Ashburn Magazine January/February 2021

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ne day a few years ago, my stepson came home from his part-time job at the IHOP in Ashburn and announced that one of his coworkers was a professional boxer. Our sports-crazy family doubted him. But – sho’ nuff – he was right. Ashburn resident Tori Nelson, mom of two, has also worked at a local senior living community and car dealership and as a school bus driver, all while she trained for a career that landed her among the top women boxers in the world. She retired a little over a year ago, but plans are afoot to make a movie about her career. You will meet Nelson and learn more about the life of this amazing woman who fought under the nickname “Sho-Nuff ” in Jill Devine’s cover story this month. And as we kick off the new year, we wrap up the second full year of publishing Ashburn Magazine. The opportunity to tell stories like that of Nelson is why we started this magazine in March 2019, and we hope it’s helped you learn a little more about the community in which we live and build stronger connections with your neighbors and local businesses. This magazine wouldn’t be possible without our hard-working team – including editor Chris Wadsworth, sales leader Connie Fields, account executive Judy Harbin and art director Kara Thorpe. We may be small in numbers, but we pack a mighty punch. Elsewhere in this issue, we think you’ll enjoy Chris’ tale of a message in a bottle that – 38 years later – finally connected a woman who now lives in Ashburn with its sender in New York. And you’ll meet Timberbrooke resident Rich Battista and learn all about the incredible model train layout in his basement, which has been featured on the covers of national model-railroading magazines. We’re also introducing a new section, called “Time of our Lives.” While Ashburn is home to a disproportionate number of families with children, the population of seniors is growing, too – many of them moving here to be close to their children and grandchildren. And some of us are closing in on that category, too. In fact, I found the premiere feature, on pickleball, to be of so much interest that trying out the sport is on my 2021 to-do list. And of course we’re bringing you our usual lineup of features. Our “Amazing Kid” is Riverside High School junior Amya Caldwell, who won the Miss Virginia Teen USA pageant last year. Chris had the tough job of touring the Guinness Open Gate Brewery near Baltimore for our “Local Adventures” section. And this month’s “Home Sweet Home” page features the winner of our first Holiday Decorating Contest – chosen by you, our readers. Finally, speaking of reader choices, in February we’ll be launching our second annual “Best of Ashburn” contest. This is your chance to support your favorite local businesses and organizations. The response in our first year was overwhelming – nearly 40,000 total votes cast – so mark your calendars. And look for the results in our May issue. In the meantime, happy New Year – and here’s hoping 2021 is a knockout!



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contents 08 amazing kids

14 time of our lives

BEAUTIFUL INSIDE AND OUT Ashburn teen finds self-esteem, confidence in the world of pageants

PRIMETIME FOR PICKLEBALL Sport growing in popularity around the region



12 more amazing kids Highlighting local kids doing great things


cover story ‘SHO-NUFF’ NELSON Ashburn’s boxing champion reflects on her mighty career BY JILL DEVINE


20 time travel feature story MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE Ashburn woman solves a childhood mystery — 38 years later BY CHRIS WADSWORTH

24 our neighbors feature story MODEL BEHAVIOR A childhood pastime becomes a lifelong passion BY CHRIS WADSWORTH

32 28 home sweet home HOLIDAY DECORATING CONTEST Meet the winners of Ashburn Magazine’s first holiday home decorating contest.

30 real estate round-up The latest facts and figures about home sales in Ashburn

wine & dine VIET CASUAL Saigon Outcast brings unique new features to the local dining scene BY CHRIS WADSWORTH

36 local adventures ROLL OUT THE BARREL The Guinness Brewery is rollicking good time BY CHRIS WADSWORTH

38 the burn The latest restaurant, retail and other cool news

ON THE COVER Boxer Tori Nelson poses with many of her title belts. Photo by Shannon Surratt Photography. CORRECTION In the November/ December 2020 issue of Ashburn Magazine, an article about the National Recreation and Park Association in Ashburn mentioned that the Boal family lived in Brambleton. The Boals live in the Broadlands. Ashburn Magazine regrets the error.

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amazing kids


Ashburn teen finds self-esteem, confidence in the world of pageants BY JI L L D E V I N E 8 • ASHBURN MAGAZINE • JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2021


Beautiful Inside and Out Amya Caldwell receives her crown at the Miss Virginia Teen USA Pageant in January 2020.



atching 17-year-old Amya Caldwell gracefully float across the stage in a beaded ball gown at this year’s Miss Teen USA pageant, it’s tough to believe she ever struggled with self-esteem or confidence. “I used to be so shy that I could hardly talk to anyone, including family,” confessed Amya, who lives near One Loudoun and is a junior and honor roll student at Riverside High School. Amya, who was crowned Miss Virginia Teen USA in January 2020, credits pageant life with helping her overcome extreme struggles with self-image. “All of my confidence comes from lessons I learned through pageants,” said Amya, who has participated in 23 pageants, winning 11 titles, since entering her first pageant, National American Miss, at age 7. Indeed, Amya’s mother, Brandis Caldwell, remembers childhood playdates where Amya refused to interact with other children. “It was hard for both of us,” Caldwell said. “She would cling to my knees, never leaving my side.” At one playdate, each child was asked to tell the group something that made them happy. Instead of sharing, Amya began to cry uncontrollably. “I was worried and began looking for anything to help her overcome this shyness,” Caldwell said. Not long after, Caldwell received a brochure in the mail about the National American Miss competition. “The invitation said the pageant would help girls build self-esteem, so I thought we should give it a try,” she added. “Amya was always girly, loving dresses and sparkles … so I thought this might help her.”

