On April 21, long-awaited coffee-to-cocktails restaurant The Freshman opened its doors in Arlington. The all-day eatery features locally roasted coffee beans, made-from-scratch meals and handcrafted cocktails. Originally, The Freshman planned to open in the spring of 2020, but because of the pandemic, it was put on hold.
The Freshman gives customers the option to order off the menu based on their mood and time of day. Whether it’s stopping by to grab a coffee on your way to work or enjoying a cocktail after a hard day, the concept of The Freshman caters to all customers’ needs. District Fray spoke to The Freshman’s founder and area restaurateur, Nick Freshman, to get the inside scoop on what guests can expect.
District Fray: How did you come up with the concept for The Freshman?
Nick Freshman: The concept is one that is pretty close to my heart. It’s a space where I find myself wanting to spend my time. There has been a rise in “all-day cafe” concepts, and I saw a lot of opportunities there. [In] looking at what this neighborhood needs, it felt like this would be a really good addition [as] that space that could be there for you first thing in the morning, into the night and everything in-between.
What does the mural located inside the restaurant represent?
The mural is an incredibly important part of our concept. It was a way for me to celebrate the achievements of the people [who] have been side-by-side with me my entire career, but somehow never seem to have their story told: immigrants to this area from El Salvador and Guatemala. [They] pick up a tremendous part of our workforce in the hospitality industry. They’re the bedrock on which my success has been built and they’ve been very adversely affected by the pandemic. I thought we could create something beautiful and also tell a very powerful story.
What inspired you to advocate for hospitality workers?
For most of my career, I’ve tried to be conscious of the people around me who have needs that are greater than mine. But I think the pandemic and the movement for social justice really [were] catalysts [to realize that] whatever I had been doing just wasn’t enough. There were two primary motivators. One was that I felt like I was watching my industry die right in front of my eyes, and I wanted to try and do something about it. Secondly, I felt like by virtue of nothing more than dumb luck, I’ve had a tremendous amount of fortune and favor, and this country is structured in a way that adversely benefits me. I can’t change that, but I can try to make it better for others.
How has Covid impacted your business and employees?
Covid is still impacting our businesses. I think it’s really important [for] people [to] understand that as excited as they are to go out to restaurants, we opened The Freshman in the middle of a pandemic and we still have restrictions on what we’re able to do [and a] tremendous amount of anxiety amongst our staff. Operating in this environment is incredibly challenging and we’re not out of it yet. I think it’s almost impossible at this point to fully understand the impact this had on our industry, and really on our country and on the world. The people [who] make up my industry are some of the scrappiest, most resilient people you’ll ever meet, but they have been tested.
What are your current Covid safety protocols?
We’re following guidance from the CDC as well as the state of Virginia and Arlington County. Currently, we can operate with guests remaining six feet apart. We’re encouraging our staff to be vaccinated, and encouraging our customers to come in once they’re vaccinated. We have a system that allows us to open the front windows almost entirely, so our outside space blends together really well. It was a pre-pandemic design, but has turned into a very strong post-pandemic [asset].
What can customers expect from both the food and drink menus?
We wanted something [on the menu] for a full hearty breakfast, and something for a healthy breakfast. We wanted to have a killer burger, but also for that same person to come in the next day and be like, “Hey, today I need a salad or a nice piece of fish.” I think the idea is to suit a number of palates, and to suit the same customer at different times of the day or different days of the week. Our menu, both beverage and food, is really straightforward but [everything is] made [with] from-scratch, high-quality ingredients.
What do you want customers to take away from visiting The Freshman?
I want people walking out feeling that [their experience] was different because it felt like it was well-thought-out, the staff cared for them, and we paid a lot of attention to what we put in the glass and on the plate. That is something in this neighborhood that’s unique.
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.