By Amanda Socci
What happens after you work for 30 years serving a variety of sweet and savory food and dedicated yourself to meticulous customer service for those three decades? Celebrate of course, and then get back to work! Owner Tom Lally of the Alexandria Pastry Shop & Catering Company recently did just that.
All during July, the main chalkboard on the savory prepared foods side of his store read: “Celebrating 30 sweet years at the pastry shop! 7-21-1988 – 07-21-2018.” “I wasn’t sure of the exact day but since I had to pick a day, I picked July 21,” noted Lally with his trademark calm demeanor. Indeed, Lally has a lot to celebrate, after starting off with so little.
“We didn’t have enough money to do what we wanted,” he lamented, but he was hopeful and determined to make things work, even after mortgaging his own home several times. A gift of a large, heavy wooden table was perfect for baking. In 1988, the city did not allow the table, but he kept it anyway and still uses it to this day. Another early cost-savings measure was a simple custom-made metal triangle mold. Though not as refined as the molds he uses now, it serves as a powerful reminder of how far he has come.
In the late 1980s, Lally worked at several restaurants in D.C. and became experienced in bakery sales. After getting married, he saw a small corner retail store become available (High’s dairy store) in the Bradlee shopping center and knew right away it would make a perfect location to open a pastry shop. Alexandria Pastry broke ground in 1988 with partner, chef Mel Meadows, who handled the kitchen. After 10 years, Lally amicably bought out Mel’s stake in the company, took over the adjacent retail store, and worked on large-scale improvements.
He hired a team to knock down walls and improve the plumbing. The tiny spaces were split into the two sections that still stand today: the sweet side where the refrigerated cakes, pastries, and other sweet delicacies feverishly await placement into customers’ bags, and the savory prepared foods side where modestly-priced breakfast, lunch, and dinner selections garnish the display cases in appetizing displays.
In addition to the multiple awards won including The Knot’s ‘Best of Weddings’ for their wedding cake designs and presentation, The Alexandria Pastry Shop has a thriving catering business supplying savory dishes to restaurants and hotels. And every day, the team serves hand-crafted breakfast, lunch, and dinner items plus muffins, cookies, and slices of cake using only fresh ingredients. Several of the shop staff are in high school and count this as their first job. Tom eagerly trains his employees with the right attitude who want to work.
When asked about the single-most important key to longevity and success, Tom stated simply that “[you] have to do the right job for a long time… [and don’t forget] you have to have fun while you work.”
3690 H King Street :: Bradlee Shopping Center :: Alexandria, VA 2230
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