Caldwell says she watched her daughter bloom through pageant competition, and there’s been no looking back. “I have learned so many lessons through pageants,” Amya said, “the most valuable being how to hold a conversation with adults.” One of those adults is Kim Nicewonder, a co-executive director for the Miss Virginia USA and Miss Virginia Teen USA programs. “Amya is extremely confident for such a young woman,” Nicewonder said. “One of the advantages of being in my position is that you get to witness the contestants maturing over the years. I saw Amya gain so much from pageantry. She has become confident and bold — in the best way.” This confidence and increased self-esteem didn’t come easy for Amya. She says learning to love herself was sometimes difficult. “In high school I wanted to be with the popular crowd, but they weren’t accepting of me, and I felt very alone,” Amya said. “I was changing who I was in an effort to fit in. No one should ever feel that way, so I want to help kids understand that happiness has to come from within.” Amya’s “platform” — an issue or cause she takes on — has recently been “Dare to Be You,” where she works with local schools to help younger students discover their selfworth, particularly when transitioning to middle school. “There’s a misconception that pageants are about beauty,” Amya said, “but it’s really about growing through experiences and developing who you are on the inside.” Amya most recently was in the Miss Teen USA pageant in November, at historic 

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AMAZING KIDS (left) Amya with her siblings, Jayla Caldwell and Grayson Price. (below) Amya sporting a shirt that encourages people to “Be Kind.”

Graceland in Memphis, where she represented Virginia. There was a live audience, although reduced numbers due to social distancing. Amya loved learning the opening dance number with the other young women and being involved in the choice of her dress design. She says just being there was a thrill.

“It was my first time being paired with a roommate and the first time I had to prepare


and steam my own gown for the show,” she said. “And it was so much fun touring Memphis.” Amya left Memphis without the crown, but no tears. “It’s never about winning for me,” she said. “I always take so much home with me — all the experience, connections and memories.” She admits that after spending so much time preparing, it is a bit strange when suddenly the event is over. “My first thought going home was that I had to finish an essay for my psychology class — life goes on.” Amya’s mother said it’s difficult knowing her daughter is being judged. “But I’ve always reminded Amya that the judges see only a five-minute snapshot of who she is. They don’t get to see all the special things about her that I see 24-7.” In most ways, Amya is like

other high school students. She likes hanging out at One Loudoun with friends and enjoys an occasional greasy hamburger with bacon. She likes to do yoga, run and watch her sister play hockey, and she is a selfproclaimed “Netflix junkie.” Amya dreams of majoring in psychology at the University of Alabama and wants to become a forensic psychologist, but she will keep participating in pageants. “I will be in pageants for the rest of my life if I can,” she said. “With all the great experiences and opportunities pageants offer, why wouldn’t I?” A Jill Devine is a Loudoun-based freelance writer. When not busy typing away on her latest story, you may find her and her husband, Paul, exploring Virginia’s historic sites or pedaling on one of the area’s many bike trails.


amazing kids

OK, we know all kids are amazing, but if you know of a kid who’s so amazing that he or she should be featured on this page, please email information to

FIRST-TIME AUTHOR A local sixth-grader has accomplished something lots of grown-up writers have yet to do — written and published his first book. 12-year-old Braden Quinlan wrote his debut novel, “The Errorunsai.” It’s a 156-page fantasy story about a young boy leading a rebellion against a tyrannical sorcerer king. The cover art for the book was created by Audrey Veloce, a local high school senior and Ashburn Magazine’s “Best Artist” in the 2020 Best of Ashburn contest. “The Errorunsai” is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book formats.

SAVE-A-POND CLUB Last year in second grade at Waxpool Elementary School, student Zara Davalos learned all about PBL, or project-based learning, while she and her classmates studied animals and their native habitats. Over the summer, Zara was inspired to keep her learning going by creating the Save-a-Pond Club. She gathered via Google Meets with other members she recruited, and the children did research on nearby ponds. They invited their secondgrade teacher to be a guest speaker at one of their meetings, and Zara and her pals then held a pond clean-up day where they removed debris from in and around a local pond.

HIGH-LEVEL RESEARCH A team of local high school students has gone global in their efforts to further their extracurricular education. Kamran Majid and Varun Pasupuleti, seniors at Rock Ridge High School, and Rahul Kumar, a senior at Independence High School, joined to form the Aluna Research Fellowship in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. “Through [the] fellowship program, [we] have enabled almost 50 Left to right: Varun Pasupuleti, Rahul Kumar, and Kamran Majid. students from Ghana, Egypt, India, and other countries to conduct machine learning research and have paved the path for them to publish their research in academic journals,” Kamran wrote in an email. To give you an idea of the high-level work Aluna is facilitating, one of the fellowship’s projects was titled, “Applying Convolutional Neural Networks to Identify Parasitized Malaria Cells.” Wow! Aluna is looking for more local high school students in Loudoun County to get involved.


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time of our lives

Primetime for Pickleball Sport growing in popularity around the region BY JI L L DE V IN E

(above) Mona Smith plays pickleball in the 2018 Ashby Ponds Olympics; (left) Roy Murphy and Rick Rhoades compete in the 2018 Ashby Ponds Olympics.


hen retired IBM executive Dave Bauer moved from his long-time Fairfax City home to Ashburn’s Ashby Ponds in December 2016, he wanted to stay active and make friends. An invitation from another resident to play pickleball, a sport that combines elements of tennis, ping pong and badminton, delivered more friends, fun and fitness than he ever expected. “Pickleball helped me meet people with similar interests here,” Bauer said. “It’s a good [activity] for all ages.” If you haven’t tried pickleball yet, take a number and get in line. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in America, with more than 3.3 million players nationwide. The game,

played on a badminton-size court using lightweight paddles and plastic hollow balls, was once considered primarily for older adults, but it has recently skyrocketed in popularity with younger players as well. “Interest in pickleball has been unprecedented in recent years,” said Justin Maloof. He’s the executive director for USA Pickleball, a national governing body for the sport that is working toward getting pickleball recognized as an Olympic sport. The organization has seen its membership double since 2017 to roughly 40,000 players. Pickleball was invented in 1965 by three friends — Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum — on Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Seattle. While on vacation, the men sawed off some wooden paddles and sent their kids to a badminton court


