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Sandy Karpe has been working at Hard Times Cafe in Alexandria since 1981. One of its owners, Fred Parker, compares her to Hazel Calloway, the D.C. chili queen and inspiration behind Hard Times, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Karpe, like Calloway before her, is the kind of manager/cook/barkeep who loves to tease customers and poke fun at her employer. When a diner told the veteran Hard Timer yesterday that this was her first visit to the restaurant, Karpe shot back, “I wish I could say the same thing.”

Karpe’s the kind of person who instantly creates rapport with customers. She also creates daily one of the D.C. area’s under-recognized classic plates: the Texas chili mac all the way. The dish has a long, complicated history. More about that next week on Young & Hungry.