Folks may be surprised to see that St. Elmo’s Mojo Burrito is no longer tucked away on Tennessee Avenue. But probably not – most people watched for months as the old Slick’s Burger location on St. Elmo Avenue underwent an enormous transformation. Who could miss the new psychedelic-colored steps leading up from the highway, the gigantic Alice in Wonderland rocking chairs and the inviting wrap-around screen porch?
Mojo founder and owner Eve Williams thought about putting a little pub in the old Mojo spot since she still has time on her lease. But it didn’t work out. There aren’t enough parking places for the city to approve a restaurant in that spot, even though Mojo Burrito was there for several years. “My variance expired, and the city won’t allow another restaurant there,” she said.
Although Mojo Burrito is just about everything any diner could ask for – fresh leafy greens, crispy cheese-filled quesadillas, a slew of toppings from red, green or pineapple salsa and Texas caviar to homemade guacamole and killer chili, Eve did not grow up running a kitchen.
The native New Yorker grew up collecting. No stranger to flea markets, estate sales and side-of-the road garage sales, Eve Williams is a finder. And for many years she was a keeper. “I kept all my things in storage while I was busy with Mojo. But thanks to my wonderful managers, I have more time,” she said.
And just because she has running three successful restaurants down pat, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know anything about retail. Little Eva’s was a shop in upstate New York that was sheer heaven to a treasure finder. Vintage jewelry, collectibles and keepsakes filled the store and attracted everyone from interior designers to browsers. All of it was lovingly collected by little Eva, aka Eve Williams, who shrugs and says, “Once you’re a treasure finder, it’s hard to get it out of your blood.”
She moved to Chattanooga in 2001 but lost her job shortly after 9/11. “I moved here so my daughter could be close to her father and had to figure out a way to help support her as a single mother.”
Surprised Chattanooga didn’t have any mom and pop burrito spots, she decided to open one. “I knew I wanted a neighborhood restaurant, and St. Elmo fit the bill perfectly,” she said.
Instead of liquidating all of her treasures when she moved south, she stored most of it.
She also kept collecting, even as she opened her second restaurant in Red Bank. But she was not driven to collect, forcing herself to search for items others might want. On the contrary, shopping or picking is relaxing for her. “I realized that as I was browsing through an estate sale – it helps me just flatten out my brain. I went home much more relaxed than I was when I started,” she said.
Finders Keepers St. Elmo is indeed a treasure trove, and although you may find plenty of valuables, you probably won’t pay face value for them. “I don’t want to extract the value of things. I want everyone to feel good about the deal they found,” she said. So even though she knows she would be able to substantially upcharge each item, she doesn’t. Instead she just marks up the amount she paid, ensuring the merchandise moves. For example, she recently priced a pair of Herman Miller chairs at $150, even though they were worth $400, and she could have easily sold them for $250.
Finders Keepers St. Elmo features an outdoor courtyard with garden art and comfy chairs for taking a load off. And you are welcome to relax after you wear yourself out from treasure hunting.