with old wiffle balls to keep them busy. When the kids didn’t return because they were too busy playing, the adults went to find them and got caught up in the game as well. The group made up rules as they went along. Not long after, they packaged and marketed the highly addictive game, with one of the founders claiming it was named after Pickles, the family dog that kept running away with the ball. At Ashby Ponds, Bauer — who used to coach and teach tennis — made fast friends with fellow residents Lou Rodriguez, a retired school math teacher from New Jersey, and Roy Murphy, a former U.S. Navy officer and aerospace engineer. Now, the trio plays pickleball together every chance they have. “The three of us are like-minded and have really melded,” Rodriguez said. The sport is becoming so popular among all age groups that last year, a new facility called Pickleballerz opened in Chantilly, just 20 minutes from Ashburn. The climatecontrolled, indoor venue has six regulationsized courts and offers clinics, special events and programs for kids. The owners say it’s the only facility with indoor dedicated pickleball courts in the Mid-Atlantic. “Pickleball is the perfect pandemic pastime,” said co-owner Greg Raelson. “Plus, it helps improve hand-eye coordination, gameplay strategy, spatial awareness and cardiovascular health.”

TIME OF OUR LIVES Bauer agrees, noting that pickleball has great aerobic benefits and is easier on the joints than tennis. It’s also highly portable, with all the necessary equipment — including the net — fitting into a carry bag. “It is easy for a pickleball beginner to advance to a playable level fairly quickly,” he added. “The game delivers enough turns and moves that when you walk away … you might need a day to recover.” Around Ashburn, pickleball aficionados often play at community tennis courts that can be modified for pickleball. Meanwhile, the new 15,000-square-foot Ashburn Senior Center under construction on Marblehead Drive will have dedicated pickleball courts. It’s on track to open this fall. Back at Ashby Ponds, about 70 residents — pre-pandemic — played pickleball on a regular basis in a banquet room that had been turned into a narrow version of a pickleball court. The group even traveled to Maryland for a tournament. Residents look forward to playing on a new regulation-size pickleball court this spring, an amenity they petitioned for and helped design. “We told management that in order to play pickleball, we needed a real court, one

Pickleball — Basic Rules Pickleball can be played as singles (two players), but doubles (four players) is most common. Standing behind the baseline, a player serves the ball diagonally across the court, using an underarm stroke. After the serve, the “twobounce” rule requires each side to let the ball bounce once before returning before volley play (no bounces) is allowed. Only the serving side can score a point, and play ends when one side commits a fault. Players can enter the nonvolley “kitchen” zone only to play a ball that bounces there. The first side to score 11 points while leading by at least two points wins the game. The USA Pickleball Association posts complete rules at under “What is Pickleball?”

better than we already had,” Rodriguez said. To emphasize that point, the players put together a detailed PowerPoint presentation of what they wanted — with a Beatles tune with the lyrics “getting better all the time,” playing in the background. With that kind of “go get ‘em” attitude, opponents at their next pickleball tournament better be on their game. A Jill Devine is a Loudoun-based freelance writer. When not busy typing away on her latest story, you may find her and her husband, Paul, exploring Virginia’s historic sites or pedaling on one of the area’s many bike trails.

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ori Nelson has the kind of hands you might expect of a 12-belt world champion boxer. Broad and thick, they are hands capable of knocking a person flat out — and she has done that 20 times, according to official fight records. On a chilly late fall day, however, those same hands were delicately cradling a cup of hot herbal tea as Nelson, 44, sat with Ashburn Magazine to talk about her life, her career and her plans. Here are portions of our conversation.



“I grew up in South Hill, Virginia, playing rough with my brothers, and I loved any sport, especially basketball. My parents were divorced, and [my] mom worked as a counselor at the Halifax Correctional facility. She said she wanted a ballerina, but girly-girl stuff wasn’t for me. I was a homecoming queen, I guess because everyone just knew me. My dad passed early. I met my husband, a truck driver from New Jersey. We ran a trucking business, but I didn’t want to live in New Jersey. Virginia seemed a good place to come. We read about Ashburn schools and decided that’s where we would bring up the kids [Simone and QuaMarque].” Nelson didn’t learn to box until the ripe old age of 29. She has lived in Ashburn for nearly two decades, most recently in Brambleton. Over the years, both before and during her boxing career, her capable hands managed many other responsibilities: diapering and caring for her two babies, answering telephones at Sunrise Senior Living, running an adding machine at Brown’s Sterling Nissan, driving a Loudoun County Public Schools bus, preparing lunches for Loudoun public school students, and — most famously — waiting tables at the IHOP on Pipeline Plaza. She even went through training to become a Virginia State Police trooper before deciding that wasn’t the path for her. Nelson slipped her hands into boxing gloves for the first time at a gym in Ashburn in 2007, launching a 12-year adventure.

TOUGH LIKE TEFLON “I get my drive from my mom. Like her, I’ll do anything for my children. Something happens when I enter the ring — I’m a slugger. I stay in close and throw

hard punches the whole time. I don’t care for distance. I respect the other fighter, but I trained to win. Injuries are part of it. The first time I fought Rachel Clark in 2010, she punched my face hard and cracked my two front teeth. [My coach] Craig took me to the corner and took out my mouthguard and pulled out the broken chips. He wiped the mouthguard off, put it back in my mouth, and asked me what I intended to do about those teeth. I won that fight, and I fought with Clark again in 2011. I won that fight, too, and that time turned her ribs purple. I had to, because she had chipped my teeth.” Nelson credits her success to the friends and family in her life. From Miss Alice who babysat her children when they were little to other boxers who helped the kids with homework while Nelson trained. And there was Craig Fladager, her first coach and trainer, who showed her the ropes of the boxing world and covered many of her career’s expenses. Fladager also gave her the iconic nickname “Sho-Nuff ” — from an old martial arts movie that became famous in the world of boxing. But most of all Nelson credits her deep faith.

