Every February, the Del Ray Business Association presents the Heart of Del Ray Award to the business that serves as the heart and soul of Del Ray, as determined by a public vote of neighbors and customers. Selection is based on which business best demonstrates their warm and welcoming attitude, their commitment and generosity to the community, and to their overall contribution to the Del Ray community.
The nominees for the 2019 Heart of Del Ray -- plus comments from the neighbors who nominated them -- are :
Evening Star Cafe
Over 20 years ago, Evening Star Cafe put Del Ray on the culinary map -- and its star continues to rise, as the restaurant continues to be a favorite in the region, recently making the Washington Post food critic's list of favorite restaurants. "Between the menu of the Star, the cozy back bar, and the awesome kid-friendly summer patio, it's always the place to go," said one regular customer. Others nominating Evening Star Cafe touted the numerous ways they are involved in the vibrant Del Ray community that they helped build. One non-profit leader wrote, “One night, the Evening Star kitchen was too busy to cook a promised donation for an event, and [owner] Stephanie [Babin] went home and cooked it herself!” The restaurant often sponsors community events, supports local schools and non-profits, and offers their space for community events, such as free monthly film screenings with Del Ray Films. Check out www.visitdelray.com for a list of film screenings.
Four Direction Wellness Four Directions Wellness has emerged as a leader in Del Ray's health and wellness community, known as Well Ray. "Mara brings health, wholeness and balance to her clients and students," said one client. "The services that she offers are more important than ever in these stressful times. Her holistic, loving approach was exactly what I needed to guide me through of one of the most difficult times in my life, especially when the only answer offered by the medical community was medication." Another individual wrote, "She is a treasure in Del Ray and I am so grateful to have found her. She is a passionate health and wellness coach, and really understands the need for aligning your body, mind, emotions and spirit." In addition to working with local non-profits, Four Directions Wellness offers "Mindfulness Mondays," a free community meditation every other Monday that is open to all; check www.visitdelray.com for dates.
After his dog saw great health improvements after transitioning to an all-natural diet, Chris Gabriel became an expert in the area -- and shares that knowledge with every pet owner that walks through the door of Nature's Nibbles. "Chris is so knowledgeable and passionate about what he does," said one customer. "Every pet is like family at Nature's Nibbles. And Chris takes care of the humans too -- they offer free delivery, especially to seniors" In addition to hosting adoption events for local rescue centers, the recent government shutdown was a reminder of how interconnected the Nature's Nibbles community is; not only did the retailer provide discounts to furloughed pet parents, but a network of customers also provided a wall of gift cards for those impacted.
ROAM -- Rock of Ages Music Founded by Alexandria native John Patrick, ROAM was created "to be an all-inclusive music center to provide the area with all of its musical needs." It's a mission that Patrick brings to everything he does -- not only does he teach up-and-coming musicians, but he volunteers countless hours chairing the volunteer-run Del Ray Music Festival each July, which brings top local talent to the neighborhood. "John Patrick and his incredibly talented group of instructors are creating an incredibly positive community of musicians and music lovers in our neighborhood," read one nomination. "His work will have lasting impacts, not only on the lives of the students, but also on the cultural opportunities and lives of all of us." Another wrote, "They truly do embody the heart of Del Ray as they are building a safe community for our kids, all while embracing the arts! This place continues to grow a love of music for many kids in the area. Challenging them while having fun and performing around the city. The end results are amazing and fill the kids with such a sense of accomplishment and self esteem."
Whether it's an impromptu meeting of Mount Vernon Community School PTA parents or a top-secret reception to woo Amazon executives, great things happen over the legendary biscuits at Stomping Ground. "Stomping Ground is everything a great neighborhood restaurant should be -- amazing food, friendly staff, and you're almost guaranteed to run into one of your neighbors there, " said one regular. Others touted the restaurant's special events, like post-Halloween Parade porch parties and pig roasts, that bring the community together. And the restaurant is committed to buying local -- the chef regularly shops and plans menu items around produce available at the Del Ray Farmers’ Market, and provides coffee and biscuits for the farmers on Saturday mornings.
While Taqueria Poblano is known in the region as home to the DC area's best margaritas, inside Del Ray, the restaurant is known for its welcoming atmosphere and dedication to the community. "A neighborhood favorite -- like Cheers where you walk in and they know your name," said one customer. "We love the food and love to take friends from out of town because it always feels so welcoming." Others nominating Taqueria noted the restaurant's support community of events. “When you send an email out asking for gift cards or a donation of some sort, [owner] Jeff [Wallingford] is the always the first to respond -- and always helps our nonprofits,” read one nomination.
Visit tinyurl.com/2019heartofdelray to vote; voting closes at noon on Th., Feb. 7. A large heart-shaped award will be displayed on the winning business on Fri., Feb 8 to greet them for the Valentine’s Day weekend.
Last year, nearly 1,000 neighbors, friends and customers participated in online voting. Past winners of the award include A Show of Hands, Jen Walker McEnearney Associates, Bobi Bomar Homes of Alexandria, The Neighborhood Pharmacy of Del Ray, Greener Cleaner of Del Ray, Del Ray Pizzeria, Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga, Caboose Cafe, Del Ray Cafe, and Pork Barrel BBQ/Holy Cow/the sushi bar.