Chef Joe Woods connects diners directly to their food sources at Appalachian Mercantile General Store and Cafe in Granville.
When Joe Woods was in high school in Morgantown in the late ’90s, a neighbor who worked at a local bar and grill couldn’t cover his dishwashing shift. Woods volunteered, and that night changed his life forever.
“Even though I was just washing dishes, I fell in love with the atmosphere. I loved the heat, the speed, the noise, the smells, the pressure. It was exciting, and I was hooked right away,” he says. Add years of his own kitchen experimentation as a latchkey middle schooler making boxed dinners more palatable for his family, and there’s little doubt he was born to be a chef.
The experiences of his youth prompted Woods to attend the culinary program at Pierpont Community and Technical College, where he was heavily influenced by one of his professors: beloved West Virginia chef Dale Hawkins of Fish Hawk Acres fame. Woods finished the program and worked in several kitchens around the state, including those at The Greenbrier. He chalks up his experience there among some of the most beneficial of his culinary education.
“The food served was very different, depending on what part of the property you were on,” Woods says. “In some kitchens, they were really embracing using local ingredients and serving new Appalachian cuisine. It was the first time I realized that the cuisine of this region was so versatile, and that you could create beautiful food using Appalachian techniques and serve that food in unique ways.”
The cuisine’s influence on Woods can be seen, smelled, and tasted with one visit to his current endeavor—Appalachian Mercantile General Store and Cafe. The eatery and specialty foods shop, a partnership between Woods and Nancy Bruns of J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works, opened to the public in 2021 and is quickly gaining a reputation for high-quality, locally sourced ingredients combined in exciting ways.
Woods’ mission at the cafe is as multifaceted as his cherished cuisine. “We’re here to create economic opportunity for Appalachian people by promoting farms, growers, and makers. Farm-to-table is a pretty tired term, but we’re still working on something to replace it. In the meantime, I’ll just say that I want people to know exactly where the food they’re eating comes from and I want them to really connect with area farms so that they seek out those food sources even when they aren’t eating with us. It’s more important now than ever to know where your food comes from.”
He calls Appalachian cuisine a melting pot influenced by the many parts of the region and its unique family food traditions. “People try to lump us together, but we’re not all the same. All the million different ways that biscuits and gravy can be done illustrates my point perfectly.” At the cafe, you’ll find a unique take on this down-home Appalachian dish using salt rising bread toast points as the vessel to deliver delicate sausage gravy right into your mouth. The bread is local, the meat is local, and letting those local ingredients dictate the menu served at the cafe is the best influence of all, Woods says.