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Episode 23: Grits, Glam — and Heart

Inspired by her Mississippi roots, Jodi Moore Newland is serving up traditional Southern food at Sweetwater Cuisine, which combines event planning and catering, ready-to-heat carryout meals, and a restaurant. She's also the founder of a non-profit called Daniel’s Grace in memory of her late husband that supports families who've been affected by cancer.



Links

Sweetwater Cuisine

Sweetwater Instagram

Daniel's Grace



Episode Transcript


Brady Viccellio

If you've ever wondered about what goes on behind the scenes at restaurants, then you're in the right place. This podcast takes you inside the minds of restaurant owners, chefs, bartenders, servers, basically anyone who has anything to do with food, drink or hospitality. I'm Brady Viccellio, owner of Steinhilber’s restaurant, and La Bella Italia on Laskin Road in Virginia Beach. Welcome to The Check podcast.


Alvin Williams

And I'm Alvin Williams, cohost of the check and owner of Cobalt Grille restaurant at hilltop in Virginia Beach. Welcome to our podcast, we'll be talking about restaurants, people who work in restaurants who own restaurants and people who like to dine in restaurants.


Brady Viccellio

Today, we're honored to have our good friend Jodi Moore Newland.


Jodi Moore Newland

Morning. How are you guys this morning?


Alvin Williams

Hey, Jodi, welcome to The Check.


Jodi Moore Newland

Thank you for having me.


Brady Viccellio

Let's just jump right into it. What inspired you to get into this business, Jedi?


Jodi Moore Newland

Well, it kinda wasn't meant to happen this way. I was teaching in Virginia Beach. And I grew up cooking with my mom. And we did all kinds of parties for people in the community and in the church. And I began doing that here for my friends. And I was asked by my employer to do an event, an event that was large, it was 450 people for five days, twice a day. And I decided that I probably should do something legitimate instead of doing it out of my house. So within seven days, I was licensed and working in a commercial kitchen and Sweetwater was born. And we just never looked back from there.


Alvin Williams

So your company's Sweetwater Cuisine So is that a catering company? Is it a restaurant? Is it both?


Jodi Moore Newland

It is both. We started when we were just an off-site catering company. And in April 2011, we moved to our Thalia location. And we've been there ever since. Right now we're doing lunch Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and dinner on Thursday and Friday nights. And we do brunch on the first and third Sundays of the month. We have a large following for brunch.


Alvin Williams

Has that always been your schedule? Or is this a COVID style schedule?


Jodi Moore Newland

The brunch schedule has always been the same dinner and lunch is a is our COVID schedule. Catering kind of just fell off the map when COVID happened and our life kind of changed. I'm sure as yours did.


Alvin Williams

Well, tell us about that. What did people say to you? Did you have events booked and they canceled? How did that play out for you and your company?


Jodi Moore Newland

Well, in March, we were scheduled to have a very nice catering season, going into summer. And that first week, we were down about $300,000 in events that had either cancelled or moved. And what that means for us is events that are moving forward, we're giving up that data second time, right, because we only have so many catering slots. So if they moved from the spring to the fall, that means that there's a date in the fall that we can't take a new job. So it's kind of a double whammy.


Alvin Williams

Because with catering everybody pretty much books in advance because you need plenty of notice so you know what's coming. Whereas for Brady and I in the restaurants, you know, they may show up tomorrow or they may not. We don't really know.


Brady Viccellio

Usually we don't.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, when you were teaching in Virginia Beach. And you were doing the restaurant at the same time?


Jodi Moore Newland

We weren't doing the restaurant we were doing off site catering.


Alvin Williams

How was it juggling both of those very awesome positions?


Jodi Moore Newland

That was probably the worst and best year of my life. And not everybody knows about that year. But I was in graduate school full time getting my master's in Educational Leadership and I had my life all planned out. I was going to be a high school principal and I would retire and you know, go on about my life. And then Sweetwater happened, but also at that same time Daniel was terminal. So I was working full time. I was visiting Mississippi with my son to make sure that he could see him as much as possible. And we were doing jobs for clients. So I was working all night pretty much.


Alvin Williams

Tell our listeners a little bit about Daniel.


Jodi Moore Newland

Daniel was my first husband. He was diagnosed with colon cancer when he was 28. And he died at 32. So thinks that they have colon cancer when they're 28 years old? Right?


Alvin Williams

Yeah, I don't think they recommend you getting tested until you're 50.


Jodi Moore Newland

So when Daniel died, we spent a lot of time together, as I said, because Jonathan and I were traveling to Mississippi to stay with him and visit. And during those conversations, there was just a lot of real talk. And I asked Daniel, what his life's regret was, and his answer was instant. He regretted not stopping and taking care of people around him who needed help. And now that he realized that he was too sick to do it, so the seed for Daniel's Grace was planted.


Brady Viccellio

Let's talk about that seed.



Jodi Moore Newland

There are so many stories that I could tell you that happened during that 10 year period from when Daniel died until the organization was started in 2014. But Jonathan and I jumped in with both feet started the organization, we raise money to provide financial assistance to cancer families for daily living needs. So our goal was to fill that gap. There's lots of money for research, but there's very little money that's designated for families who are fighting the battle. So Jonathan and I decided that that's where we needed to fill the gap. So we pay rent and mortgage payments, utility payments, provide groceries, meals, and things like that for daily living.


Brady Viccellio

Jodi, who is Jonathan?


Jodi Moore Newland

Jonathan is my son, mine and Daniel’s son. He was 13 when Daniel passed away, and he is going to be 30 on the 28th of this month.


