A Lorton staple has shut its doors, but you'll still be able to occasionally taste the pulled pork from American Bar-B-Que & Catering. On Saturday, the lease for the restaurant at 7230 Lockport Place expired, and a "For Rent" sign went up in the window.
As the final days of March trickled away, Dave and Diane Saville finished stripping down a restaurant that took 40 years to build.
"It's been very difficult to see this place over the last few days," Dave told Patch. "People have been amazing, to show their gratitude for what we've done since 1972. And even though we stopped serving food at the end of February, customers are still coming by and pulling on the doors. I'm getting calls from people asking, 'Where are we going to get our barbecue sauce now?'"
The walls are bare and the dining room is empty. "On this wall, we had all the framed pictures of the Little League teams we sponsored over the years," Dave said. "It's a sad thing, a bittersweet thing. I've told all my friends that when one door closes, another opens."
The restaurant was doing well financially, while the catering end took a hit in recent years. "We've been steadily increasing business 4-5 percent every year for nine years, but at the same time, the catering end of the business has dropped 40 percent with the downturn in the economy," Dave said. "The logistics of what we do is horrendous. To do an event in Tysons at 3 p.m., I'd have to leave at 8 a.m. to account for BRAC traffic, the HOT lanes construction on the Beltway and all of these new national corporations with hubs around D.C. I guess this area doesn't feel like the small hometown community I grew up in. I knew everybody and everybody knew me."
Diane Saville is going to miss her regular customers the most. "I'd have customers come in and they wouldn't have to say a word because I already knew what they wanted," she said. "They're not just customers—they're family."
Things Have Changed
In 1971, Dave's father, David Saville, Sr., bought the 68-acre Harley Farms estate and moved his wife and three children to Lorton. The following year, the former real estate agent and diner owner started a barbecue catering business from his double-car garage. "I started working for my father when I was nine years old in 1972," Dave said. "And my dad loved to cook and had the gift of gab. In five years he developed a large catering business. And by the time we bought our first location across the street on Telegraph (Road), we were catering up to 14 events every week."
One of those early events was feeding 4,800 Battle of Yorktown re-enactors for 10 days during the summer of 1976. "We specialize in large corporate events and our secret is to cook everything fresh on-site," he said. "Every other catering company has the food already prepared. We come out to your event three hours beforehand and then prepare everything."
In 1981, Saville Sr. leased the property at Lockport Place for 25 years and built American Bar-B-Que & Catering. The following year, he sold the business to Al Khalili, who paid rent to Saville until 1994. "Al decided to build and develop what's now the Polo Grill, which was then Gunston's Restaurant. But in the early '90s, the economy was bad...so me and my wife bought it and started to pay rent to my dad," Dave said.
At its peak, the restaurant was manufacturing 1,200 pounds of pulled pork a week. "Eighty percent of this business was from pulled pork," Dave said. "It's a Northern barbecue, because the sauce is tomato-based. We made our own sauce, our own baked beans, our own cole-slaw. It was traditional homestyle food with a lot of heart."
While the doors of American Bar-B-Que & Catering are closed, the catering end of the business remains, and you can taste your favorite dishes at events with 75 or more people. "We're going to keep 5,000 of our catering customers," said office manager Phyllis Pinkard, who started working for the company in 1981 and will run the catering in Northern Virginia. "It's going to be a different approach. People won't be able to come in. There will have to be a party at someone's house. It's going to be a transition, that's for sure. We're going to miss everybody."
This summer, Dave, Diane and two of their three sons will leave Northern Virginia for the Shenandoah Valley. The family is going to develop property to build an RV campground and resort directly across from Shenandoah Caverns.
"We're going to miss our loyal customers who became our friends, and we'll also miss being part of the Lorton community," Dave said. "But I'm looking forward to it."
Want to order from American Bar-B-Que & Catering? You can email them or call 703-550-7757.
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