Mount Vernon The Fried Rice Combo is Fiifi Atta-otoo’s favorite dish at Chin’s Kitchen, a
favorite in the Penn Daw area, and a mainstay in the Penn Daw Village shopping center that is squeezed between the new Shelby Apartments and the Calvary Presbyterian Church on North Kings Highway.
Inside the carry-out, the no frills atmosphere is what the customers have grown to expect, as well as the low prices, fresh vegetables and the assortment of dishes with menu pictures on the wall. “This is an old store, we have lots of customers returning,” said the woman behind the counter.
For Suzette Vasquez at Zips Dry Cleaning, Chin’s orange chicken dish is her favorite. “We order there a lot,” she said, “we still need those small stores in
this area,” she added.
At Southern Tattoo next door, Charlie Parsons, a tattoo artist, has seen three generations working at Chin’s. His favorites are the veggie fried rice or the General Tso’s Chicken. “I’d do anything for these people,” he said. “That’s good food, I’ve seen cars come here from Fredericksburg and Petersburg for Chin’s,” he said.
The dated shopping center a few doors down on North Kings Highway has already been reduced to rubble, but Penn Daw Village seems to be holding its own. Gone are the Shopper’s Food Warehouse, a big box drug store and the Alexandria Bowling Lanes, which was in the basement of the drug store. Its bowling lanes sign is the only thing that remains.
At Penn Daw Village there are several different ethnic groups represented, including Central Americans with the Machu Pollo chicken carry-out, an African Grocery store, Southern Tattoo, a beauty supply store and Lovely Nail Art. “We got a nice little mix of people here, it’s all family,” added Parsons.
Although the village is a block off Richmond Highway, it is in Lee District, not the Mount Vernon District as it would seem. Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) has talked to the owner and has been involved with the new development a block away which is known as “NOVUS Kings Crossing,” in a presentation given to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in June. “During the replanning of Penn Daw, my office had extensive conversations with the property owners surrounding the new mixed-use developments. The owner of this particular shopping center did not want to sell and the county cannot – and should not -- force anyone to sell their property. In light of that, we did work with the developer of Penn Daw and the strip center owner to update the façade to better match the new Penn Daw building,” said McKay in an email.
“I love small businesses, the backbone of our local economy. Those of us who grew up along Richmond Highway such as myself know the importance these type of businesses play and do all we can to support and promote them every day, including ensuring a balance between new development and preservation,” McKay said.
Penn Daw Village is under the umbrella of a larger project known as Embark
Richmond Highway, which Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck has supported over the last year. In the June presentation at the Board of Supervisors, “Penn Daw is envisioned as an Urban Village,” one of the bullet points read.
Atta-otoo grew up in Mount Vernon, graduated from West Potomac High School, and has seen the surrounding development through the years, although he wasn’t too familiar with the future of this stretch of North King’s Highway.
“I’m sure they won’t be cheap,” he said. He’s right — on a sign recently posted out front of the site said the residences will be priced in the $700,000 range.