A NEW VENTURE Walking into a dining room at Sugar Wood-Fired Bistro, Cayenne, Thyme Kitchen & Craft Beer or Industry Brewing Co. and seeing people eating and smiling is a highlight of Mohlenbrink’s week. He also owns The Warehouse on State Street event center, which houses his Cracked Pepper Catering, now nearing the end of its first year as contract caterer at the Peoria Civic Center. A seventh establishment, Saffron Social, an upscale seafood and steak restaurant, is expected to open early this summer in the OSF HealthCare headquarters building in Peoria’s Downtown, fronting Washington Street. Each of Mohlenbrink’s restaurants has a specific food direction, bar program and decor. Saffron Social will be no different. “We’ll have USDA certified Angus beef sourced from the Midwest, fresh seafood and some pasta dishes with a twist,” he said. The bar program will be wine-focused while also offering local and regional craft spirits. It is being designed in a 1950s Art Deco style, and the restaurant will have a lunch menu with a sushi option. VIVE LA DIFFÉRENCE Mohlenbrink comes up with the look for all of his restaurants. “My inspirations come from travels. I love to see a concept work somewhere and dissect the operation on how it could work here at home,” he said. “I take ideas from places away from our area and put spins on the dishes to make them our own. I follow all the food trend magazines and websites for ideas on food and spaces as well. I am also very involved in the process of creating the menus.” The uniqueness of each location – the interior designs and menus – is important to Mohlenbrink. “For the same reasons I don’t open the same restaurant over and over, I don’t duplicate dishes,” he said. “The

creative part of being in this business is very important and for me vital to our success.” Ultimately, it’s all about building a memorable experience: “I want a place that guests crave a special dish or can’t wait to bring other family members or friends to enjoy the atmosphere, food and service.” HIGH PRAISE “Travis is a 100% success story,” said Ed LaHood, who has operated Food Service Equipment Corp. since 1969. “Travis came in one day and he was going into Cracked Pepper down on northeast Ad ams and needed equipment. Since that day, he’s … probably more successful than any other operator that stayed in one city. “He listens and has a great vision of what’s happening now or what’s going to happen in the restaurant business,” LaHood added. “And he has self-confidence and the ability to roll with the punches. He obviously has an incredible personality to endear himself in this business with people who like his product.”

Fellow restaurateur Matt White, owner of Dac’s Smokehouse in Morton and Peoria, has known Mohlenbrink for about 10 years. “He’s very innovative,” said White. “More quality goes into the kind of work he does. It’s always been that way with him.” Meanwhile, Mohlenbrink is “very supportive of other independent restaurants,” said White. “He’s a great person to bounce ideas off.” For J.D. Dalfonso, president and CEO of the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mohlenbrink and his popular restaurants have made his job marketing the region that much easier. “When we do the work we do and promote the Downtown, it’s with his restaurants really on the tip of the tongue,” said Dalfonso. “It’s a testament to the quality of food and … service and the overall experience you have at his establishments. We’re proud to have him.” CHANGED PLANS Becoming a restaurateur wasn’t Mohlenbrink’s original career goal. He


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