All locations open at 11am daily.
Talking about MOJO BBQ with John Preston Moore, Operations Manager
1. Tell us about MOJO.
It's a family owned restaurant with 5 locations in the Jacksonville area. We have a focus on barbecue and Southern cuisine, with everything being made in-house - no pre-made stuff coming in from the food distributors. Also, we provide premium service, not just a window handing out food. We've recently added a bar aspect to provide craft cocktails and whiskeys.
…is MOJO unique to Jacksonville?
Yes. Todd Lineberry, a Carolina native, moved to Jacksonville in the 90s and started MOJO almost 10 years ago, on March 18 (2003). He's slowly grown it to 5 restaurants in the area.
2. Is the goal to grow MOJO beyond Jacksonville?
It would be nice, but that's not our main focus. If an opportunity presents itself and we like the area, and we like the building, and all our other stores are working well, then we'll take a look. We won't grow unless all our other stores are taken care of correctly and we like the situation we're going into.
3. Can you tell us about the restaurant name, Mojo?
It's that stuff you have when you're good at something. It's in a lot in blues music. For us, the concept started off with needing something to fill the walls in the restaurant and blues goes great with barbecue and mojo is a common theme in blues, so it all just fit.
A lot of people mispronounce the name, thinking it's Spanish. So, they call us "Mo-ho." But it's pronounced "Mo-Joe." And there is no "s" at the end of the name, just MOJO.
4. Why do you have 5 different restaurant names, or at least significant variations in the naming?
They're each designed to the community they're in and each has a certain amount of distinctiveness. The original location was just a small place, and then we built the location at the Beach and it had a focus on music because of the popularity of live music there. So, there's a distinct feel to each location. The differences do add a bit of a management challenge - to make things not all the same but representative of their communities. But even when we make changes for one store we still draw on things we like from all the other locations.
…is the food the same at every location?
The food is similar but some items aren't carried if there's less demand in a particular location. For catering though, we provide anything someone needs that may be on the menu at any of our locations.
…that's interesting. All your locations are relatively close to each other. Is there that much of a difference in the tastes between the different neighborhoods?
It's strange but, for example, in St. Augustine, our grilled items, such as hamburgers, salmon, and mahi sell in crazy amounts. If you go to our University location they sell a lot of pulled pork. And they have an item on their menu - potato salad - that none of the other locations have, but they sell it, and it's very popular.
5. Can you tell us about MOJO No. 4 and it's affiliation with whiskey? How did that come about?
If you go to barbecue restaurants in major metropolitan areas with larger populations they often sell a lot of alcohol, and especially whiskey, along with their barbecue. When we looked around town we noticed that there really wasn't anywhere that combined barbecue and a good selection of whiskeys. Some places carried the major brands like Maker's or Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, but it was much harder to find some of the more obscure brands. We thought we'd try it out and started with about 130 whiskeys. It's now grown to over 200. The community in Avondale has embraced it really well. At first we were a little nervous, which is why we started smaller. We've been pleasantly surprised. When people come in they drink it properly too. For a glass that may cost $10 or $12 they're not mixing it with Coke, they're drinking it on ice or neat.
6. How do you select your whiskeys? Is there someone special on staff who handles that?
It's me! I'm in charge of the beverage program for the company. Distributors bring samples to me, and I get emails from distilleries when they have new products coming out. I usually taste them to try them out. When I select something I'll bring it in and educate the bartenders on it and see if the community embraces it. If they don't, we'll take it off the menu and try something else.
7. Do you have a particular style of whiskey you look for?
Usually it's bourbon that is associated with barbecue, but I try to satisfy a lot of different palates, so we carry a nice list of different things. If you look at Scotch whiskey, it has certain types ranging from very mild to heavily smoky and peaty that taste like having a campfire in your mouth. When people come in to try something we want to be able to walk them through all the different flavor profiles.
8. Do you have an educational aspect to your whiskeys?
We do it one-on-one or in small groups when people come in. It's harder to do when it's really busy, but when we can we'll talk to people and give them samples to try. That helps them to pick something they like.
9. Are people coming to MOJO to learn about whiskey or are they already used to whiskey and just looking for a place that serves it?
I don't think people are coming to learn about whiskey if they don't know anything about it. We see people who are dragged along by their friends who have heard that we're serving good whiskeys. That's when we grab their attention. They're often really surprised - and they'll feed off our enthusiasm and their friend's enthusiasm to try a few whiskeys. That's how its slowly grown in Avondale and is trickling into the other stores.
10. Are you going to expand the whiskey to all the restaurants?
We've just added whiskey to the Beach location. We redesigned the back bar - it's a 4 level shelf that goes about 10 or 12 feet up in the air. It's coming along now. The St. Augustine location has a lot of whiskey. Just 3 locations now. The University location has no hard alcohol, just beer and wine. It's a small restaurant too, so there's no room for a separate bar. We have talked about doing it in Fleming Island location as well, but right now we are focusing on the Beach location.
11. On the food side, how does MOJO distinguish its barbecue?
One thing is having everything made in-house, and holding ourselves to a high standard. If something doesn't turn out right we'll throw it away. We don't have an "oh well" attitude of just serving whatever we make. If it's not good, we get rid of it and make something better. That's a big thing. When people come in their meal is always fresh.
