Angie Bezsborn was a few minutes late to talk with a reporter about what makes her 4-year-old vision called Mystic Grill so special, and exactly how she and her staff attempt to roll out the red carpet for patrons far and wide.
But the slight tardiness had nothing to do with negligence on her part. Bezsborn was too busy with that carpet in her hands, tangibly demonstrating her restaurant’s mission.
As she rushed to her meeting spot, she did so with a broad smile — obviously energized after showing a group of tourists from Florida around one of the most popular eateries in the downtown Covington square.
If there was any one activity or duty she could point to that best summarizes Beszborn’s dedication to making the Mystic Grill what it is — and there are many she could point to — perhaps being the willing tour guide would be that thing.
“Everybody here is a VIP,” Beszborn said as she took a seat in the restaurant’s loft-style waiting quarters that overlook the main dining area. “I know that sounds very generic, but it’s true. That’s what we strive for.”
It’s been like that for Beszborn and her husband for the last four years. That’s when the couple, along with another pair birthed a vision to give Covington the kind of fine dining experience that could make local regulars proud and fans of the popular supernatural drama television series, “Vampire Diaries,” swoon.
The restaurant — along with the rest of downtown Covington — was a major player in the hit show’s successful nine-season run.
Much of it was filmed in the area surrounding Mystic Grill, and the restaurant itself derived its name from the popular cafe’ and bar in mythical Mystic Falls, Virginia, that was featured frequently in the show.
But from the beginning, although Beszborn certainly is appreciative of what the show did — and still does — to drive its popularity and bring people literally from around the globe to dine, she says that it had always been her plan and vision to build Mystic Grill into a place that embodies southern hospitality and serves great food.
“Ladies like those from Florida that I gave the tour to. They come from all over the world because of ‘Vampire Diaries,’” Beszborn said. “But we also understand locals are the biggest part of our business. People would always ask, ‘What are you going to do when the show ends and everything has been built around the show?’ And I said what I’ll do is build the best restaurant I can during and after that time.”
Mystic stocks its menu with somewhat traditional American cuisine, such as burgers and sandwiches such as its T.K. Adams Turkey Melt and Mystic Grilled Cheese. But it lends a Southern flavor by offering up such dishes as Shrimp & Grits and Sweet Tea Fried Chicken, along with an assortment of salads, appetizers, salads and vegetarian dishes.
Beszborn, a Covington native, said the mission, as far as cuisine goes, is simple.
“They asked me what my target market is, and I said, ‘everybody,’ I want everybody from the guys I went to school with who like to drive big trucks and fast cars to foodies who come from Atlanta or Lake Oconee or Madison who are just interested in good food down to tourists who’ve never been to America before to find something they enjoy.”
Before the Mystic Grill was the Mystic Grill, it was an office that belonged to an attorney and CPA.
“Vampire Diaries” was in its second or third season, Beszborn recalls, and although she and her husband were running a fairly successful fast-casual style restaurant in Texas where they lived for a time, Bezsborn can recall when her desire for something more in her hometown spilled over into action.
“I was sitting out at Scoops eating ice cream, and I just kept thinking that something like this would be a great thing for the community,” she said. “We had a lot of fast food. But I really wanted something, not for me or not selfishly, but for the city of Covington that showed off our small town, our southern hospitality and desire for good service and good food — something we could be proud of.”
Shortly after that building caught fire, Beszborn took the opportunity to speak with the gentleman who owned it, and he agreed to sell. Then after she and her husband spent time praying about it, she pitched the idea to Newton Federal Bank for financing, and they bought in.
“Newton Federal had never financed a restaurant up to that point, so that was huge. We felt like God truly blessed us.”
The name was, of course, a play on the cafe and bar that was the setting of many a scene in the Vampire Diaries. But Beszborn remembers the exact moment when linking her restaurant to the show truly caught on.
“I was a fan of the show and I watched,” she said. “And there was a point in the show where Alaric Saltzman had died and it was real sad. Well, I went to the trophy shop and had made a little plaque that said, ‘In memory of our dear friend Alaric Saltzman.’”
Beszborn was waiting for new bar stools to come, and once they did, she attached the plaque to the back of one of them, took a picture and uploaded it to the Mystic Grill Facebook page.
“At the time we had probably 200 people following us on Facebook,” she said. “But after I took the picture my phone just started going off, and I thought it was malfunctioning. I looked to see we had over 10,000 views on that photo. I knew then that we might be onto something. It was the best six dollars I ever spent in my life.”
Since the show ended in 2017, Beszborn says business, indeed, has not. From tourists to local regulars to people staging engagements and couples wanting to enjoy live acoustic music outdoors on the roof during the spring and summer, Beszborn stays busy trying to find ways to make diners feel welcome enough to where they’ll keep coming back for more.
“What it basically boils down to is having a servant’s heart,” she said. “In order to do this and do it well, you have to have a heart that wants to serve, or else it won’t work. When we have our busiest times, I can mostly be found in the kitchen. I just believe as Jesus said, if you’re going to lead you first have to serve.”
It’s her faith, coupled with an innate desire to give back to the place she calls home that keeps her coming back, even on the hardest days.
“Each day I hit the ground running. Sometimes it’s tough. Sometimes you’re tired. But I’m very thankful that God blessed me to do this. Every day I think, ‘I’m just nobody, just a little Covington girl with a blue collar family,’ but God gave me this opportunity to give Covington a place that has history and a place we can always say is ours, and I’m just grateful for that.”