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“We’re honored and humbled by these people willing to come to this unpretentious shopping mall,” says Tsui, a Hong Kong native whose parents opened the Peking Gourmet Inn in the 1970s. “It is just so American. In any other country, it is probably not possible to do what we have done.”
Some visitors are more memorable than others, and the memories often are jogged when a face from one of the photos surfaces on the evening news. Tsui points to a photo of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the Congresswoman who was shot in the head in January and is now in a rehabilitation hospital with brain injuries. Giffords dined at the Peking Garden Inn two years ago, and afterward, wrote Tsui a thank-you note.
“She was just so sweet,” Tsui says.
Possible Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who until recently was the ambassador to China, is another favorite guest. Tsui complimented his perfect diction in her native tongue.
“If I had to talk to him on the phone, I wouldn’t know I’m talking to an American,” she says. “He speaks better Chinese than I do.”
Everyone calls David Woodall, who runs the service department at the Exxon at Fourth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, “Woody.”
He’s the guy that Members trust with their vintage babies, their late-model Lexuses and their around-Washington beaters.
Inside the gas station, the smell of motor oil lingers in the early summer humidity, and Woodall crosses his thick arms across the counter. Behind him, about 50 framed pictures partially cover the knotty wood paneling under a painted banner that reads “Capitol Hill Exxon Hall of Fame.”
The collection had already been started when Woodall came to the garage in 1994, and he’s kept it up with new additions here and there.
“Basically, if you’re up there, we’re on a first-name basis,” he says.
Some of the older pictures, though, aren’t so familiar. Woodall points to a black-and-white portrait of an African-American woman. He thought for years it was the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.), but someone recently informed him that it isn’t.
“I still don’t know who she is,” he says.
What’s Old Is New
At Wagshal’s, an octogenarian in purple high heels and a matching pantsuit reaches for a box of crackers, while kids fresh from baseball practice whiz by in search of the ice cream freezer.
Brian Fuchs, whose family owns the delicatessen located in upper Northwest’s Spring Valley neighborhood, wrestles with the tension between the old and the new. When his father bought the business from the Wagshal family in 1990, he promised to keep the beloved institution’s neighborhood flavor.
The Wagshal family opened the delicatessen in 1925, and the photos on the wall were among their most prized possessions. “It was a part of them,” Fuchs says of the display. The Fuchs family has expanded the business, opening a catering operation and importing and distributing hams and other foods from Spain.
But some things can’t change, he says, like the portraits of the famous faces who’ve come in over the years.