DAMASCUS, Va. — Three months after a tragic accident took the life of a beloved restaurant chef, his Damascus eatery is reopening with a new owner who is keeping the same name and menu — and most all of the staff.
Mojo’s Trailside Café and Coffeehouse, formerly owned by John Seymore, began serving the community again Saturday, according to new owner David Calvert, who has spent the last few weeks configuring the interior of the building on Douglas Drive in town.
Calvert, better known by friends as “Paragon,” said lifted COVID-19 restrictions will allow him to operate at full capacity.
The interior of the café is about the only thing that will change for the small town café that drew customers from all around to savor recipes made with what Seymore once described as “American traditional with a southern flavor.”
Seymore, who started the café five years ago, was known for his upscale menu that included shrimp and grits, crab cakes, Reuben sandwiches and Greek salads.
Locals said they couldn’t start their day without a cup of coffee from Mojo’s. Hikers were pleasantly surprised to find the hidden treasure within feet of the Virginia Creeper Trail.
“I’m keeping the menu items, so John’s history and vision can continue,” said Calvert, who plans to add a few of his own Mediterranean dishes.
The interior of the café will include memorabilia that was displayed when Seymore was chef.
“Every chef has a tool — a knife, fork or spoon — that they like to covet.
“From my understanding, John had a fork and mixing bowl — it was his whipping fork and bowl for things like making scrambled eggs. No one is allowed to touch the fork. It was John’s fork.”
In the new interior design, Calvert has included a wall at the entrance of the café. Calvert placed the fork inside the wall with a caring note from the staff.
“So, the first thing people are going to feel is John’s energy and passion for what he did,” said the owner. The bowl Calvert will use for mixing eggs to continue John’s energy and will be passed down to future chefs.
“I’m here to continue that legacy,” he said.
A recent visit to Damascus led Calvert, a California businessman, to purchase the café that had been up for sale since June.
Calvert said he was looking for a peaceful place “to reinvent himself” when a friend invited him to spend some time in Damascus.
After learning about Seymore and his passion for cooking, Calvert decided he would buy the place and become the new proprietor.
A former chef of a 10,000-square-foot restaurant in Santa Barbara, California, Calvert dabbled in other entrepreneurial ventures before arriving in Southwest Virginia. He performed medical research in Sydney, Australia, and started an environmentally friendly chemical company after the BP oil spill — before selling it all and traveling to Thailand to become a Buddhist monk until COVID-19 forced him to return to the United States.
“After doing some research, I absolutely fell in love with John and his vision for this restaurant,” said Calvert.
“When I saw the place, I got emotional. I’m not going to let this man’s vision die.
“But this is not about me. It’s more of a contribution to John’s vision and to keeping his history alive.”
Calvert said a percentage of the restaurant sales will fund a scholarship program in Seymore’s name to help a local community member attend a culinary school.
“His story touched my heart so much that my visit turned into a decision to move to Damascus,” he said.
“John had a large following on social media. When I recently posted about reopening the café, hundreds of people responded. He touched so many lives just by his smile and being a happy man. I’m touched by the love the community still has for John even though he’s gone. It says so much about the power of his love for this community.”
Calvert said he cooks very similarly to the style of Seymore.
“Like John, I change the menus with the seasons, I like to use higher-end quality items, and I subscribe to the farm-to-table concept where bringing in local foods reiterates giving back to the community.”
His new menu items include a watermelon salad pizza made with large slices of melon topped with arugula salad, feta cheese, cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinaigrette. A vegetarian stack is made with risotto with grilled onions, broccoli and carrots.
The new owner said every customer with a Damascus address will automatically receive a 10% discount off their meal.
“Damascus customers will know that this is their place,” he said.
Calvert is extending the café’s hours to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day for breakfast and lunch menus; however, the dinner menu will not be offered until August.
Live, in-house music by Rheda Dolinger will be featured from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday.
“If we could put Mayberry somewhere on the planet these days, it would have to be Damascus. The people here are amazing and so helpful and loving,” he said.
“I’ve decided I’m staying here. I want to be part of this town and active in this community.”
Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at email@example.com.
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