The Mystic Grill building on the Covington square is set to become a real restaurant as its new owners hope to play off the popularity the building has gained through the hit TV show “The Vampire Diaries” as the outside façade of the Mystic Grill restaurant.
The restaurant is expected to open this summer, according to Angi Beszborn, partner in the project along with her husband John and Covington Mayor Ronnie Johnston and his wife, Kelley.
The couples became friends when the Johnston’s began dining at Bullritos, which the Beszborns also own. The partners agree there should be a bar on one side of Mystic Grill along with rooftop dining and a basement gift shop stocked with Vampire Diaries mementos. (Angi had to break it to a recent caller that the rumor the basement would contain a pool hall was completely false.)
They figure they can seat about 150 diners. Two chefs - one from a country club, the other from a private hunting club - are testing recipes.
The final menu is still being vigorously debated.
“The others laugh at me when I say we have to serve chicken tenders, but people like chicken tenders!” Beszborn says, laughing herself. “I know there are a lot of great cooks in Covington. You can get a better meal in someone’s house than in a restaurant most nights. So we need to have great dishes like pan seared grouper on risotto. And we need to show Covington residents that they don’t need to drive all the way into Atlanta for unique dishes.”
Beszborn is proud that her family has lived in Covington since 1805. Her grandmother also owned a town square business, a dime store. Although Beszborn feels like she knows Covington well, she was stunned when Bullritos rejected her first application to open here because Covington’s median income and average educational level were too low.
She hopes she can help boost the economy a bit by making her restaurant a favorite for tourists as well as locals. And Mystic Grill will be creating jobs for a general manager, a chef and wait staff.
“Most of the applicants for Bullritos are kids, but I would love to hire any older workers who would be interested in working at Mystic Grill,” she said.
She and her partners know they need to figure out what Covington’s comfort zone is for cuisine. Beszborn’s favorite dish to make is chicken pot pie. But she also loves charcuterie, the delicious sausages that combine meat or poultry with herbs and sometimes fruits or vegetables—like smoked duck and pear sausage, for example.
“I wondered if our customers would accept charcuterie, and I think they would if we explained that if you love summer sausage, you’ll love this,” she mused.
She observed that Covington residents are accustomed to hunting and eating venison sausage and wild game. In that way, Covington residents are as sophisticated and smart about food as wealthy food lovers in Aspen or Manhattan who pay a hefty price in restaurants for venison sausage and wild game.
“Mystic Grill will try and use local produce always,” she said. “There are apples in North Georgia, strawberries and blueberries in Newton County, peaches as close as Rutledge.”
One idea that’s being mulled is possibly using a large golf cart that seats multiple people to transport customers to and from the restaurant, to provide a novel service for the area.
Right now, Beszborn is focused on pulling up the old floor. She’s researched the building’s dramatic history and knows there may be fragments of a gorgeous mosaic floor that was part of an earlier version of the building. The building’s exterior was brown and beige before Vampire Diaries painted it the current dark forest green.
“Just think of all this building has been through,” she marveled.
One piece of lore tells us of criminals who tried to rob a general store inside the building. They used dynamite to enter and blew the front doors and windows across the street into the park. A freak accident set a fire that damaged the interior before the Beszborns and Johnstons decided it would make a great restaurant.
“And I’m hoping we can give it the life it was meant to have in Covington,” Beszborn said.