12. What makes for great barbecue?
In our opinion, the time and patience you put into smoking meat is extremely important. It's not all about low and slow, because if you cook it too slow you can create a tough outer skin on the meat. We also don't like to put sauce on a lot of our stuff because we put so much time and effort into smoking it that we want the guest to taste that. If people want to add sauce, we include all the sauces on the table.
Different people like different styles of barbecue. It's all a matter of preference. We try to have a little of everything so people can go around the world with barbecue when they eat with us.
13. What can you recommend to someone new to MOJO who wants to get a good idea of what MOJO is all about?
If we're just talking about food I'd have them try our onion rings to start because you'll never see onion rings like ours in any other place. Most places pre-bread their onion rings. We bread everything to order. And our rings are nice and big, served with a home made ranch dressing.
For an entree I'd go with beef brisket or smoked turkey breast, and sides of macaroni and cheese and smoked yellow corn.
That gives you a nice overview of everything we do. If you're at a location that serves drinks I'd get The Drunken Cucumber to go with your meal; it's our number one selling drink. We use Jim Beam in it because a lot of people associate Jim Beam with their dad's whiskey or what they drank in high school or college - and we want to show them that whiskey isn't bad and you can make a great drink out of a decent bourbon that doesn't have to be at the high end.
14. What's the most popular item?
Pulled pork is the number one item.
15. What do you like best?
I like the smoked turkey the most. Then the chicken wings. For sides, I like dirty rice, which is a combination of beef sausage, ground beef, spices, celery and onions, and rice of course.
16. I have to ask, where does your sweet potato mash fit into your list of sides? It's the hands down, number one favorite of every visitor to Jacksonville we bring to MOJO.
Everyone loves sweet potato mash! I can't eat it because I'm lactose intolerant, so I can't say it's a favorite for me. We originally didn't put in on the menu in Avondale. Sweet potatoes vary through the year in how ripe they are. At times, when they're less ripe, they're much harder to cook with and you have to change the recipe a little. So we thought we'd keep it off the menu in Avondale. But we had a backlash for that, so we put it on.
17. How do you come up with your recipes?
The owner, Todd Lineberry, along with one of the operations managers, Jackson Rust, they created the original food and it's slowly evolved over the years. When we opened Avondale Jackson came up with a bunch of new sandwiches. He started with 5, and 3 stuck. They sell very, very well. We also come up with ideas by visiting other barbecue places around the country to see what's going on in the industry and try to stay ahead of the curve. We work new ideas in and combine them with what we're doing in our restaurant. Over time we also tweak things to see if we can make them better. That's how something makes it onto the menu.
18. Have you ever been really surprised by something you brought in that really took off?
The Drunken Cucumber was definitely a surprise. The first time we made it we tested it at MOJO Kitchen on one of our music nights. I made 3 or 4 of them and then it was just like wild fire and everyone wanted one. That was a good sign that it would make it to the menu.
Another thing was the Kansas City Burnt Ends. It was a novelty item in Avondale when we put in on our menu there. Now it's available at 4 of the 5 locations.
…what are Kansas City Burnt Ends?
It's the crispy outer end of the brisket. There are 3 points on a brisket that we use for burnt ends. They receive a lot of smoke, have a crispy outside, with a juicy inside. We've had to change they amount of brisket we cook because of this one item.
19. How did you get involved with the drinks at MOJO?
I started in the restaurant industry about 9 years ago as a bus boy and a bar back. I really, really liked it and moved up the ladder. I started off learning about wine. When Todd Lineberry came to me about the restaurant in Avondale doing the whiskey bar I dove head first into brown spirits. That's how the whiskey part came about. But through the years, as you make drinks, you start to see how flavors pair together, kind of like you do with food. You start to get a little more creative and adventurous Now, drink ideas will pop into my head when I'm driving home at 2 or 3 in the morning. I come in the next day and try them out. I aso read a lot of books and magazines on the history of cocktails, distilling practices, industry news, etc.
20. Do you have music in all the restaurants?
The Beach, Avondale and St. Augustine all have music. The Beach does some bigger acts, both regional and national. We've also started with more local acts at the Beach, which we also feature in Avondale and St. Augustine. It's a way to help out local artists and showcase them to local residents. It also provides more entertainment on late evenings at the bar.
…is the focus all blues?
When we bring in regional and national acts it is. But the local acts vary a little in style. We do like to lean towards blues and rock.
21. Do all the stores have catering?
All stores cater and it's a big part of our business. We've become very efficient at catering and our guests really love that. They're always surprised at how fast we can come in and set up. We love doing them; it's a lot of fun. It's a great way to meet new customers and get introduced to people who may never have heard of us.
22. Who's the audience for your catering?
Recently it's been weddings but from the start it's been business luncheons downtown, at the Beach, Fleming Island, Green Cove Springs - it's all over the place. Recently though, weddings and rehearsal dinners have been very popular.
23. Have you ever thought of doing a food truck?
We've thought about it and I like the idea that every day you can be in a new location meeting new customers. But it's a lot of logistics to manage. And you can only carry so much on your truck. With the amount of business we do it would be very hard to fit everything onto a truck. We do have a mobile smoker that we bring to events when we know we'll be doing large amounts of food and will be cooking on site.
24. Have you considered opening at the Town Center?
The Town Center is always good to look at, but it's very expensive. At the same time there are so many people you can reach in one location that it's always interesting to consider.
25. What's next for MOJO?
If we did something new it would probably be outside of the Jacksonville area. Right now we're focused on our restaurants here. We spent a lot of time getting St. Augustine going and now we're focused on our local Jacksonville area locations.