Got his MoJo's working
Just 27, Joel Olive already lives his dream of being a chef/restaurant owner
By Ben Penserga, Daily Times staff writer
SALISBURY (Feb. 20, 2013) — In college, Joel Olive had a goal for himself —own a restaurant by age 25.
“I actually signed the paperwork for MoJo’s a month and 20 days before my 26th birthday,” says the chef/co-owner of the Salisbury eatery. “So I kind of reached that goal —it wasn’t open at 25, but I felt like I was going to keep pushing for it.”
Joel Olive, chef and co-owner of MoJo's restaurant in Salisbury, Md., prepares a rack of ribs. / Ben Penserga/Daily Times Staff Image
Still only 27, Olive’s career continues to rise from a freshman who had no intention of being a chef in college.
In 10 years, his path has taken him from dorm cook to restaurateur. And with about 15 months at the helm of MoJo’s, he has no intention of slowing down.
The professional drive Olive (first name pronounced “Joe-EL”) possesses is hidden by a laid-back demeanor.
He sits slightly slouched in one of the booths of his restaurant, eyeing the weekday lunch crowd trickling in. Even dressed in his black chef’s jacket with a white MoJo’s dog mascot adorned over the left breast, nobody seems to notice him.
Not that Olive minds.
“I’m a pretty modest person —I don’t go on too many vacations, I don’t have a lot of flashy things,” he says. “I have my car and my house and that’s it.”
It could have been different for Olive, who arrived in Maryland from Philadelphia in 2003. The plan since high school was to become a physician’s assistant or possibly a doctor.
“I did my first year, I had good grades, my parents were happy, but I kind of woke up one day and said, ‘I just don’t like going to class,’ ”he said.
On Sundays, Olive would usually host a big meal for his friends in the dorms of University of Maryland Eastern Shore. After one dinner, someone suggested he might want to consider switching over to the university’s hotel and restaurant management program.
He switched majors.
“I was excited to cut vegetables, I was excited to chop onions,” he said, smiling at the memory. “I was just stoked about it. Not only did I enjoy class, but I was going toward something I was going to keep enjoying.”
After UMES, Joel found himself about 13 miles north at Market Street Inn in Salisbury where he served as executive chef for five years.
“He wanted that position,” said Rob Mulford, Market Street Inn’s owner. “Joel was a very hard worker and honest —he was always at Market Street Inn and that is important in this business, knowing that it is long hours and you will always need to be there.”
Mulford saw enough in Olive to have an equal partnership in their next venture, MoJo’s, which the two opened in November 2011.
Olive spends 12-16 hours there, not only cooking but handling money, booking parties and other things outside the kitchen.
“Everyone thinks a restaurant or any business is a cash-cow, but it’s not,” he says. “It costs a lot of money to do and it costs a lot of money to maintain.”
Before the dinner rush, Olive is back in the kitchen doing what he loves. This evening, he’s hauling large steam trays filled with ribs to a prep station.
Someone hands him a spoonful of sauce to taste. He takes it, considers it and then spits it out.
“I get the heat, but I don’t think the flavor is there,” Olive says.
While the rest of the kitchen whirls with action —servers picking up food, staff running hot pans back and forth —Olive remains at a steady speed, never fazed by anything.
It’s a trait even one of his mentors admires.
“Joel is a natural,” said UMES Chef Ralston Whittingham. “He has a culinary ‘mise en place,’ which is French for having things in place both mentally and physically. Joel personifies that phrase; he is always ready.”
This article was published by The Daily Times in Salisbury, Md. and is reproduced here with the newspaper's permission.