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  • Writer's pictureMiddle Peninsula Planning District Commission

Java Jacks Cafe Benefits from Back to Business Grant Program

It’s easy to drive right past what first appears to be another charming cottage in downtown Tappahannock.

But follow the advice of the locals: don’t miss Java Jacks Cafe as you will have indeed missed out.

First, there’s the java from Carytown Coffee — “ordered Monday, roasted Tuesday and delivered Wednesday,” says Mary Owens, who shares ownership of the rustic café with her husband, Derrick. Then there’s “jacks,” — replicates of the Italian zeppolas that original owner Mimi McComb baked with her grandmother. They pair well with Java Jacks’ homemade apple butter.

That’s just for starters.

It’s hard to decide what to order on a menu that prides itself on fresh and local. The tomatoes for Hanover tomato pie come from a nearby produce stand, which also provides the blackberries in the homemade cobbler. Backfin crab, delicious inside a create-your-own omelet and oysters, come courtesy of the nearby Rappahannock River.

That’s the charm about Java Jacks and small businesses like these in this rural coastal Virginia region. Eating local means supporting local in more ways than one.

This year, the call to support and eat local meant something new for everyone.

Until COVID-19, Java Jacks catered almost exclusively to diners in person, eager to linger in the shabby chic restaurant that dates back to 1910. Like most food establishments, the business shut down and opened again with strict safety and sanitation protocols in place.

A grant from Essex County, as administered by the Middle Peninsula District Planning Commission through the Back to Business program, helped with some of the costs incurred. Java Jacks’ grant covered a portion of the increased costs in response to the new health requirements put in place to reopen.

The Back to Business grant opportunities are still available for Middle Peninsula businesses through November 15, 2020.

“We do business $10 at a time, so any amount of money was great and put to good use,” said Owens, who has kept the restaurant at half capacity to ease any anxiety customers might have about dining inside.

Java Jacks purchased additional tables, chairs and umbrellas for an outdoor seating area in the courtyard. A new credit card machine makes paying hands-free an option. Printing costs have escalated as every new customer orders from a new paper menu; used ones are promptly recycled. Grant money will help recoup those expenses.

“With being half capacity and adding our outdoor seating, we’re seeing as strong of numbers as we had last year,” Owens said.

That’s no surprise if you’ve been to Java Jacks. Servers take pride in friendliness. The décor, mismatched tablecloths now laundered between each use, reflects the hometown feel. A new mural of a sunset draw by the Owens’ 15-year-old daughter, Lizzie, is another reason to smile.

Of course, mainly it’s the food that keeps folks coming and coming back to this Church Street favorite.

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