This column is sponsored by BizLaunch, a division of Arlington Economic Development.

By Alex Held, Small Business Manager

So much has changed since March 2020. Our world has shifted, and many say we are now facing a “New Normal.”

It’s hard to imagine, but today marks one year of COVID-19 restrictions in Virginia. Since then, restaurants changed their operations to comply with the state limitations and to keep their customers and employees safe. However, there is no doubt the restrictions have negatively impacted many restaurants’ bottom line.

When the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) approached us to support their innovative Buy a Nurse Lunch program this week, we were thrilled to take part.  With donations, the program purchases meals from local restaurants, which are then sent to frontline workers at Arlington Free Clinic, Arlington Pediatric Center, Mary Marshall Assisted Living and Virginia Hospital Center.

And, on the note of supporting local restaurants and with March an ode to women throughout history, we wanted to use this as an opportunity to support and highlight three diverse women-owned restaurants in Columbia Pike.

Rincome Thai Cuisine

Founded in 1985 by Mihee Pansiri, her late husband Kenny and her sister Miok An, Rincome Thai Cuisine serves authentic Thai food on Columbia Pike. The sisters are Korean American and have incorporated traditional Korean dishes such as bulgogi and homemade kimchi to their menu.

“If you want the kimchi to go, then this is the place to get it,” Pansiri said. “Once you try it, you will be coming back for more, like many of my customers.” Like many restaurants, Rincome has altered its operations, and the entire family has pitched in to help.

Even Rincome’s longtime customers have offered support through continued patronage and knowledge sharing about funding opportunities such as Arlington County’s Small Business Emergency GRANT, which they received last summer.

“It’s nice, and our customers care,” Pansiri said. “Many of them began coming to us when they were young with their parents. Now they are fully grown with children of their own.”

Through these challenging times, CPRO’s Buy a Nurse Lunch program has provided them with additional revenue to support their staff and continue operations. “It’s been a lifeline for us,” Pansiri said.

If you are interested in checking out Rincome Thai Cuisine, the restaurant opens at 4 p.m. for in-person dining and is located at 3030 Columbia Pike. They are also available online for pickup and delivery orders.

Wine lovers take note: Rincome launched a wine club — Rincome Wine O’Clock, where members receive two different Austrian wines every month. Follow them on Facebook to learn more.

Dama Ethiopian Restaurant

Ethiopia is calling. Interested in tasting the rich flavors of the East African country but not able to travel because of the pandemic? Fear not. Arlington has its very own authentic award-winning Ethiopian restaurant.

Dama Ethiopian Restaurant has been serving deliciousness at 1503 Columbia Pike since 2000. While Dama is primarily known for traditional Ethiopian and vegan cuisine, they also have a wide selection of European-styled pastries and coffees, which are extremely popular with customers.

Like many restaurants, Dama Ethiopian Restaurant wasn’t expecting a pandemic to strike in 2020. “We sought to pivot and outreach to our customers in new ways,” owner Amsale Selassie said.

Similarly, Dama had to change the way it did business to comply with the stay-at-home orders.

“Arlington’s Small Business Emergency GRANT helped us to adjust and pivot, and we also applied for the Temporary Outdoor Seating Area, which helped maintain our regular customers and bring new ones to the outdoor space,” Selassie said.

Having been well known for many years in Arlington, Dama Ethiopian Restaurant has cultivated a loyal customer base. “The support from our customers during this time has been instrumental in helping us stay afloat,” Selassie said.

If you’re interested in trying Dama Ethiopian Restaurant, they are open for indoor and outdoor dining, takeout and delivery. Check out their menu online and follow them on Facebook.

Café Sazon

Café Sazon is a family-owned business founded in 2010 and is known for its fusion of a variety of Latin American flavors using fresh, high-quality ingredients. As with many restaurants a year ago, Café Sazon temporarily closed for two months.

“It was hard in the beginning,” says Café Sazon founder Claudia Camacho.”Especially having to close, then coming back.” Luckily Café Sazon was able to source emergency capital from the Paycheck Protection Program and Arlington’s Small Business Emergency GRANT.

Then when they reopened last summer, Café Sazon had the opportunity to participate in the Buy a Nurse Lunch program.

“We were thrilled with the opportunity to participate in the program,” Camacho said. “The program provides us additional revenue and the opportunity to support nurses in our community.”

Similarly, to Rincome and Dama, Café Sazon has a loyal customer base that has been extremely supportive during these challenging times. “The support that we get from customers every day from buying gift cards, ordering takeout or delivery, and now that we have our outdoor patio, we’re starting to see them back,” Camacho said.

If you are interested in trying Café Sazon, they are located at 4704 Columbia Pike, and are open for takeout, indoor and outdoor dining, and delivery. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram to learn more.