Brady Viccellio

So it's an impressive charity. And I've been honored to have been able to host your Roast on the River at Steinhilber’s for several years now. It's interesting that over those years I have realized that I've known people outside of you and outside of Daniel's Grace, who have benefited, who you've been able to help. And it's just amazing how much you do for so many people.


Jodi Moore Newland

Oh, thank you. And I thank you for being a part of that. I don't know that there are enough thanks to be said. You helped make it happen, Brady.


Brady Viccellio

Thank you. Well, there's not enough Jodi's, I think.


Jodi Moore Newland

Well, thank you. It has been a journey.


Brady Viccellio

Jodi, can you tell us more about the story behind the Sweetwater name and your tagline, Grits to Glam.


Jodi Moore Newland

Yes. We’re 16 years old, and through those years, I don't know that that our business is the same as when it started. And I certainly have grown as a person but Sweetwater is definitely a reflection of me. I am brand of Sweetwater and we are very Southern hospitality driven. We offer Southern cuisine. Sweetwater the name came from the original one room schoolhouse in the county in which I was born. And that land was donated by my great-great-great grandfather and it was called Sweetwater.


Alvin Williams

You have a great accent is that like Suffolk, Virginia? Or is it Portsmouth or something like that?


Jodi Moore Newland

It’s like Mississippi. It’s deep south.


Alvin Williams

Oh, all right. So okay, just checking in state sales. So that's where the Sweetwater comes from.


Jodi Moore Newland

Yeah, that's where the Sweetwater comes from. So it was a perfect fit for what I wanted to do. And my philosophy is in business is that I want every guest and every customer to come in, at my event or at my restaurant and feel like they're at home, sitting at my dining table. And that's what we get a lot of feedback from customers that that we've achieved that. But grits to glam. Grits is obvious, right?


Alvin Williams

Yes. Something I've learned over the years.


Jodi Moore Newland

Do you eat grits?


Alvin Williams

I do on occasion. I'd never heard of a grit until I came to this country. But I've been taught how to make them and prepare them and not the instant grits.


Jodi Moore Newland

No instant grits.


Alvin Williams

So I'm getting used to them now.


Jodi Moore Newland

Well, we get our grits ground to order every week from us from the Delta of Mississippi. So they're made from heirloom corn, yellow corn, and they're quite delicious. And the glam. Well, we don't want to be known for just grits. And we do much more than grits. Glam comes from the fabulous advance that we create. We bring our clients visions to life and that can be from a rustic feel event to a very contemporary and elegant event.


Alvin Williams

Well, I've been to some of your events and some here at Steinhilber,s and they've been great. They really have.


Jodi Moore Newland

Thank you.


Alvin Williams

Yeah, food's always good and the event is good and the auctions and things that you have. It's always fun.


Brady Viccellio

You really know how to put it together.


Jodi Moore Newland

Well, it comes with a very large team that helps -- it's not just me.


Brady Viccellio

What do you think sets you apart from the other places other than the Southern hospitality and Southern food? What is your specialty? And which foods do people seem to love the most?


Jodi Moore Newland

I was talking about this last night actually. I think one of the things that sets us apart is the guest experience. And that's from the moment they meet us. Last night, we met with a lovely couple who's getting married next year. And I think they were with us for two and a half hours. And we were just chatting, we got to know each other. And really, before we left, we became kind of friends. And they commented on that about how much time we spent and how at ease they felt and how comfortable they were with us. So we really tried to personalize the guest experience. I think that in terms of our food, we have things on our menu that haven't changed in 16 years, not because I don't want to change them, but because people just want them our sweet potato biscuits, our shrimp and grits. Our honey pecan fried chicken, those are staples that I keep saying I'm sick of making this, can we do something else and it's like, “we want honey pecan fried chicken!” It's those homestyle comfort foods with an elevated twist, I think that people are drawn to -- something that's a little special but familiar.


Brady Viccellio

I'm noticing guests hosting an event, it might be the first event they've ever hosted in their life. And it might be the most important event of their life, a wedding, a funeral, an engagement. Whatever it is, these events that we that we host are highlights in lifetimes. As far as planning an even, it’s a very intimidating process and to come into an environment like yours and be relaxed and you're not hurried. You can connect with your guests. It's priceless, really. And I'm sure the people you work with are very appreciative.


Jodi Moore Newland

But I think that goes both ways, Brady. I've always said that we are part of the most memorable moments in people's lives, whether they're amazing or tragic. And that's how we help them make their mark and bring their celebrations to life. It's a pretty important job. And our job as a caterer is to make that as easy as possible. Whether it's something happy or something sad.


Alvin Williams

It is not something with like the honey pecan chicken you're talking about. That's what they want, because that's what they formed their great memories on. And you might be sick of cooking it. You know, there are dishes on my menu that I don't care to cook ever again. But that's what they remember. And that's what they want. And they say, you know, we like this for whatever reason. It's familiarity or comfort food, like you say, and it's for us who provide a service to give them what they need and what makes them feel warm and fuzzy.


Jodi Moore Newland

That's right. We recently had a client that we had done a wedding for way back in the very beginning. And she has developed Alzheimer's. And her daughter in law called me and said, she loves our shrimp and grits. And we were thinking about bringing the family together and friends and doing a party. And we thought about you because she loves your food so much. So that was pretty amazing.


Alvin Williams

That's awesome. Brady and I have talked to many other restaurant owners, and we continue to talk to them on a daily or weekly basis about the challenges that they're facing related to COVID which primarily involves having enough space to safely provide distancing for our guests and finding enough staff. As they may be hesitant to return to work, what are your experiences with this?


Jodi Moore Newland

So I am so sick of the word pivot. I feel like I've been pivoting every day,


Alvin Williams

Like a ballet dancer just, turning around and around.


Rest of transcript coming soon




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