Fuddruckers: More Than a Restaurant
By: M. Callahan
Before Fuddruckers and before Three Chefs, there was a whole different life to this building. Bordered by Columbia Pike and Little River Turnpike, this spot has colloquially been called the TRIANGLE, and for over sixty years has served as a gathering place for the Annandale Community. Bob Willis built an Esso station on this triangular plot of land in 1946. For those too young to remember Esso, it was the predecessor of Exxon, east of the Rockies. Appropriately enough it was known as Willis Esso. The Columbia Pike side of this roomy building served as a sales room for Firestone Tires, while the other served as a garage run by Mr. Nay. In the middle, Mr. Willis ran the first car dealership in Annandale for six years.
After closing the garage and renting the building for the next ten years, Mr. Willis was eager to open another business. The interior was remodeled and Three Chefs Restaurant emerged in 1962. The name was derived from their three specialties; steaks, fried chicken, and pancakes. Three Chefs was an instant hit. Diners packed the establishment seven days a week for breakfast after church, all-you-can-eat Thursday evening buffets, holiday celebrations, family meals, and late night after theatre dessert. It was a family restaurant, a safe teen hang-out, a place to meet for lunch, a treat for winning athletic teams, and a traveler's stop in route to DC.
Breakfast was a special hit with the locals. The pancakes were legendary; platter and silver dollar size were offered, fruit or chocolate filled, and all accompanied by six different syrups presented in a rotating caddy. The fried chicken was crisp and succulent, with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, along with flaky golden buttermilk biscuits and pecan pie made fresh daily on the premises. It was reported that one ton of butter was used every month.
In 1985, and after many rounds of bargaining, Fuddruckers negotiated a lease with Mr. Wills who was ready to retire from an active business operation. The interior of the building was vastly redecorated and renovated, but the exterior footprint was left intact. Every aerial photo of Annandale for the past fifty-five years is easily identified by the winged Deco building at the Triangle.
Fuddruckers, much like its predecessor, has catered to the entire community. Watching diners waiting to pick-up their meal shows the great diverse population Annandale attracts. It is our version of Ellis Island with quicker service. When news broke that Fuddruckers’ lease would not be renewed, and that the triangle building, so loved by generations, would be torn down and a Walgreen’s built; the community roared in disgust with cries for leadership, and with threats of boycott. Annandale already has five pharmacies, all practically within walking distance. The evening rush hour (s) will also become a nightmare since Fuddruckers dinner business did not really shift into high gear until the worst congestion was over. Walgreen’s traffic, especially with their drive-by pharmacy entrance off Backlick, will place both Backlick Road intersections at Columbia Pike and Little River into perpetual gridlock for hours every night, regardless of what any traffic study might purport. (Update: Backlick Road and Little River, post construction, has become the worst intersection in all of Annandale. Gridlock doesn't seem a strong enough word to cover the painful experience the people of Annandale suffer every morning, afternoon and evening.)
Hopefully, Fuddruckers will find another Annandale location although spaces that large are not plentiful. Much has been said about the entitlement of the property owner to develop this property by-right, meaning no zoning change was required. Unfortunately, not even Annandale's Revitalization Committee was notified by the county; it was kept a closely held secret. Could it be that even county officials knew this would not be a welcome change? Could it be that the county revitalization office, and others, rushed this project through to ward-off accusations of ignoring Annandale? (Update: Better to ignore us than destroy our heritage and deliver a reviled project. No thanks will be forthcoming.)
If the residents of Annandale ever hope to expand their retail base to businesses they actually need and desire, county planners and commercial property owners must start conversing, and working with Annandale’s Revitalization Committee well in advance of property sales. The absentee property owner, in this instance, claimed that there was much interest in the property. Clearly, the best use of that property for the people of Annandale was not even a consideration. No one will deny any property owner the right to make a profit, but how about profit along with the community’s welfare being considered?
It will be impossible to forget that whether by-right or not, Annandale just lost one of her larger central commercial properties, a beloved business, some of our history, and another chance to make actual progress in revitalization.
To Fuddruckers: Thanks for the memories.
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