Braddock’s Best interview: Jennifer McLaughlin of Caboose Commons
County to phase out government use of gas-powered leaf blowers
Welcome to Braddock Buzz, where we have a quick programming note: We’re taking the next two weeks off for Thanksgiving. We’ll be back in your inboxes on Monday, Dec. 6. Until then, keep the news and tips coming to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to our sponsors:
Realtor Jennifer Mack, whose column this week offers advice for anyone thinking about purchasing a vacation property. Reach out to Jennifer with real estate questions and column ideas at email@example.com
WorkAway Solutions, your neighborhood coworking space in Ravensworth. WorkAway offers half-day and full-day passes, with coffee and refreshments included. Book a tour today!
Eighteen percent of county’s 5-11 years olds have received at least one vaccine dose: Vaccinations began earlier this month for children ages 5-11, and already Fairfax County has seen 18% of that age group receive a first dose, according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. Overall, 83% of adults in Virginia are now fully vaccinated–a milestone Gov. Ralph Northam celebrated in a press release. “Virginia ranks 10th among all states and 1st in the South in the percent of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Northam said. “So many Virginians have done their part to make our Commonwealth a safer place.”
An interview with Jennifer McLaughlin of Caboose Commons
The Braddock’s Best-winning brewery is taking the old and making it new
This is the second in a series of interviews with the people behind the winning restaurants in our inaugural reader survey, Braddock’s Best.
Today we’re talking to Jennifer McLaughlin, co-owner of Caboose Commons, which won first place in the “Best Brewery” category. McLaughlin launched the Caboose Brewing Company in 2015 with her husband and another family, the Greers. The original location, Caboose Tavern, is in Vienna. Caboose Commons opened in 2018 in Mosaic.
The interview was conducted at Caboose Commons, and the transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Hi, Jennifer! Can you start with the Caboose origin story?
The Vienna location, Caboose Tavern, is the original, and that’s close to our house. We enjoy good beverage and good food, but finding the two under one roof that's walkable from home–it didn't exist. So we built it. The concept is really good beer and farm-to-table food. Here at Caboose Commons, the volume is too high to do farm to table. We still use a lot of local vendors, though.
Q: And it’s named after the old red caboose on the W&OD trail in Vienna, right?
Yep. The concept in both locations is taking old industrial and making it something fun and new. So, the W&OD Trail is the “rails to trails” concept–it's taking something old and making it something new. A caboose is the same concept–something old that doesn’t really exist anymore. We’ve taken that name and we’re making it something fun and new. All of our beer cans have the power lines that go along the trail–just a shoutout to that.
Q: What was your background before Caboose?
Nothing to do with restaurants, at all. My husband and I are both engineers by degree. He's in software, and I was a math teacher, and then a mom, and then a nutritionist–lots of paths. This is a fun one.
Q: Can you tell me about how the brewery is split between the two locations?
We ferment at both locations. The hot side of the brewery is over at the Tavern, in Vienna. And then we have the “wort wagon.” We create all the wort there and then, if it's coming here to ferment, we pump it into the wort wagon, drive the four-and-a-half miles, and put it into the ferment vessels here.
Q: This is a really unique building–it’s just very open and spacious. What was it previously?
It was a tool and equipment rental company. That's why all these cranes are here. There was an elevator, too. The brewery wall didn't exist–it was just a big open frame, and there was no drywall.
Q: What do you think people like about the space?
I hope they're comfortable here. That's what we aim for–a place where you can come however you want to be and enjoy yourself. We get sweaty runners and bikers and we get people super dressed up. We have newborn babies, baby showers. We do weddings in here; we do military promotions in here–just the full spectrum of celebrations and hanging out. We want everybody to just feel welcome and comfortable.
Q: Is it unique to have a coffee house and brewery under the same roof?
It is, but it's really the same passion. For example, on the wall in our office, we have the full coffee flavor wheel and the full beer flavor wheel. Once a barista sees the beer flavor wheel, they’re always very intrigued, and same for the beer connoisseurs when they see the coffee wheel. They both geek out in the same way.
Q: What's your philosophy on what makes a good beer?
Quality ingredients–that's true with everything. The beer, the food, the coffee. Coffee is easy to explain. If you have beautiful, perfectly roasted beans come in, but you blast them with too much hot water for too long, you're gonna have a bad cup of coffee. If you have terrible beans coming in, you can never get a good cup of coffee. It's the same with beer–you need high quality ingredients and then a very carefully controlled process.
Q: How do you find the best ingredients?
My brewers do that. Some of it is local; some of it is not. Our yeast is all local–most of the local breweries use Jasper Yeast. They do a fantastic job. Malt and hops don't really grow that well in Virginia, so most of that comes from either the west coast or Germany. We have a "For Lovers" series that focuses on the local, using Virginia-based ingredients. We're trying to support that industry and see if we can get them up and off the ground. It's more expensive, though.
Q: Employee retention is a big issue affecting the entire service sector right now. How is that playing out at Caboose?
Before COVID, we really had no turnover. During the pandemic, we went down to just a few employees, then we started hiring everybody back. We did get a lot of our old employees back. We also got a lot of new employees. Getting enough staff has really been our problem. We'll put jobs out there and we get zero responses. We still have a few jobs that have been open for a while–just nobody's applying. We're paying well–it's just there's nobody there. A lot of people left the industry. I understand why–there were no jobs in restaurants for a while, and they moved on. It makes sense; it was a good move. But now, it's hard to find people.