FAITH FIRST “I want to please God. I was raised that way — in a Baptist Church, and it’s how I raised my own kids. My grandma used to tell us kids, ‘You can stay out as long as you like on Saturday, but when this car cranks up on Sunday morning you better be in it.’ I always pray the night before a fight that all the fighters stay safe, that everyone goes home with their families healthy. My whole team will pray — touching is important, holding hands — before every fight, not just for me, but for  ASHBURN MAGAZINE • JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2021 • 17

my opponent, and that if someone gets hurt that they recover. My Bible always comes with me. After a fight, I wash my clothes and put them away with my Bible on top — to keep my clothes blessed until the next fight.” She punched and pounded her way through 25 official bouts under the banner of various boxing organizations, ranking as high as the No. 1 female boxer in the United States and No. 2 in the world in certain weight categories. Her resume includes 12 world titles, including Women’s International Boxing Association (WIBA) world champion at four different weight classes; the World Boxing Council (WBC) world champion; and the Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) world champion. With only two losses and

three draws on her remarkable record, Nelson exited boxing as a winner after beating Latasha Burton on Sept. 14, 2019, at Dulles SportsPlex in Sterling.



(left) Tori Nelson pictured with her first coach and mentor, Craig Fladager; (below) Nelson (left) fighting Vashon Living in 2012 for the WIBA Middleweight title; (below right) Nelson and Living face off before their match.

“I dedicated my last fight to my grandma who had recently passed. My family came — mom, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, kids. It was an easy win — I knocked her cold. Then the family jumped in and we put all my [title] belts inside the ring and took photos. It was great — and I knew in my heart it was the right time to go. I still train, and I help other boxers train, but no more fights for me. I was alone in my living room one day when I got a phone call from Hollywood saying producers were interested in my story. I was overwhelmed — and then I got a call from [Oscar-winning actress] Octavia Spencer herself. Her production company gave me a contract for rights to my story, and I’ve signed it. They want to make a movie, and we’ve even talked about casting. COVID pushed everything back, so I’m waiting to hear what the plans are.” Nelson says her time in Ashburn may be winding down. Plans are afoot to move somewhere warmer with her fiancé of seven years. She looks forward to slowing down, training for fun rather than battle and seeing where this next phase in life takes her. But she will never forget a 12-year-long adventure that started in a tiny Ashburn boxing studio. “Every minute of every day, it’s been non-stop,” said Nelson as she set down her teacup. “But I did it with the help of my God, my family and friends.” A Jill Devine is a Loudoun-based freelance writer. When not busy typing away on her latest story, you may find her and her husband, Paul, exploring Virginia’s historic sites or pedaling on one of the area’s many bike trails. PHOTO CREDIT: MACKENZIE NEER




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Message time travel feature

in a Bottle



(far left top) The beach in Saltaire in the 1980s; (far left bottom) The note written by Bobby Kane as a child and thrown into the sea in a bottle; (left top) Ashburn resident Liz Schnelzer at the beach at Saltaire when she was 16; (left bottom) Schnelzer (on the right) with her cousins Emily, Susanna and Matt on the beach on Fire Island; (below) Schnelzer today, at the helm of her sailboat, the “Wombat.”

or Liz Schnelzer, it was a magical time. Summers on Fire Island, N.Y., staying at her family’s cottage in the village of Saltaire. Days were spent walking and biking up and down the long boardwalks, sailing in the sun-dappled Great South Bay or splashing in the ocean waves. But one particular day stands out in Schnelzer’s mind. It was the summer of 1982. She was a 13-year-old, swimming with her cousins, Emily and Susanna. The girls were floating and body surfing in the cool water in front of the cottage, chatting about all the typical things teens talk about, when they spotted something glinting in the sunlight beyond where the waves were breaking. “We swam out for it,” Schnelzer said. “I vaguely remember racing to be the first to reach the object. We were all pretty excited when we got to it and discovered it was a green glass wine bottle … and inside, there was a message.” The girls hurried back to shore, dried their hands on their beach towels, kneeled in the warm sand and carefully opened the bottle. Out came a note that read, “Hi my nam [sic] is Robert Kane. If anybody finds this bottle write to Robert Kane 141 Great River New York.” The note writer had originally written “Bobby” but crossed it out for the more formal “Robert.” “We could tell it was a kid because of the cute crayon drawing on the back,” Schnelzer said. A kid named Bobby Kane had put a note in a bottle and thrown it into the sea — and it would take Schnelzer, now a clinical social worker, wife and mother living in the Broadlands, nearly four decades to get to the bottom of a niggling mystery that never quite left her mind. Schnelzer’s first attempt to find Bobby Kane came that day in 1982. The Trixie Belden mystery fan and her cousins ran up the wooden beach stairs and across the dunes, shouting to Schnelzer’s mother about the note they had found. The “Great River” mentioned in the note is across the Great South Bay from Fire Island. The excited girls and Schnelzer’s equally excited mom whipped out the local phone book and tried looking up all the “Kane” listings. But Bobby Kane hadn’t included a street name, and none of the Kanes in the white pages had a house number of 141. “We were so deflated,” Schnelzer recalled. “Finding a message in a bottle must be a once-in-a-lifetime treat. And we felt responsible for letting Bobby know his message had been found.” But in those pre-internet days, options were limited. The mysterious note was slipped into a book and, when summer came to an end, it slipped from Schnelzer’s mind. Three years later, when Schnelzer was 16, she was cleaning her room, and the note slipped out of the book where it had been tucked away. In the moment, Schnelzer forgot that she didn’t have an address for Bobby Kane, and she sat down and wrote a two-page letter to the boy. “Hi! I hope you get this message! Several years ago, you left a message in a bottle and threw it into the ocean,” she wrote,  ASHBURN MAGAZINE • JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2021 • 21

1 Approximate location where Bobby Kane threw bottle into water. 2 Estimated path bottle traveled. 3 Beach where Liz Schnelzer’s summer house was located and bottle was found.




