ALEXANDRIA, VA – Cured ribeye shaved steak. Oozing provolone cheese. Lines have formed for the authentic Philly cheese steaks at Al’s in Alexandria since 1955, and in 2020 alone, they will sell 32,000 of the mouth-watering subs.
“If anyone was ready for a curbside-only world, it was Al’s,” says owner Dorothy Bradley Breeding. “We’ve always been a carryout and delivery business. This year has been ironically amazing. We are busier and busier every day.”
But is the beloved cheese steak place for sale? Breeding herself posted this note to social media to settle the rumors:
“Jim always dreamed of owning Al’s,” says Dorothy, of her late husband James Breeding, who passed away this past July. “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.””
The Breedings took over the restaurant in 2015, after Severson passed away from lung cancer.
“We opened July 7, 2016, and everyone knows what happened that day” said Dorothy. “That day” was their soft opening day. It was the day they were nervous wondering how everyone would like the new paint and spiffed-up signage. It was the day they were selling cheesesteaks to faithful customers who were rejoicing that the recipes were just the same as before. And it was the day the restaurant caught on fire, razing the interior. It was the day the Breeding family stood crying on the sidewalk across the street, as flames licked the roofline, watching their dreams literally go up in smoke.
The restaurant was closed for over a year while funds were raised and the insurance company was battled. And during that time, Jim got sick.
“Right before we opened in 2016 Jim had a bad kidney stone. It ended up shutting down his right kidney, and he needed dialysis five times a week,” said Dorothy, who is a trained nurse. “I’d get up at 4 am for Jim’s dialysis and then go into Al’s.”
Health challenges for Jim did not let up. In 2017, he had a stroke and in 2018, he had a heart attack. Running the restaurant and caring for Jim full-time was not the original plan either of them had in mind when they dreamed of owning and operating Al’s, and the daily struggle has added up.
“In 2018, my little grandchildren, three-year old twins and a five-year old, also moved in with us,” she laughed. “And I take care of my 81-year old mom who only lives ten minutes from Al’s. I do her bills and take her to appointments.”
Dorothy loves the business, the customers and the supportive Alexandria community, but she is tired. “This was Jim’s dream, a little bit more than mine. And when we got into it, we planned to both be here. I just think there is probably someone else out there who wants to run it as much as we did. And now is such a good time. I want to go out when we are on an upswing,” she says.
Until the right owner comes along, Al’s Steaks will be pumping out great food morning ’til night, and the lines will keep on forming.
“I’m not shutting down. And I won’t let just anyone buy this place,” Dorothy says. “The new owners have to understand the legacy, and what this place means to the neighborhood.”