Born January 23, 1968 in Alexandria, Virginia, James or “Jamesie” as his friends and family referred to him, started life playing in the rock piles of his family’s construction business, and he grew up tall, strong, and with the biggest heart in town.
At six-foot, six-inches tall, Breeding was a man you noticed when he walked into a room, even as a junior in high school. “I’d known him because my brother and he were in boy scouts together, but Jim never knew me until geometry class at T.C. in 1984. I saw him come in, and he looked intimidating with that scowl he had on this face sometimes. That day, I was hoping he’d sit anywhere except by me,” said his wife and best friend of 36 years.
But the teacher arranged the class alphabetically, and Breeding ended up in the desk right behind the beautiful blond sophomore named Dorothy Bradley. The couple spent the next few decades hardly a day apart, building businesses, a family and an incredible community of friends.
James Breeding had a spectacular career at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, where he played defensive tackle for the Titans. He was part of the 1984 State Championship Football team when no one scored against them all season. “He was a nice young man. I remember his smile and ability to relate both to his peers and adults. He carried his Titan experience into his continued support of our community,” says John Porter, who was principal at T.C. during the time.
Building a Life
Breeding dreamed of being an architect and started classes at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale while working part-time. But eventually, he was pulled into a business life instead that took him into roofing, locksmithing and construction until he was broadsided in a terrible car crash in 1992, which put him out of work for two years.
He got into house-building for D.R. Horton in the mid-nineties, and “built some beautiful homes in Tysons, McLean, Leesburg and Ashburn,” said Dorothy. One day a call got him back into roofing. A man called and said he knew Jim’s work as a roofer and wanted him take over a job where another guy was not working out and asked if he wanted the contract.
“The job was the dome skin roof on the Presidential Hangar at Andrews Air Force Base,” says Dorothy. “After that, we were back in roofing big-time.” Over the next 21 years, Breeding Construction did significant work all over the DMV, including roofs for NRL, Howard University, and some big commercial projects in Pennsylvania.
Al’s Steak House
“But Jim always dreamed of owning Al’s Steak House at 1504 Mount Vernon Avenue,” says Dorothy. It was our family’s favorite restaurant. We grew up eating there and were always regular customers. He would tell long-time owner John Severson, who had owned the restaurant since 1965, “Whenever you want to sell, let me know.”
When Severson got sick in 2015, they talked seriously about it, and soon after his passing, the Breedings took over the Philly-cheese style steakhouse.
“The funny part is that Jim couldn’t cook a lick when we got married, but when he was stuck at home those two years recovering from the car crash, all he did was watch cooking shows. He taught himself how to cook! And he was good,” says Dorothy.
With Jim’s experience in construction, he wanted to give the old sub shop a facelift and get some new equipment and start things off right. Only four hours into their opening day, the decades-old Alexandria eatery suffered a catastrophic fire that left the family holding back tears from across the street as they watched dreams literally go up in smoke.
But rebuild they did, and the community rallied with them holding fundraisers and helping out, and one year to the day later, Al’s Steak House reopened strong, and continues to carry on the traditions that have made it so mouth-wateringly famous. “Jim loved this place,” says Dorothy. He has really had some major physical struggles these past few years but if he could come into Al’s he would. He always would.”
His heart was as big as a lion’s and he was always there to lend a hand. A friend of Jim’s reminded the family recently as they were gathering photos and memories, “Jim was a legend. There was no such word as “can’t or couldn’t” in his vocabulary. If you asked him for a favor, he never said no. He just took care of it and helped.”
Jim is survived by his wife, Dorothy, four children, Amanda Owens and her husband Raheem, Emily Breeding, Tyler Breeding and Shannon Bartolac, and five grandchildren, A’Dyn, Brooklyn, Peyton, Skylar and Kloie. He is also survived by his sister Terri L. Clark (husband Steve, deceased) of Fort Washington, MD, brothers Geary A. Breeding of Indian Rocks Beach, FL, and Glen A. Breeding of Accokeek, MD, as well as many nieces, nephews, cousins and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents James D. and Myrtle E. Breeding, Stepmother Phyllis J. Breeding and brother Darrel L. Breeding.
The viewing for James Breeding will be Friday July 31, from 6-8 pm at Cunningham Funeral Home, 811 Cameron Street, Alexandria VA 22314. Funeral services wll be held Saturday, August 1, at 11 am at Delray Baptist Church, 2405 Russell Rd Alexandria, VA 22301. Burial is at 1 pm at Fort Lincoln Cemetery, 3401 Bladensburg Rd, Brentwood, MD 20722.