and went on to relay the whole story and how marvelous the whole adventure was. But quickly, Schnelzer realized she still didn’t have an address for Bobby Kane, so the letter got folded up and stuck in a desk drawer along with the original note. Flash forward to 2020 — a year unlike any other. Schnelzer, like everyone else in Ashburn, found herself spending a lot more time at home. She decided to do a little “COVID cleaning,� as she called it, and happened to pull out a bin containing the contents of her old desk from her childhood home. “I found the letter I wrote to Bobby in 1985 as well as Bobby’s original note,� Schnelzer said. “I thought, ‘Hmm, it would probably be a lot easier to (right) Bobby Kane, find him now in the era of social as a child, with his media and the internet. But would mother; (far right) that be creepy? Would he think it Kane, today. was some weird phishing scam?’�

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So Schnelzer reached out to friends on Facebook and elsewhere and asked their advice. The response was nearly unanimous. “Do it,” said several people. “Not creepy at all,” others chimed in. “A person sends a message in a bottle because they want to have it found,” added another. So with the help of some friends and resources available today online, Schnelzer tracked down a likely phone number for the one and only Bobby Kane. “I took a deep breath and dialed his number.” Three hundred miles away, in West Islip, N.Y., Bobby Kane answered. “Of course, I was skeptical at first,” said Kane, 45, a mortgage broker and licensed boat captain with a wife and little girl. “But I remember the whole thing. I remember the day. I remember my mom and dad and being out on the boat. I remember putting the note in the bottle and going out in the inlet and throwing it out. After two minutes, I realized — how would anybody else know that?” Schnelzer sent Kane a photo of the original note, and hesitation and nervousness were replaced with excitement as the two began to share more and more details of the bottle, their childhoods and their shared love of the water. Email addresses were exchanged, connections made on social media and a burgeoning friendship was born. The duo determined that Kane — who would have been about 7 or 8 years old at the time — probably tossed the bottle in the waters of the Fire Island Inlet. From there, it flowed west and south around the western end of Fire Island and out into the Atlantic Ocean where it hugged the coast and was found by the girls off Saltaire’s beach. The bottle’s journey would have been roughly five to 10 miles. At one point, in the mid-1980s, Kane thought his note had been answered when he received a response from a girl living in Great Britain. It turns out his mom hadn’t wanted him to be disappointed, so his parents arranged for the daughter of a friend to write to him. Years later, they told him the truth. “They had me going for a while,” Kane said with a laugh. For both Schnelzer and Kane, the story coming full circle has proven meaningful. At the top of the original note, Kane’s mother had initially started writing the message. Seeing her handwriting stopped him in his tracks. “Mom passed away in 2014. It’s been a tough year with all the COVID stuff going on. When I got Liz’s call, it just seemed like it was a sign from my mom that everything is going to be OK.” For Schnelzer, who lost her mother to Alzheimer’s last year, solving a mystery they started researching together nearly four decades ago left her with a special feeling. “I just know that my mom knows, and that it makes her happy, too.” And finally, meeting a fellow sea salt such as Kane was a fitting coda. Schnelzer and her husband, Doug, are sailors themselves with a boat on the Chesapeake Bay. They plan to sail to New York this summer and meet Kane and his family. “Two people linked by a small slip of paper in a wine bottle set adrift in the ocean decades ago,” Schnelzer said. “Sending a message in a bottle is a quintessential act of hope. I longed for that adventurous, playful act of hope — by that little kid — to be answered.” A


our neighbors feature

Model Behavior A childhood pastime becomes a lifelong passion BY CH RIS WADSWORTH 24 • ASHBURN MAGAZINE • JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2021

Ashburn resident Rich Battista, in his basement, with his model train masterpiece.


here is something magical about model trains. Whether on display at a museum or a shopping mall, they draw young and old alike to marvel at the miniature world they inhabit. For Rich Battista, this magic has been a part of his life since he was a little boy playing with trains in his attic. Today, the 57-year-old engineer (not the train kind) lives in Ashburn’s Timberbrooke neighborhood, and he’s still playing with trains, but on a much bigger scale than during his childhood. The married father of three has turned a large portion of his basement into a giant track — complete with a tiny town and a countryside filled with rivers, hills, mountains and bridges. It’s a sight to behold. Ashburn Magazine visited Battista’s basement to talk about how his hobby came to life — and how he has become something of a big deal in the world of model trains. Here are portions of our conversation.


ASHBURN MAGAZINE: WHEN AND WHERE DID YOU FIRST GET INTERESTED IN MODEL TRAINS? RICH BATTISTA: “My grandfather and his Christmas tree — he had a train going under the Christmas tree every year and I just loved to watch it. That got me started. My dad’s sister also put a big display under the tree, and she put up buildings and stuff.” WHAT FASCINATED YOU ABOUT MODEL TRAINS? “I’m an engineer by trade and I have this creative streak in me, and my dad built me a small layout up in the attic. He used to make little wooden [railroad] ties for me and telephone poles. I even wired up a little circuit so when weight pushed on it, it would stop one of the trains at a crossing so they wouldn’t collide.” LOTS OF KIDS HAVE PASSIONS LIKE THIS, BUT THEN THEY GROW UP AND THEY DISAPPEAR. “I went to college and I forgot about trains for a long time. Eventually I got married, and I actually had some money and I started collecting [train cars], but I didn’t have the space I needed. But I always had this desire to build something big. When we moved back here [to the East Coast] where we are from, we got the big house and had a big basement and I thought, ‘This is my chance.’” WHAT WAS YOUR VISION AND HOW DID IT GROW? “I spent a year building it. I wanted it to be designed on paper ahead of time, so I wasn’t shoehorned in a corner and stuck. The main thing for me was a big

straightaway with a very large curve because a lot of classic train layouts will have very tight turns. It’s not realistic. So I ended up hiding the tighter curves in the mountains, so I have these scenes that look much more realistic.” HOW IMPORTANT IS THAT REALISM TO YOU? “To me, it’s more fun to create scenes that are realistic. If I took a picture, you wouldn’t know in some cases that it’s a model. I just strive to make it as close to a real, tiny world as possible.” WHAT DID YOUR KIDS THINK OF THIS GROWING UP? “My kids loved it when they were little. My younger one would run down the steps going ‘choo choo.’ But as they got older, they became less interested. And then they got cell phones and it was over [laughs].”


