Secret Ingredients - Ford's Fish Shack (Washington D.C. area)

/ Restaurant Tips, Secret Ingredients / July 5

Ford’s Fish Shack is a well-reviewed favorite with two locations in the Washington, D.C. area (Ashburn and South Riding, VA).

Owner/Chef Tony Stafford, along with his wife, Ana, opened the Ashburn location in September, 2010 and the South Riding location earlier this year.

Prior to Ford’s, Tony built up an impressive restaurant resume: He served as Executive Chef for a handful of restaurants between 1997-2003, including Artie’s in Fairfax and Rock Bottom in Arlington, VA. He went on to become a Managing Partner at Bonefish Grill in Centreville, VA, where he stayed for almost five years.

I caught up with Ford’s Office Manager Cary Blair earlier this week.

What would you say is Ford’s biggest challenge?

I think one of the things that’s been tricky for us is that we are a small location, in terms of the size of our restaurant and the seating capacity. It’s difficult because we want to promote and advertise things we have going on here, but we don’t always have space to really drive business in like we want to.

Let’s talk about the menu: what would you direct me to first?

Actually, a couple different things on our menu. Washington Post, just about two months ago, named our fish and chips dish one of the 40 dishes every Washingtonian must try in 2013, so that would be pretty high up on the list.

When we first opened the Ashburn location, we got a really amazing review from Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post about our crab cakes, so that’s something that we’re pretty well known for. Most recently, just back in the beginning of June, we were up in New York City competing in the Lobster Roll Rumble, a national competition for lobster rolls. You kind of have your pick (of good first choices on the menu).

I have a nagging question: How can you tell the difference between different oysters? I load my oysters up with horseradish and cocktail sauce, suck ’em down, and I’m not sure I remember what I’ve tasted.

Well, it depends on where (an oyster) comes from … if it’s west coast … from somewhere on east coast, up in the Nova Scotia area.

The size and the taste will be different depending on the region, the river, the particular bay it comes out of, the weather … everything goes into what makes an oyster taste different.

I noticed that you have an admirable craft beer selection on tap. Seems like the perfect complement to seafood.

It’s important to the area we’re in. People out here tend to enjoy the microbrews more than they do the big names.

Given your proximity to D.C., have any politicians rolled into Ford’s?

Not any big name politicians. We’re actually right down the street from Redskin Park, so we get more athletes than we do politicians.

You keep your Facebook page hopping. How important is Facebook to the business?

It (plays) a pretty big role. We actually don’t market or advertise in print. We are primarily social media/word of mouth, so it’s pretty big.

Can you share a piece of restaurant advice that’s worked for you?

(Have) patience. Especially with the social media stuff–it just takes time to build your brand and build your fanbase and your followers. Having patience and getting your product out there, and having faith that the quality will sell itself.


44260 Ice Rink Plaza #101

Ashburn, VA 20147


25031 Riding Plaza #150

Chantilly, VA


by James VanOsdol