Batesburg-Leesville, SC (Angelica Iglesias) – Manna Café Family Restaurant, a farm-to-table eatery located at 231 East Columbia Ave. in Batesburg-Leesville, held its grand opening Tuesday, July 17 at 3:00 pm.
Manna Café describes itself as a full-service, community-based, farm-to-table restaurant and their mission is to “provide food for the body and spirit.” This all comes from the owners, John and Charlotte Dashkavich. John’s dream to start a restaurant that works more like a ministry that serves the community has been eight years in the making.
Originally from New Jersey, John and his wife, Charlotte, had to close down their New York-style deli in Myrtle Beach about eight years ago due to health troubles that ultimately ended in John having his right leg amputated. However, he always had this idea for a ministry that would create jobs, support local businesses and farms, and serve fresh, from-scratch food.
They moved to Batesburg-Leesville about three years ago after all their kids were grown and quickly realized it was the community they wanted to lay down their roots. Charlotte opened up Charlotte’s Web Consignments on Main Street a year ago. Then, John thought it was time for him to come out of retirement when he heard of the old Robert’s Drive-In come up for a possible sale. The previous owner, Betty, was hesitant to sell because her mother and step-father had started the business in 1949, but John promised to use Manna Café to honor Betty’s mother and step-father. That’s exactly what he’s done; there is a large photograph of Betty’s mother and step-father from when they first opened the drive-in hanging right beside the kitchen, and the business couldn’t be more community-based.
“Whatever the service is we want local people to do it even if we pay a little more for it because we want to support our local community,” John said in an interview. He wants his customers to understand that farm-to-table doesn’t just mean fresh vegetables, it means they take advantage of every local resource they possibly can from the meat to the staff to equipment repair. About every day or two, you’ll see a pickup truck behind the restaurant in the morning with fresh produce picked that day. John buys what he can to support the local farmers and decides from that what the vegetable of the day will be. If you want to know where your food is coming from, just ask. All their meats come fresh twice a week from either Cones Meat and Farms in Ridge Spring or Gentry’s Poultry in Saluda County. Even the grits are ground in Gilbert at Keisler’s Mill. Unfortunately, staying local and fresh means Manna Café cannot always get some produce the community wants; for example, it has been a bad season for okra, and John has been waiting for the new batch to come out.
When you have a restaurant that is so dependent on what’s in season, you need a creative chef who can help come up with dishes and keep up with a changing menu. Luckily, John and his head chef, Dale Cook from Monetta, collaborate well. The recipes are John’s, but he takes suggestions from Cook who has come up with creations like pork loin with Asian sauce.
If you have any dietary restrictions, Manna Café has a separate set of knives and cutting boards, so there is no cross-contamination. John understands because he is allergic to dairy. In fact, he hasn’t even tasted most of the food he’s prepared; he mostly goes by texture and smell.
“The response has been terrific! People come in and ask to sit there,” John said about the large 12-seat table he and Charlotte decided to set up in the middle of the “Family Restaurant” for customers to sit down and eat with people in the community they might not know.
President of the Batesburg-Leesville Chamber of Commerce Mike Taylor, Batesburg-Leesville Mayor Lancer Shull and Chamber Board Member Delynn Barnes, owner of Allstate Insurance in the town, were all in attendance for the celebration. Food samples like pimento cheese, roast beef and chocolate pecan cookies and refreshments were served. Guests could even enter to win a four-course meal for eight people.
Manna Café Family Restaurant is located at 231 East Columbia Ave. in Batesburg-Leesville and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 8:00 pm and Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. Their number is (803) 307-0349.