Fiction will soon become fact: The former law and accountant's office used as the facade for filming of "The Vampire Diaries" is being converted into a restaurant, and will retain the name used in the show, Mystic Grill. The building was heavily damaged by fire nearly a year ago and has been vacant ever since. Part of the historic district, the building was originally constructed in 1906 as home to the Bank of Covington. - Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
COVINGTON -- The Mystic Grill, the fictional cafe where characters in "The Vampire Diaries" gather, will soon be a real restaurant.
Mayor Ronnie Johnston and his wife Kelley are partnering with Angie and John Beszborn, owners of Bullritos, to open the restaurant in downtown Covington at the former law office used as a facade for a cafe in filming of "The Vampire Diaries" television series.
"We very much hope to open by summer," said Angie Henderson Beszborn. The restaurant will serve lunch and supper, "Southern comfort food with a touch of fine dining," she said. It will offer a core menu with staples like fried chicken as well as chef's specials featuring unique dishes folks normally can't get in Covington, like pan-seared grouper on a bed of seafood risotto. A rooftop deck is planned, she said.
"We're not so much patterning it after 'Vampire Diaries.' It's already named Mystic Grill, so we thought, why not have something nice for tourists to come and see? I do want Covington to have something original nobody else has," she said.
A native of Covington who moved back home from Texas to open Bullritos, Beszborn said she has always wanted to open a business downtown. Watching "The Vampire Diaries," she said she realized, "Someone is missing the boat — that needs to be a restaurant. Covington needs to have another sit-down restaurant."
Beszborn said she and her husband became friends with the Johnstons during their frequent visits to Bullritos prior to Johnston being elected mayor.
"With Ronnie being involved, we want to make sure every single thing is done above board. We want people to realize we're not doing any good ol' boy politics. We're really honest and very above board. We're trying to do this, first of all, to jump start more businesses on the Square," she said.
Johnston publicly disclosed his involvement in the project at Monday night's City Council meeting.
The Johnstons and Beszborns are seeking financial assistance for the project through the Department of Community Affairs Downtown Development Revolving Loan Fund. The application requires evidence of support and cooperation from the city, and signatures from the local governing authority and Downtown Development Authority are required for the project assessment documents that must be turned in to DCA. No city funds are involved, according to City Manager Leigh Anne Knight.
"We believe this is a real good economic development opportunity within the downtown for more than just the Mystic Grill project, but because of my involvement in the Mystic Grill project, I am recusing myself from any future mayoral activities that are related to it," Johnston said.
According to DCA's website, the purpose of the Revolving Loan Fund is to assist cities, counties and development authorities in efforts to revitalize and enhance downtown areas by providing below-market rate financing to fund capital projects in core historic downtown areas and adjacent historic neighborhoods to spur commercial redevelopment. The maximum loan is $250,000 per project.
Once repayment of the loan is made, the funds can be loaned to another project within the same downtown district if there is an eligible applicant.
The Revolving Loan Fund last supported a project in downtown Covington when The Lula Building was renovated about eight years ago.
The Downtown Development Authority has not been active in recent years, with all but one of the seven members' terms expired. Knight said Monday that three members have agreed to be reappointed, in addition to the one member whose term is current.
To get the board active, at least five members are needed. Although it's not required, one of the members may be appointed from the City Council. Councilman Chris Smith made the motion to appoint Councilman Keith Dalton. The council was split 3 to 3 with Smith, Dalton and Mike Whatley in favor and Councilwomen Janet Goodman, Hawnethia Williams and Ocie Franklin opposed. Because Johnston recused himself, he could not break the tie, so the motion failed.
Williams then made a motion to appoint Goodman, which passed 4-2, with Dalton and Smith opposed. Council members are allowed to vote for themselves in such circumstances, said City Attorney Ed Crudup.