In today’s Member Spotlight we’re featuring the one and only Scott Shaw, co-founder and partner at ALX Community, who was recently honored as the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Business Person of the Year.
The maestro behind many beloved neighborhood haunts, Scott’s first entrepreneurial passion was the restaurant business, and his career spans more than four decades to include a NY-style hot dog cart in Florida during high school, an ice cream shop in Texas in the ’80s, and a venture-backed marketing and analytics company for restaurants, Fishbowl, which he founded right here in Old Town in 2000.
In 2016, Scott co-founded Alexandria Restaurant Partners, which launched with the opening of Vola’s Dockside Grill and Hi-Tide Lounge. ARP currently operates nine restaurants (seven in Northern Virginia and two in Orlando) including BARCA and Ada’s on the River, both of which opened during the pandemic and have had a tangible effect on the Old Town waterfront’s revitalization.
Scott’s also got a knack for writing, and in 2001 published his first book, Let’s Elope (spoiler: he eloped). This book would some 20 years later lead to a brand new book on eloping and the co-founding of a media company, Art of Eloping, which offers a suite of tools and resources for couples planning an elopement or small wedding.
In 2018, ALX Community opened its doors at Founders Hall on Lee Street in Old Town, followed by the Waterfront location in 2019. Now, on the heels of the opening of the newest ALX Community space, The Atrium (tour it here!) this fall, we caught up with Scott to chat about the business of coworking and what lies ahead in 2022.
What inspired you to get into the co-working business?
I make it habit to look outside of Alexandria for ideas that would work here. It’s what we do with restaurants. I saw the use of WeWork and others and thought we needed a locally-focused coworking space. Plus, I’d bought a building and needed to figure out what to do with the second floor space. I think maybe that came first!
What is it about Alexandria that makes it an ideal setting for co-working?
Healthy start-up scene, though not always tech companies. Plus lots of self-employed people. And the community focus aligned with our vision. Most coworking doesn’t have that. But the best do.
What response to ALX Community has surprised you the most?
How quick everyone was to get what we were trying to do, and then embrace it. I think what happened was we filled a hole for a new kind of community center.
What lesson from opening ALX Community has surprised you the most?
How similar the business is to restaurants. Start with nice design, add hospitality. Build loyal customers.
What’s the most rewarding part of running a coworking business?
Seeing all the connections made daily between members and at events. It’s an acceleration process at work.
Can you share a bit about the new Founders TALX series?
Another way to connect and engage people. Easy enough to do online. Better in person.
What’s in sight for ALX Community in 2022?
All of the above! We have a lot of ideas sitting in the parking lot, just waiting for the pandemic to end. Certainly a focus on events with our new rooftop space at the Atrium. Weddings are a natural there. I know Kelly [Grant, ALX Community COO and partner) has some new initiatives lined up with giving programs. And you’ll see a focus on nonprofits—how can we help them connect with each other and get stronger.
What one lesson you’d share with other business owners or entrepreneurs that you learned from the pandemic?
Given the diversity of businesses you’re involved in, how do you manage your time to ensure each is as successful as possible?
Simple—I find great leaders to partner with who run the businesses day-to-day.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.