Meet Your Merchant: At Mofo’s, fans come for pizza, stay for music
Special to the Bonanza
What: MoFo’s Pizza and Pasta
Location: 884 Tahoe Blvd.
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Customers may come back for John’s thin crust pizza or his homemade pasta salad — but it’s just as likely the repeat customers come in to see John.
And when the customers come to see him, they usually want to hear him play guitar.
“There are so many people from all over the U.S. that come up here once a year,” said John Morrison. “Every time they come up here they come in. It’s part of their yearly routine, and they’re so happy MoFo’s is still here and I’m still here.”
While tossing pizza dough is something Morrison is good at, playing the guitar is what he’s great at.
“It’s a good ice breaker,” he said. “Customers look at the guitar and pretty soon it comes off the wall.”
In the dim light of his Italian eatery, complete with red- and white-checkered tablecloth and pool-table-green carpet, John disappears into his guitar.
“If I go a couple of days without playing my fingers just crave the strings,” he said between riffs.
‘IT’S MY ESCAPE’
CDs from the restaurateur’s idols — Carlos Santana, Peter White, Ottmar Leibert and others — sit on a shelf next to his Schecter electric guitar. Small speakers hang at the corners of the ceiling for when he has time to plug in and play.
“People love it and are so disappointed when I can’t play because I’m busy waiting tables,” he said.
John’s fingers move quickly up and down the guitar’s neck as he fills his restaurant with Mason Williams’s “Classical Gas.” He plays also “The Bullfighter’s Dream” and then Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita.”
The fact it’s a Friday and high season — meaning a night of mayhem lies ahead — and the worries about the parking lot and the future of Christmas Village shopping center fall away as John strums the nylon strings of his acoustic guitar.
“It’s my escape,” John said. “I can see myself up on stage being a famous rock star.”
AN ANCHOR BUSINESS
Twenty-eight years of pasta making and pizza baking means time to work with the menu. The chef and owner said he is proud to have perfected MoFo’s offerings over the years.
“We’ve hardly had any complaints this summer, which is amazing in the food service business,” he said.
MoFo’s is the anchor business in Christmas Tree Village, and John said the peaks and valleys of the seasons have become even more pronounced in the last few years. He does what he can in the offseason to stay open.
“I work the business really hard,” John said. “My wife hosts and we bus our own tables. That’s what you have to do to survive.”
However, the restaurant owner hasn’t made it to the beach once this summer. As he churned semolina out into long wires of fresh spaghetti dough, he said it’s been so busy that he’s only had time to “eat, sleep, and work.”
‘MORE FOR YOUR MONEY’
When John bought the space that was once Tino’s Ristorante, he said the price was right and that he “tripped, stumbled and fell” into owning his own restaurant.
“I had no idea, no one to show me how to operate anything,” John said of his early days at MoFo’s. “Basically I had to figure it all out from scratch.”
The idea of calling his restaurant MoFo’s came from a friend’s suggestion, “more for your money.”
The idea stuck, and John said he is still asked frequently about the story behind the name.
John’s daughter, Pauline, helps out around the restaurant, and in a few weeks, his son, Justin, will return to Incline to help his father at MoFo’s.
“I’ve learned in the restaurant industry if you work really hard for a long time, good things will come your way,” Justin said.
The return of his son to help may mean John can go after his dreams of playing on stage.
But the restaurant owner laughs.
“I’m too old to be a rock star,” he said as he picked up his guitar and began another tune.
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Truckee is offering a one-month extension for downtown businesses, allowing restaurants to continue to use outdoor patio spaces as a means to operate through the end of October, according to Assistant Town Manager Hilary Hobbs.