timing was right in the ’80s to get into the video business. His first video store ever was in D.C., actually a block away from my Logan Circle location. It was a small little video store but he got his start there, then opened in our community in McLean. He focused on the video business for the next 20 years, until the video business wasn’t really a thing anymore. 

Q. Was your dad an inspiration for your entrepreneurial outlook?

The story is that I actually was turned off by the world of being an entrepreneur because I saw my dad when he was a professor and he had summers off; he was home at a decent hour and then when he had his business I saw how much he was working: no more summer breaks; no more paid vacation; no more 401(k). You’re on your own. I had the opposite idea. I wanted to go to school and get a corporate job and get everything that comes along with corporate job security, if you want to call it that. Then when I got out, I got a corporate job —  a pretty good paying corporate job —  then quickly realized what it was that excited my dad about being an entrepreneur. For him it didn’t feel like work to have to get up and put so much into his business, it was his passion. It was something that kept him motivated. It made him want to get up, to stay up at night and get up in the morning and think about it and so I wanted that for me. I became very bored in my corporate job and wasn’t motivated. I didn’t feel like I was making any kind of a  difference or serving any purpose. I wanted there to be more purpose in my life. I realized through entrepreneurship you could give yourself that purpose. 

Q. Tell me about the “purpose” you are putting out there with South Block.

Our mission is to help build healthier communities one block at a time. Over the years, I started really embracing that and sharing that with our team. We have over 250 people in the company now. I think what motivates people to be a part of South Block is we’re big on people development and we’re big on giving back to the community. In fact, I started a non-profit, Fruitful Planet, that I created when my mom passed away. We were already, through South Block, giving back to food banks in the community. They have a consistent need for fruits and vegetables, so I started filling that void. When my mom died I saw that opportunity to make that mission official. We take a percentage of our sales at South Block that go directly into Fruitful Planet and then we use all of those funds to buy fruits and vegetables to donate to food banks. In the community, we partner with the schools to make sure low income students have access to fruits and vegetables because part of our mission is to build healthier communities. We want to make sure we’re supporting everyone in the community, not just people that can afford to eat at South Block. We’ve donated over 50,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables.

Q. How many people will you hire in McLean?

I’d say probably around 25 people. We’ll have a leadership team, then we’ll  hire our Blockstars, our hourly team members.

Q. Will there be some outside seating over there?

That’s part of the plan for the exterior renovation as well, we’re still waiting on timing of that, that’s something Federal’s working on. they’re building a nice awning in front of the space and a little area for outside seating.

Q. Will there be a grand opening event to begin that engagement with the community?

Every store we open, we do what’s called a “Block Party.” We’ll do a community block party, usually involving some kind of live music, activities. We’ll donate our proceeds from that day to a local food bank.

Q. Why did you choose the “health food” business when getting started?

I have never been a health food nut but there’s a connection for me there from childhood and having great experiences around fruit and vegetables.  My dad, who is an immigrant from Iran, came here when he was 19. He didn’t know any English, taught himself English, he met my mom and eventually  moved back to Iran. He was a professor at an Iranian university and they sent him over here in the late ’70s to get his PhD at Kent State University. During that time, the revolution started in Iran so he lost all of his funding from the University to get his PhD,  his housing, then he lost everything in Iran too. Here they are a young couple with four kids, where they lost everything for a short period of time. We were on food stamps, thrift clothes but during that time it was still important for my dad to get us fruits and vegetables. He would never go to the store unless it was to bring home bags of fruits and vegetables. It was important for him for us to have that nutrition. So when it came time for me to think about what kind of business I wanted, I thought about that.

That’s also where I also saw how important it was to get support from your community during those times. That’s another reason why I wanted to create Fruitful Planet, to be able to give back to support people because we got that as we needed it. My dad still fought his way through it. He got his PhD, he figured out a way to move forward and that was a big lesson to me as a kid, seeing no matter what life throws at you, having perseverance and grit and adaptability, then here’s a way. You never give up, you find a way to make it through.

In San Diego, where I had friends and family, I would go to the juice bars. I just loved the smells, the colors of the fruits and vegetables. They were doing it a different way then anything we had in the D.C. area: The quality was better; I loved the vibe, it just felt positive, and relaxed. I  wanted to bring that vibe, that  experience, that quality of fresh fruits and vegetables to the area. So that was my inspiration when I got started. I really had no idea what I was doing and I kind of figured it out along the way. My first juice bar was at George Washington university. 

Q. What do you think is the secret to your success?

I tell all young entrepreneurs: “Just get started. You’ll figure it out along the way. You have to be solution oriented and adaptable. Your business plan isn’t always going to be what you thought it was going to be.” That’s what saved us during the pandemic. My leadership team was all solution minded. We were constantly trying to solve problems that we were hit with, having that ability to problem solve and be adaptable is so important. The hardest step is the first step, just get started. 

Q. What makes South Block different from other “smoothie/acai/juice” stores?

Prior to starting my business,  I had two weeks of experience in a sandwich shop in Virginia Tech. That’s my only food service experience and I quit because my manager was a jerk. My rule number one is “Don’t be a jerk” because if you are, your employees will quit. That was the first thing I learned. That’s our number one rule for our leadership team at South Block. That was a great lesson. I had a knack for developing smoothie recipes and juice recipes and acai bowls. For me that was the easy part, the hard part was figuring out all the logistics of running a business and then making sure we’re building that connection to the community because even if you have a great product, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have that connection.

I subscribe to a business philosophy called the blue ocean strategy. What we do is we just try to do the best we can  with our business and our customers and not try to get caught up with who we’re competing with and where they’re going. Some businesses get caught up in the red ocean strategy which is going to battle with your competition and trying to open near them, to take their business. There are certainly other places that sell similar products. We put a lot of attention and care into the quality we serve. One thing that sets us apart in the way we make our acai bowls is that we make them to order, they are blended to order. I’ve been doing it this way since 2005. I learned how to make them from this surfer dude in San Diego, he introduced me to acai. He showed me how to make  bowls the traditional way they make them in Brazil. I haven’t changed the way we make them even though it is more labor intensive. I’m big on doing it these traditional ways, not cutting corners, not cheaping the product. We take a lot of pride  in the quality.

Like father, like son

Gayle Jo Carter, the former entertainment editor at USA WEEKEND magazine, has interviewed newsmakers for AARP, USA WEEKEND, USA TODAY, Parade, Aspire, SurvivorNet and Washington Jewish Week.

Do you know someone in McLean who would make an interesting interview for TALK? Tap us at contact@mcleantoday.org.