I feel very lucky that my house is only blocks away from a new French café coming to the neighborhood. Lucky, too, to be downwind of the kitchen so I can lean out my window and smell the warm baguettes coming out of the oven.
The café plans to open in the second quarter of 2012 in this 1925 Del Ray home on 205 East Howell that the owners are completely making over.
The other day I toured the space with owner Margaret Janowsky and looked at the architectural plans with her. This is the first in a series of a posts in which we watch this modest building become an intimate French café styled after the classic red-roofed Virginia farmhouse. Note that the name Le Café Del Ray shown on the plans is a working name. The restaurant will be called Del Ray Café.
DIY Del Ray will also be there for the first meal they serve, which promises to be très délicieux. Del Ray Café, run by Margaret and her husband Laurent Janowsky, will serve French country fare, using locally sourced and organic ingredients as often as possible. They'll serve breakfast, brunch (weekends), lunch and dinner seven days a week. If you live nearby, you'll be able to stop in and buy a rotisserie chicken and baguette to take home. They'll also deliver meals on a Vespa to the immediate neighborhood.
I love their commitment to supporting local farms, but I must admit that I was beyond happy to learn that they import their baguettes, partially baked from France. The Janowsky's other award-winning restaurant, in Old Town, does the same thing.
What piqued my interest the most about this project is how they'll work with an old property that has its origins as a residential home and more recently as a low-impact commercial space. The building is 2,000 square feet (plus basement). The Janowskys initially wanted to add on to the space, but they have scaled back their plans for financial reasons. Situating a restaurant in a former residential space means the electrical system is simplified and it would be way too costly to upgrade it. They also discovered that if you plan to seat more than 48 diners, you have to install a sprinkler system, costing between $50,000 and $90,000.
Del Ray Café will be cozy, which is just as well, although still not cheap to design. As Margaret says, "Compact versions of anything cost more. The HVAC is one of the biggest expenses in the space."
The Janowskys will be gutting the entire first and second floors. They'll open up the second floor all the way to the rafters and let light pour in through skylights. A waist-high railing between the two rooms will hold beds of herbs. Most of the windows will have skylights and window planters overflowing with flowers and herbs.
Wide plank wooden floors will evoke the Virginia farmhouse aesthetic, as will the covered wraparound porch and red roof. As you can see from the plans, diners can sit on the wraparound porch, in the downstairs room, or upstairs in a "garden room" or adjacent room that they can close off with old sliding barnyard doors for private events.
An important aspect of the Janowskys "green" mission at Del Ray Café is to not only source food locally but also locally source as many business functions as possible. To that end, their architects are the local Del Ray firm, Larson Koenig Architects, whose experience lies in renovating older homes in the area. Financing is provided by Virginia Commerce Bank and the contractors bidding on the renovation are Alexandria-based firms. Their kitchen designer is the Old Town firm, McAllister Architects, who are also designing the kitchen for Pork Barrel BBQ, another much-anticipated Del Ray restaurant.