CORNELIUS – Executive Chef Shane Smith understands that small touches mean big returns in the service industry. Smith is also aware that large gestures additionally create excellent investments. His nickname isn’t Big Diesel for nothing.
At MoJo’s Grill and Pub, the big and small come together in the food, drink and atmosphere to create a wonderful culinary experience on the burgeoning Exit 28.
Smith is partnered with two other chefs who help him run the business: Mike Lashinski and Alexander Cruz.
Between the three men, they have more than 50 years of experience and have worked at restaurants such as The Peninsula Country Club, 131 Main, Jeffrey’s, FireSide Bar & Grill, and Port City Club.
It’s a fruitful partnership as each brings a different type of cooking and experience to the table. Smith and Lashinksi have worked together for over 15 years and the name of the restaurant is close to their hearts.
“My daughter is Morgan and his daughter is Jordan,” Smith said. “So we took the first two letters of each girl’s name and came up with MoJo’s.”
The three men actually acquired the space for the large, industrial kitchen, as good as a country club kitchen, according to Smith.
They run three catering businesses – Creative Catering & Events, A Tasteful Solution and Event Catering Services – and needed the space.
“But then we realized that we could also operate a pub which really appealed to the three of us,” Smith said.
The ambiance of the restaurant naturally lends itself to a tavern-like experience. It is dim inside with gleaming wood bar surrounded by televisions. A stage offers open mic and music for the patrons. And there is plenty of space for bar games and seating.
They have had lots of fun creating the menu and using their children’s monikers to inspire the names of the entrées.
The menu is meant to be very broad with something for everyone in a nicely casual atmosphere. The partners employ another chef, Josh Jones, to run the kitchen.
Because there are so many chefs in the kitchen and the business, the majority of the items on the menu are made in-house.
They also marinate their chicken, roast the chicken wings before frying them and make their own potato chips and all the desserts from scratch.
“We truly try to keep everything as fresh as possible,” Smith said.
Items to try include the Triple Threat “Big Diesel” burger which consists of three separate one-fourth pound burger patties each with a different type of cheese.
The flatbread is crispy and covered with loads of fresh toppings and the hot dog is a full one-fourth pound. The wings are crispy and well flavored.
“We are really getting known for our wings,” Smith said.
Or try a beer in a frosty cold mug. The restaurant offers a full bar with daily drink specials.
MoJo’s is also the pick-up and drop-off location for cruising on Lake Norman. They partner with KISS 95.1, the Ragin Uptown Party Bus and Luxury Yacht Charters to shuttle people for three-hour cruises on the lake. All the food on the yacht is catered by MoJo’s, and customers can join the after-party at the restaurant after the cruise is over.
They also work with various churches and nonprofits, such as Denver United Methodist, Faces of Hope and the YMCA to create fundraisers.
“It is so important to give back to the community,” Smith said.
From frosty mugs to triple one-fourth pound hamburgers, Smith and company successfully combine the small touches with the grand gestures. MoJo’s is a welcomed addition to the Cornelius area with excellent food and a friendly vibe.
“We really want to be the ‘Cheers’ of the area,” Smith said. “We want to know your name.”