Jason, who graduated with honors from Johnson & Wales (Virginia Beach campus) in 2000, has always dreamed of owning his own restaurant. “It’s been a four- or five-year process,” he explains. “I was looking for the right opportunity that would allow me to do something different and unique.” In the meantime, he served as the executive chef and director of dietary services at a senior living community and continues to operate his Elizabethtown-based private chef and catering service, In a Pinch, out of a 21-foot trailer “that is probably more tricked out than the kitchen at Heart Café,” he says. He views becoming a business owner as a “culmination of working in restaurants, catering and learning what people want.”
Becoming Heart Café’s owner happened almost by accident. “I was asked to consult with the owners after it had been open for a year,” he explains. In his opinion, the café needed full-time owner/operators. “The owners couldn’t commit to being at the café for day-to-day operations and the then 20-person LLC had full-time commitments,” he explains. It occurred to Jason that this might be the opportunity he was looking for. “So, I made an offer and Heart Café was mine. It all happened really fast.”
Jason initially closed the location in order to make some cosmetic improvements (he worked with Pete and Carol Heth on the project) and design a menu. Heart Café had a soft reopening in early August, and Jason plans to have a grand reopening in late September. He loves the space, explaining that the bright and airy café is located in the bar of what was once a 19th-century hotel.
For now, it is open Wednesday through Sunday for breakfast and lunch. But, Jason is not offering standard fare. For example, the Eggwich includes his signature Tomato Bacon Jam. The Fat Elvis Belgium Plate is composed of waffles, sliced bananas, bacon, chocolate shavings, peanut butter cream cheese and an optional dip of vanilla ice cream. The lunch menu is equally as adventurous and includes soup, salads and sandwiches.
He’s excited to be working with Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative and is entertaining the idea of making shares available through Heart Café next season. He is also selling Humankind water products, as well as Boylan Craft Soda and Italian Cream Soda. A coffee bar provides a wide range of tastes, as does the fusion water. Ice cream and other treats are also available.
Jason hopes to attract area residents and, of course, those using the river trail for recreation are on his radar. As photographer/biking enthusiast Jordan Bush pointed out, trail users will be looking for “water, a bathroom, caffeine and a bite to eat,” and Heart Café can provide all four, plus a bike rack that is adjacent to the plant-filled patio.
Jason is already looking to the future. “I will be making the café available for private social events in the evening,” he notes. Online ordering and catering are also in the planning stage.
“I’m excited to partner with Nathan Drager of Drager Farms on hosting farm-to-table dinners,” Jason says. He will also be designing and preparing the farm-to-table fundraising dinner (September 15) for the organization Lancaster County Field of Hope. In Jason’s case, it seems a chef’s work is never done.
17 East Market Street, Marietta. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
Call 717-604-1169 or visit Facebook.com/heartcafe.marietta.