In our first installment of “Did You Eat Yet…”, Pulptown’s new weekly feature on a local restaurateur, chef, or foodie, we sat down with AJ Haines, co-owner and chef of Mason Jar Provisions in Thornton Park. Each week, we’ll talk to these local culinary badasses about how they got their start, their favorite meals in Orlando, and maybe even sneak in a secret recipe or two.
(Full transparency, I know AJ from having worked with him at The Waterfront in SODO years ago.)
In a few sentences or less, tell us when you knew you’d get into this business. I moved to Orlando in 2009. It was always part of the plan to open a restaurant here.
How did your role in the restaurant business come to be? I’ve worked in the industry for a long time. (For context, besides The Waterfront, AJ also worked at Wolfie’s Pizza Mia, The Parkview, Prato, Luma, and Via Napoli.) I thought Mason Jar Provisions would get its start four years ago — that’s when I first started eyeing this space — but it got scooped up by another restaurant group before my investors got back to me. On April 20th, 2020, I received a call that that space was available again. We (Jeff Darnell, business partner, GM of Burton’s Bar) were both in our hometowns spending time with family during the shutdown. We immediately got to work on the opening of MJP.
Your favorite movie star calls and asks to come over for dinner. What’re you making/serving? Italian all the way! Fresh pasta, seafood, steak, porchetta, sauce……
You can eat one meal in Orlando that’s not your own — where are you going and what’s on the menu? King Cajun for the King Feast, and I’m definitely adding a cluster of king crab legs!
What is one Orlando food-related news story that you think people need to be paying more attention to? Supporting local restaurants is essential to their longevity right now and buying directly from those businesses is of key importance. Uber, Door Dash, Grub Hub — they all hurt our bottom lines and impact our survival as a sustainable restaurant.
How has the pandemic affected your business? Being able to reach our customers to start with: As a business, we tried and found ways to make things work. Thornton Park District and the city helped with our parklets out front. Burton’s owners purchased picnic tables to help expand seating for both of our businesses. Word-of-mouth and social media have helped, and our social media supporters City 2 Nite and Kaleigh Gardner, otherwise known as @itsthepizzaslut, have also helped get our food to the public through photos and videos.
Let’s pretend you’re moving. (He’s not, people!) What is your “last meal” in Orlando? I’d say Luma, but that was an ending I never saw coming. So Prato next up for sure. It’s where I started after culinary school and I had the privilege of working alongside many great chefs there.
How can Pulptown readers best support you right now? Stop in and order from us. Support other locally-owned small businesses. Hopefully, you like us, and knowing that you will, share our info with friends and family.
Fill in the blank (specific to your time in Orlando): 100 years from now, I hope I’m remembered for… Making great food.
Editor’s note: As someone who’s had AJ’s burgers at The Waterfront, his hushpuppies/wings/fries/burger at Mason Jar, and his pizza at the old Wolfie’s Pizzeria (RIP!), I can say with confidence that AJ should have no problem making that last answer come true.
What restaurant/chef/foodie should we feature next time? Send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: Eat my words, Katie.