YOU’VE MADE UP THIS LITTLE TOWN AND THIS LANDSCAPE, BUT EVEN IF IT’S PRETEND, YOU’VE MODELED IT ON THE AREA WHERE YOU GREW UP. “This is actual dirt from behind my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, in the coal region. I ended up using real ground materials to get the right colors. I wanted it to look like Pennsylvania. My layout is called the ‘Black Diamond Railway.’ Black diamond means coal.” YOU FABRICATED THESE HILLS AND MOUNTAINS YOURSELF — HOW DID YOU LEARN TO DO THAT? “When I was a kid of 10 or 12, I used a screen over a wooden structure, with plaster smeared over it and it looked like a cupcake. I wanted something much more realistic. Twenty years ago, the internet wasn’t prevalent and there wasn’t as much stuff available and I would find these books and videos that were

people what I was building, and that got the attention of some of the model train companies and some of the magazines. I was featured in one, and from that point, I was on the map and people knew about me. And doing the videos made me even more well known. I released the first video in about 2007 and since then, I’ve sold videos around the world.”

not very instructive. At that point, I realized I needed to figure it out myself. And that’s what led to making my own videos.”

and let it harden. After that, I would fill the gaps with crushed plaster. A lot of people since have mimicked my technique.”

AFTER HAVING THIS TRAIN LAYOUT FOR 14 YEARS, YOU ARE GOING TO TAKE IT DOWN THIS WINTER. HOW CAN YOU DO THAT? “I’m excited. I love to build layouts. I have a 3-D simulator where I’m creating the new plan. I did get the CEO – my wife – to approve me taking a wall down so I can build a slightly bigger layout. Now I will be able to enjoy the layout from both sides. I’m excited to have an even bigger layout just for the realism — it gives me a lot more surface area.”

TELL US ABOUT YOUR SECRET PROCESS. My mountains were kind of a unique technique that no one else had done. Basically it’s a wooden frame with this brown construction paper that you get at Home Depot. I would staple that onto the wood and get the initial shape and then I would apply paper towels dipped in plaster

YOU’VE BECOME KIND OF A BIG DEAL IN THE MODEL TRAIN WORLD — WITH MAGAZINE FEATURES AND YOUR VIDEOS. HOW DID THIS GO FROM A HOBBY TO A BUSINESS? “I would go to a train show every year, in York, Pennsylvania. I started going to look for trains and to buy stuff. And I had some pictures on my phone and I was showing

FOR YOU, IT’S ABOUT THE PROCESS OF CREATING? “It may sound funny, but I don’t come down here and run my trains. I only run them when someone comes and visits or when I buy a new train, I’ll put it on the track and run it. But honestly, I get bored. I’ve seen it so many times. It’s the creation I love — this is my canvas.” A


home sweet home

Smiles and Joy Meet the winners of Ashburn Magazine’s Holiday Decorating Contest


or the Jurkowski family in Brambleton, holiday decorating is serious business. Todd and Allison and their children, Maddy, 11, and Lexi, 7, start preparing months in advance. This Christmas, their house and yard featured an untold number of lights and included

176 illuminated figures — everything from dogs and unicorns to nutcrackers, Star Wars characters, Disney characters and more. There were even lighted pigs standing in an actual mud puddle. “It just so happened that there is a section of grass that had washed away [and


was] mud,” Allison Jurkowski said. “Pigs in the mud — makes me laugh every time.” The Jurkowskis are the winners of the first Ashburn Magazine Holiday Decorating Contest. Their home on Blue Copper Way was chosen for the top spot by voters in the online contest from among more than a dozen finalists. Their prize — a $150 gift card to A New View, the popular home decor shop in Ashburn. The reaction the Jurkowskis receive to their decorations is huge: from wide-eyed neighbors to people driving slowly by to teens hopping out and recording TikTok videos with the displays. “Smiles. Joy. People love the lights,” Allison said. “We all need to feel good about something, and I think Christmas lights help everyone forget — just for a few minutes — about how difficult the last year has been.” The spirited family is already thinking ahead to next year’s display, which they promise will be even bigger and better. They hint it might be so big, it could need HOA approval. A

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real estate roundup


TOP 10

The Loudoun County real estate market posted its fifth successive month of year-over-year growth in November, according to the Dulles Area Association of Realtors. In Ashburn, home sales in November were up 7.5% in the 20147 Zip code, with a 15.6% increase in the median sales price. In the 20148 Zip code, sales were flat with the prior year, while the median sales price was up 0.3%. Pictured below are the five highest-priced homes that sold in each of the two Zip codes between Oct. 21 and Dec. 21, along with the sales price and other key information. Data from




$1,775,000 Sold: Dec. 11 4 bedrooms 4½ bathrooms 11,249 square feet

$1,450,000 Sold: Nov. 10 5 bedrooms 4½ bathrooms 5,916 square feet



$1,159,000 Sold: Nov. 16 5 bedrooms 5½ bathrooms 4,772 square feet

$1,397,000 Sold: Dec. 4 6 bedrooms 6½ bathrooms 6,805 square feet



$1,130,000 Sold: Nov. 13 5 bedrooms 4½ bathrooms 6,024 square feet

$1,335,000 Sold: Dec. 18 4 bedrooms 3½ bathrooms 5,922 square feet



$1,095,000 Sold: Nov. 2 4 bedrooms 5½ bathrooms 5,413 square feet

$1,015,000 Sold: Nov. 13 5 bedrooms 4½ bathrooms 6,378 square feet



$1,089,900 Sold: Dec. 8 5 bedrooms 5½ bathrooms 6,959 square feet

$982,000 Sold: Dec. 18 5 bedrooms 4½ bathrooms 5,676 square feet



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Viet Casual

Saigon Outcast brings unique new features to the local dining scene BY C HRIS WADSWORTH




