Backyard Barbecue, Arlington, VA

In a tiny, forgotten strip mall at the junction of Williamsburg Blvd. and Sycamore St., there sat for years a decrepit 7-11, alongside a host of other obscure mom-n-pop businesses. Recently, the 7-11 (which happened to be right next door to Backyard Barbecue) shut down, and was stripped to the bare walls. My thought about this? Good riddance!

Backyard Barbecue is a true mom-n-pop, with Michael Schmidt cooking the meats, and wife Anne-Marie Schmidt manning the register. I’ve become something of a regular there in the past year, because my mom loves their brisket, and whenever I see her, I try to swing by Backyard Barbecue and pick her up a pound.

A couple weeks ago, Anne-Marie asked me, “Don, is this a really slow time of year in general? Because nobody is coming by.”

“These first two weeks in January have been the slowest time for restaurants that I can remember,” I said. “The problem is city-wide.”

“The 7-11 shutting down has killed our foot traffic,” she continued. I was taken aback by this.

Can a 7-11 really be considered an “anchor” store? In this case, yes, it can, and its demise has hurt the surrounding businesses – who knew? Not me.

I went by on Thursday and picked up a pound of Brisket ($15), consistently good, and just the right amount of lunch for two hungry guys who had spent the morning sledding. I know Anne-Marie well enough now just to ask for “the usual” when I call, and I’ll be by in about ten minutes.

Michael and Anne-Marie really spruced up their store in the past couple of weeks in an attempt to draw in more customers – the signage is better, and there are more decorations on the walls.

Also, they now feature Wednesday Family Meals ($45-50) which are grab-and-go family-style meals for 4-6 people, designed for busy workers on their way home with no time to cook. It’s a great idea that deserves your support – examples include Shepherd’s Pie with fresh garden salad and rolls, and Grilled Chicken Fajitas with onions, peppers, guacamole, salsa, cheese and rice. Emails are sent out Sundays detailing the Wednesday menu, and the meals must be pre-ordered. Get onto their website and sign up!

And don’t forget, this small business survives by catering, not by walk-ins.

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