VIRGINIA BEACH — The former owners of Stoley’s in Virginia Beach have a new venture. Motsie’s Sea Grille, headed by husband-and-wife team Tom and Lisa Jones, held its grand opening on Dec. 1.
Unlike their first business, a favorite bar among locals, which they ran for more than a decade, Motsie’s is a seafood-focused sit-down restaurant with a cocktail lounge.
The restaurant takes its name from Tom’s grandmother, a woman known for dinner parties and with whom he was especially close. She passed away in 2004 after a fight with cancer.
“There was no stops Motsie wouldn’t pull out to have a great party whether it was for two people or 20 people,” Lisa said. “And that’s what we’re trying to provide for our guests here in this community. Just come on in and let’s have a party … Let us take care of you for the night. Just let go of the rest of the world for a little bit.”
In an approach Motsie would surely be proud of, much of the menu was sketched out over the summer on a pad of paper next to a pool or on the beach — sometimes after “too many vodka lemonades,” as Lisa put it.
A new restaurant wasn’t their initial plan after selling Stoley’s at the beginning of the year. Before diving back into the world of dining they took some time off to consider their next move.
“It was a wonderful 11 years but we were just done with it. We were just kind of saturated,” she said. “We figured it was time for a break so we sold it, took some time off, did a little soul searching—you know what else did we want to do—tried to figure out another career. But then we realized at the end of the day this is what we do; this is what we love.”
Not everyone gets the chance to change careers midway through, but it’s understandable that they might have wanted to consider it: the Joneses have been working in restaurants since their teens. Combined they have over 60 years of experience.
Tom, a native of Virginia Beach, took his first job at the Oceanfront as a busboy and dishwasher at 13. The free food played a role, but the sense of comradery is what kept him working in kitchens before completing an accelerated degree program at Johnson & Whales.
“He grew up at the beach. He’s got sand in his veins. He’s worked at pretty much every restaurant down there,” Lisa said.
“For me, it was the social activity of it, the meeting new people, the constantly being on the go,” she said. “I’ve never been a desk person. I tried it once and just about lost my damn mind. I like to constantly be moving. I have the patience of a 6-year-old so the restaurant industry always grabs me.”
When they began looking for a location for their new project, the spot they ended up in just north of Virginia Beach Boulevard at 401 North Great Neck Road didn’t make a strong first impression. For one it was, well, not in very good condition.
“We came in and looked at it and it looked trashed, god awful,” Lisa said. “And then we just kept talking — you know like, well, we did it before. What the hell. Let’s give it a go again.”
They’d also already opened a business on Great Neck Road. Stoley’s is located less than three miles to the north, but the distance between the two seems to be big enough as to still provide for new opportunities and experiences.
“I don’t know this end of Great Neck Road. I know the other end,” Lisa said. “So my focus is to meet the people at this end of Great Neck Road and see what they want. You know, this is our idea of Motsie’s, what would you like to see at Motsie’s to encourage you to come out and enjoy yourself and party with us?”
The restaurant seats a max of 100 and features a reservable “lizard lounge,” which can hold 20-30 people. After getting settled, they plan to institute some weekly events and specials.
As for customer favorites, it’s still too early to tell which meals people like best. The spicy corn and cheddar fritters, which come free with each entrée and are available as a side, have made a surprise splash though.
“That’s the thing that everyone is going gaga over,” Lisa said. “I’m like really, the damn fritters? Who woulda thought? Fricken fritters.”