ancy Gregory is a self-described “picky eater.” She’s not a fan of spicy foods. She doesn’t like many condiments. So when the Ashburn Farm resident recently joined a friend at the new Saigon Outcast restaurant, she wasn’t sure what to expect. “I was torn between ordering the pho and the lemongrass beef over rice,” said Gregory, who opted for the lemongrass beef. She enjoyed it so much, she says she will order it again. “I can report that Saigon Outcast is excellent.” That’s what the folks at the restaurant like to hear. Saigon Outcast opened in September in the University Commerce Center off George Washington Boulevard in Ashburn. It was an inauspicious time — just as restaurants around Ashburn and elsewhere were reeling from coronavirus restrictions. Indeed, Saigon Outcast had planned on opening in the spring but hit pause as the pandemic unfolded. But once off the ground, the restaurant quickly found its footing. Customers were

attracted to the simple ordering process, where you stop at a counter and make your selections, then head to a table and your food is brought to you. They also were smitten by the décor, which includes bicycle images and even actual bicycles hanging from the ceiling. As many know, Vietnam is famous for this two-wheeled mode of transportation. Saigon Outcast even has an actual rickshaw on display at the back of the restaurant. “The reception for Saigon Outcast has been great,” said restaurateur Jason Fisher, one of the partners. “Considering our opening corresponded with the pandemic, it’s actually been fantastic.” Perhaps nothing has wowed guests more than the restaurant’s unique self-serve tap system. 39 taps line the wall. Options include several types of wine, a hard seltzer, even a sake — and then roughly 30 different types of craft beer. The team behind Saigon Outcast had seen similar “beer walls” in California and knew the concept could work after a visit to The Circuit, a giant video game arcade and bar in Richmond that has more

than 40 beverages on self-serve taps. “My first reaction when I saw the wall was, ‘Oh my god, these people are pouring their own beer,” laughed restaurateur Anthony Castelides, another partner in Saigon Outcast. “They like to work. And we thought this would work great with our food.” And indeed, there is something comforting in this day of social distancing of getting your own drinks. At Saigon Outcast, customers help themselves to a beer glass — the restaurant has both chilled and unchilled glasses available — and then proceed to the taps. Each tap has a touchscreen above it that presents additional information about the variety of brews and beverages. A card procured while ordering food is placed in a small slot, and you dispense your drink. The system registers how many ounces are poured and adds it to your tab. “The beer wall was really cool,” said Gregory, who tried small glasses of Lost Coast Brewery’s Tangerine Wheat and Pavlov’s Bell-gian Blonde Ale. “Both 


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were really good. I would love to go back for the beer wall experience with more friends.” Castelides says procuring kegs of craft beers has been a challenge during the pandemic, but the beer gurus at Saigon Outcast say they’ve been able to swap in new ales and lagers and other types of beer several times a month. The food at Saigon Outcast is Vietnamese-focused, to be sure, but there are dishes and flavors with a pan-Asian and even a Western influence. Wok-charred shishito peppers and spring rolls sit alongside crispy wings and something called a “Tornado Potato.” Many of the dishes were designed to perfectly accompany the beers on tap. There are also bánh mì sandwiches, noodle dishes, rice bowls and the requisite bowls of pho, the popular Vietnamese broth soup. “The food is amazingly fresh,” said Jackie Fox, a Leesburg resident who dines at Saigon Outcast several times a month. “It’s cooked really lightly — really clean. There’s not a bunch of extra flavor fillers. It’s just clean.” In addition to Castelides and Fisher, the power team of partners behind Saigon Outcast includes Hoa Lai, the restaurant’s executive chef and the founder of the Four Sisters Grill in Arlington, the first fast-casual Vietnamese eatery in Northern Virginia and a model for Saigon Outcast. It’s a model they hope to replicate. “The proof of concept has certainly been achieved and, once the world gets back to normal, we plan to look for new opportunities,” Fisher said. Nancy Gregory is already planning her next visit to Saigon Outcast. If she doesn’t get the lemongrass beef again, this budding foodie may branch out and try the pho. “Lunch at Saigon Outcast was a highlight,” she said. “I hope they stick around for a long time.” A

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p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. INFO: ASHBURN MAGAZINE • JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2021 • 35

local adventures

Roll out the Barrel The Guinness Brewery near Baltimore is a rollicking good time BY C H R I S WADSWO RT H


uys are under a lot of pressure in Ashburn. It’s an affluent community where lots of men enjoy the latest trends and the finer things in life. This is especially true when it comes to alcoholic beverages. From hoppy, hefty craft beers to smoky, oaky whiskeys and bourbons — you can’t attend a poker night or a neighborhood party without being offered the latest flavors in booze. And that often presents a problem for me. I’m a Miller Lite kind of guy. Or a Coors Light. Or a Stella if I’m being fancy. If I can’t see clearly through my beer, I’m usually not interested. And whiskey often leaves me with a mouth tasting like an ashtray. I used to feel awkward declining these beverages, but I finally made my peace with my Wisconsin upbringing and my unsophisticated palate. As Chris Arabia, my Jersey buddy in the Broadlands, told me, “You do you. Let them do them.” Sage advice. So I was a bit surprised to find myself volunteering to head up to the Baltimore suburb of Halethorpe, Md., home of the giant Guinness Open Gate Brewery, the American outpost of the famed Irish beer brand. Guinness Draught, a dry stout, is the company’s most famous and familiar beer — and so dark and creamy no one but Superman could see through it. The 62-acre facility is meant to invoke the tourist attraction-like experience that has made the original St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin an international sensation. In addition to the factory portions brewing the actual beer, the brains behind Guinness have created an exciting experience for beer fans and non-beer fans alike. There are brewery tours, an outdoor beer garden on a huge lawn, an indoor bar, a large restaurant and a gift shop.

Jim Kehrman, tour guide extraordinaire at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery near Baltimore.

