Sara Pleadwell, executive chef and co-owner of Mosa's Joint in Hagåtña, took to the sea with her close friend Monique Genereux, hoping to stay far, far away from any commercial kitchens.
"We were doing the whole boating and ocean thing, 'cause I wanted to stay out of the restaurant," Pleadwell says. "I didn't want to be in there."
Pleadwell spent much of her childhood at Jeff's Pirates Cove, which her father, Jeff Pleadwell, bought when she was around 8 years old.
When it was time to start working, Pleadwell and Genereux spent several years leading scuba tours at Cocos Island Resort and later working together as deckhands. The pair grew up together, living in the same neighborhood, with both of their fathers working at Jeff's – Genereux's dad did carpentry for the island's east coast staple.
Eventually, her roots won out: After the birth of her first child, Emma, Pleadwell returned to Jeff's Pirates Cove.
"I got to take Emma with me to work every day, and (my dad) got to see his granddaughter," Pleadwell says. "I did that for about five years and then we got tired of each other."
Pleadwell went on to work at other restaurants, eventually opening a Greek restaurant.
"Everywhere I went I took the good and the bad, and learned from it and grew," she says. After several years back in the restaurant business, her biggest lesson was realizing she was ready to work for herself.
After spotting a canteen on the side of the road, Pleadwell approached Genereux about starting their own food truck, saying she knew Genereux was someone who could work "just as hard as I can."
"I just convinced her," Pleadwell says. "From there, she convinced me to open up ... in Tumon, and then we both convinced each other to open up here."
To quote the restaurant-menu version of the story: "Mo finally caved in."
From Hotbox to hot spot
Mosa's story is a whirlwind. After opening Mosa's Hotbox in June 2011, Pleadwell and Genereux had a "crash course" in social media, and their burgers – later crowned as the 2012 and 2013 Burgerfest Champion – quickly won a devoted following.
"We have customers literally that have been following us since the Hotbox," Pleadwell says. "We have people that were pregnant that were at the Hotbox and now they bring their kids."
It wasn't long before the duo started talking expansion: In August 2013 they opened a nine-table restaurant in Tamuning. Two years after that, they moved to their current location, which Pleadwell says tripled their size.
Now it's time for a breather – kind of.
"This restaurant has really just taken us on a crazy ride," Pleadwell says. "From day one to right now it's just been constant. So we're still trying to get things to go the way we want them to."
That means no plans for further expansion, at least for now.
"We do eventually want to do something ... but I don't think it'll be anything this size," she says. "It's in the back of our heads."
Besides filling tables and serving up a dizzying amount of daily specials, Genereux and Pleadwell want to make Mosa's the best restaurant on the rock.
"Sometimes I feel we've got there, but then sometimes I'm like, 'Maybe not,' " Pleadwell says. "It's always a work in progress. ... I definitely think we're up there."
'This is your house'
Mosa's first goal, however, is to make every customer feel at home – so much so that the restaurant is designed to mimic Genereux's house, Pleadwell says.
Walking into Mosa's "would be like if you were sitting in her house," she says, noting the wall colors and local artwork. "When she trains the servers she'll tell them, 'I want you to welcome guests like this is your house.' "
At 1:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, the restaurant is packed: At one table, a small family grabs lunch together, while a group of young women chat over drinks nearby.
Every night – except Sundays, when the restaurant is closed – things get even livelier when local bands play from 7 to 9 p.m.
Filled with an eclectic mix of furniture and artwork, surrounded by warm red-and-teal walls, the main seating area sits next to a large open bar, about double the size of the bar from their first location, which now serves as two separate hostess stands.
This welcoming feel is evident in their menu, too, offering a wide range of comfort foods including CHamoru, Mexican, Greek and American staples.
Mosa's also features a vast array of specials, which rotate on a regular basis. At the time of this interview, guests could choose from about 12 specials, including a vegan stew, coconut panko parrotfish and a decadent Bailey's chocolate cheesecake.
Pleadwell, who likes to stay behind the scenes in the kitchen while Genereux works with the front-of-house staff and customers, says she doesn't have formal kitchen training, instead learning on the job.
Staying fresh, taking suggestions
Most specials, she says, are based on what's available from local farmers and whatever sparks her interest at the supermarket.
"If (farmers) come to me and they tell me what they have ... 'Okay, let me work with that,' " she says.
But she also takes diners' input, recalling when customers started asking for vegan options on social media.
"I went on a 13-day vegan diet just so I could be inspired more to figure out, 'What do these people want?' 'How can I make it taste good?' " she says.
Their specials menu also gives their chefs a chance to get creative.
"It gives our local chefs here a chance to show off their talents," Pleadwell says. "I've got awesome chefs in the back who can come up with whatever specials they want to. We don't try to control that."
Pleadwell says she and Genereux work hard to make sure their employees come into a fulfilling workplace – which can prove challenging.
"It's like having 53 children that you take care of on a constant, daily basis, and getting everyone happy," she says. "We really try to make our employees happy, because we really want them to come to work happy each day."
And what of Pleadwell and Genereux's decades-long friendship?
Good news: They still like each other.
"We've had our little fights here and there, but it gets better and better," Pleadwell says. "We just learn how to communicate with each other better. We're definitely still best friends and we do everything together still – when we have time."