Wyant’s Store is located in White Hall, Virginia, a town with a population just shy of 700, surrounded by farms and vineyards. The ancient clapboard building practically teeters on the side of a country road near the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Outside, there’s a lone time-warp gas pump. Inside, there are shelves of pantry staples—yellow mustard, evaporated milk—a few tables with folding chairs, and a menu that lists country-ham sandwiches and specials like smothered pork and cheeseburger “mac.”

Opened by Adam Wyant in 1888, and still run by the Wyant family, the store hosts a group of locals practically every day for a meeting of what they have dubbed “The Liars Club,” a cover under which they can swap stories and trade tender insults over sausage biscuits and coffee. When Mason Hereford was growing up in nearby Free Union (population: under 300), he looked forward to visiting stores like Wyant’s with his siblings. Let loose in the aisles, they found independence, distraction, and sustenance. For their mom, Amy, these stores represented something more: the kinship that helped her raise a family in troubled times.

After Mason’s parents divorced when he was 10, and his mother had to wrangle him and his three siblings by herself most mornings, a ritual was born. When they were running late for school, which was often, Amy would skip making bacon and eggs, pack the kids in the truck, and head to forage for breakfasts of packaged food in Free Union from a shop called Maupin Brothers Store, which everyone called Maupin’s. “She’d spill coffee on herself,” Mason says, “every single morning.”

Today, Mason lives inUnlike most chefs’ origin stories, which begin with a just-shucked oyster or a French grandmother’s lessons, Mason’s primary influences were his childhood adventures at local country stores.

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