The brewery’s regular tour and tasting program is on hold due to the pandemic, but private group events are still available, and tours will resume once it’s safe. With that in mind, the powers-that-be at Open Gate arranged a private tour and tasting for my wife and me. My trepidation over facing down a variety of dark, foreboding beers proved to be completely unfounded — and the food served in the brewery’s main onsite restaurant was out of this world. When we arrived, we quickly met up with Jim Kehrman, a senior guide at the brewery. Super laid-back and full of a wealth of information and plenty of funny anecdotes, Kehrman took us on a short tour that covered the basics of beer and the main ingredients used in its production. Turns out


there are only four: water, malt, hops and yeast. I’m sure that’s not news to all the home brewers in Ashburn, but for Mr. Miller Lite over here, it was new information. We continued into the experimental brewing area, where large silver vats towered over us, as Kehrman described how the professional brewers play beer god here — changing up the amount of ingredients, the types of yeast, the temperatures, the fermentation time and a myriad other factors to produce a wide variety of different flavored and textured beers. Maryland is one of only two Guinness locations worldwide with this type of experimental laboratory. The other is in Dublin. Some of the experiments don’t go anywhere. Most end up being sold only onsite at the Open Gate bars and beer garden — it’s the only place in the world to experience these unique brews. And a lucky few have a shot at going regional, national or international. After touring the brewing room,


we briefly passed through an area that discussed the history of the property. What today is the Guinness Open Gate Brewery was once the home of the Maryland Distilling Company, opening in 1933. It was famous for the millions of bottles of Lord Calvert Whisky (not “whiskey”) it produced over the years. Guinness took over a few years ago and formally opened the brewery in 2017. Today, the main beer brewed on site in the giant 100-hectoliter brewhouse is the Guinness Blonde brand, an American ale. (For those of you wondering, a hectoliter equals roughly 26.4 U.S. gallons.) The famous Guinness Draught — the brand’s flagship beer — continues to be brewed in Ireland and imported to thirsty drinkers on this side of the pond. Our tour, which really couldn’t have been more than 50 to 60 yards of actual walking, wrapped up in a large tasting room with multiple tables — empty except for three of us due to the suspension of most tours. An assistant — I’ll call him the beer elf — appeared with a tray of small, sample

size plastic cups filled with different brews. Our selection included the local Guinness “Baltimore Blonde,” a Guinness IPA, an Over the Moon Milk Stout, and of course, the classic Guinness Draught. And you know what — I enjoyed them all. Who would’ve thunk it? My lovely wife, who was born a beer drinker, just laughed at me. Maybe I need to give some of the local breweries in Ashburn another try and experiment with more than their clearest, most watery lagers. After our tour, we stopped for a bite to eat. Open Gate has two main restaurants. On a typical day, there’s the Taproom with more casual pub fare on the second floor and the nicer 1817 Restaurant on the third floor. 1817 is the first year Guinness beer was imported from Ireland to the United States. During this time of pandemic, the restaurants and their menus are more or less combined, and dishes change frequently. The cuisine is lightly Irish-inspired — things like bangers and mash and Guinness beef stew — but there are also wings, crab cakes and many other popular brewhouse items.

I started off with a big soft pub pretzel (because I’ll never not order a pretzel) and then tucked into the delicious 1817 Heritage Burger topped with Dubliner cheddar, bacon aioli and braised onions and served with a side of potato wedges. But the highlight of our lunch was finding out that they had Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale on tap. This is a brand owned by Guinness but rarely found in the U.S. these days. I hadn’t seen it in nearly a decade — and it’s one of the few Guinness-type beers I have ever liked right from the start. My wife and I each had a foamy glass of Kilkenny, and it was the perfect capper to our Baltimore beer adventure. A

IF YOU GO WHAT: Guinness Open Gate Brewery WHERE: 5001 Washington Blvd,

Halethorpe, Md. WHEN*: Thursdays — 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.,

Fridays — noon to 10 p.m., Saturdays — 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays — 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Mondays — Wednesdays. COST: Free entrance. (When tours resume, there may be a fee for the tasting portion of the tour.) INFO: *The pandemic may affect hours and other aspects of the brewery’s operations. Check for details ahead of time.


























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next to the Regal Fox movie theater that used to be Lost Rhino Retreat. The restaurant will serve momos, as well as curries and tandoori dishes. 6 WORK TO WIDEN


A new restaurant specializing in Nepalese cuisine is opening at the Brambleton Town Center in 2021. It will be called Himalayan Wild Yak, and it’s taking over the spot



A new Smoothie King location will be coming to Ashburn when it opens in the Ashbrook Commons shopping center. That’s at Ashburn Village

At press time, The Burn had confirmed that Gold Gym was exploring taking over the 38,000-squarefoot space vacated by the Bloom supermarket years ago. That location is in the Village Center at Belmont Greene shopping center at Belmont Ridge Road and Portsmouth Boulevard. No word yet if the deal will be finalized.










After the coronavirus pandemic led to a work stoppage that lasted for months, construction crews have returned to the site of the future Silver Diner restaurant near Loudoun County Parkway and Russell Branch Parkway. The restaurant is going up next to the CVS store in the Commonwealth Center development. A spokesperson said they hope to have the location open by this summer.



The design work for the new Ashburn Recreation & Community Center is 95% complete, according to Loudoun County officials. The county believes it will begin advertising for construction bids in the spring or summer with a target of construction starting in the fall. Based on 30 months of construction, work should wrap up in 2024. The new facility will have a pool, basketball courts, meeting rooms, an outdoor playground and many other features.

Boulevard just south of Route 7, where HomeGoods and Harris Teeter are located. Smoothie King is taking over the space vacated by Starbucks when it moved to the Ashbrook Marketplace center next door.






2 BR



Work to widen the final two-lane stretch of Belmont Ridge Road

has started. This is the portion of the road between Truro Parish Drive and Croson Lane. Crews are working to relocate power poles to create room for the road to expand to four lanes, plus turn lanes. The pole realignment is supposed to continue until late 2021. A


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