I worry about a lot of restaurants because the cost of doing business is just going up and up and up. Employees are demanding more–rightfully so. The food and gas costs are going up. Garbage costs have gone up. It’s everything–it’s across the board. I worry some businesses are going to start going under again.
Q: Home brewing has become a big hobby. Any advice for someone looking to open their own brewery?
The first thing that comes to mind is the mistake we made at both locations–water on the ground. You have to make sure your drainage is on point. But that's probably not very interesting.
Q: It's very practical.
It is. Both of our buildings are very old and so we're using a lot of the old drainage, and it's just not ideal. We should have jack-hammered the whole thing up and re-done it.
But, really, starting your own brewery comes down to employees. Having employees who love what they're doing and paying them adequately–that's where it's at. And that's expensive. But it makes it fun–you get all these people with all this passion about what they do.
WorkAway Solutions offers flexible coworking space in Ravensworth
Public weighs in on redistricting proposals: The Annandale Blog has coverage of last week’s redistricting hearing:
As the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors prepares to redraw the boundaries of the supervisory districts, community members weighed in with suggestions at a board hearing Nov. 9.
The board is scheduled to approve a redistricting plan on Dec. 7. It is considering 64 plans submitted by the Redistricting Advisory Committee.
Many of the plans would shift the boundaries of the Mason District by moving sections to or from the Providence, Braddock, or Lee districts. Some of the plans would add one or two new districts.
Redistricting must be carried out every 10 years to accommodate the latest Census data. The population deviation between the most and least populated districts must be less than 10 percent.
You can read the full story, including a list of suggestions put forward by county residents, here.
County to phase out government use of gas-powered leaf blowers: The Board of Supervisors last week passed a measure phasing out the use of gas-powered leaf blowers by the county government. The measure, which passed 9-1, was co-introduced by Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw and three other board members.
“I'm thrilled that Fairfax County is moving forward to create a cleaner and quieter community by phasing out our use of gas-powered leaf blowers,” Walkinshaw said in a statement. “By taking an incentive-based approach to our procurement policies, we can jumpstart the transition from dirty and noisy gas-powered blowers. This initiative sends a strong signal to landscaping contractors that now is the time to invest in cleaner equipment."
Tuesday, Nov. 16: The Braddock District Land Use and Environment Committee will hold a virtual meeting at 7 p.m. The agenda includes a discussion of a McKenzie Avenue rezoning proposal. You can join online or by phone: (571) 429-5982, Phone Conference ID: 730 922 969#.
Wednesday, Nov. 17: The Braddock District Council holds its monthly meeting at 7:30 p.m., virtually. Representatives from the county’s public works department will discuss the process of switching from private to county waste collection. Zoom details below:
Meeting ID: 847 0528 0359
Dial In: 301-715-8592 (audio ONLY)
News in Brief
Starting tomorrow, vaccines will be offered for children ages 5-11 at nine school-based clinics across FCPS. Clinics will be held after school hours, evenings, and on weekends, and you don’t need an appointment. You can find a list of locations here.
Conservative news outlets are expressing outrage over the 2021 Fairfax County Youth Survey, a partnership between the county government and FCPS, which will ask students as young as 12 about their sex life, gender, home life, and more. The survey is anonymous, voluntary, and offers “a barometer of the community’s effectiveness in fostering healthy choices in young people,” reports ABC News 7.
The Fairfax County Park Authority is looking to create options for pickleball at Lewinsville Park in McLean as part of an effort to boost pickleball options across the county to meet growing demand. The effort included the conversion of two platform tennis courts to pickleball at Wakefield Park in the Braddock District.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has adopted a zero waste plan, which seeks to reduce the total amount of waste generated by the county and schools by 25% by 2030, and divert 90% of waste away from landfills and incinerators.
The county has launched a “Parking Reimagined” project, the first comprehensive review of the its parking and loading requirements since the 1980s.
Jennifer Mack column: Questions to answer before purchasing a vacation property
The demand for purchasing vacation properties has continued through the last year. Some want to be at the beach, others in the mountains. But the common theme is a desire to be near nature and away from traffic.
If you are thinking of purchasing a vacation property, here are some factors to keep in mind.
One of the biggest decisions to make is whether you want to rent it out to paying guests or if you will keep it for your exclusive use. If you want to rent it out, the first thing to research are local ordinances as well as any restrictions that an HOA may impose. Many HOAs limit the number of rentals an owner can entertain in a time period or restrict the length of the stay. Most local jurisdictions also collect taxes from homeowners for these stays, so it is important to understand what those amounts will be and how often they are remitted. Some areas inspect the properties and grant business licenses for them.
Property insurance is another big factor—you have to do your research to make sure you can get insurance on a rental property for a reasonable price. You will also want to be sure the house has an adequate number of bedrooms and bathrooms and space to yield the rental rates you want to command. In addition, there are safety considerations if the property has a pool, hot tub, or boat access.
You will want to think about how long it will take you to get there in the event of a guest emergency, or if you will hire someone locally for this. Cleaners are in demand and can be difficult to find, so start researching them early.
If you plan to just use the home for yourself and your family, the key factors are ease of maintaining the property, travel time to ensure you will actually use it, and how many months out of the year you would be able to best utilize it based on where it is located. A vacation home can be a wonderful investment, especially in these stressful times, but must be carefully considered to ensure it will give you the rest and relaxation you crave.
Jennifer Mack has more than 16 years of experience in the real estate industry, with her team servicing Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 703-672-0038.
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