When Kevin Boehm was growing up in Springfield, Ill., he often stopped on his way home from school to buy penny candy at a local shop. Now Boehm, 37, buys sea scallops and white asparagus for BOKA, his contemporary fine-dining restaurant on Chicago’s near north side.
When Kevin Boehm was growing up in Springfield, Ill., he often stopped on his way home from school to buy penny candy at a local shop.
Now Boehm, 37, buys sea scallops and white asparagus for BOKA, his contemporary fine-dining restaurant on Chicago’s near north side.
Boehm, who started his culinary career working at a local Hardee’s, has become an established player in Chicago’s hospitality industry.
“Our goal is to have six or seven restaurants, maybe more,” said Boehm, referring to his business partner Rob Katz.
In addition to BOKA (www.bokachicago.com), the two opened hot spot Landmark Grill and Lounge (www.landmarkgrill.net) in 2005 and are within weeks of launching their third eatery, casual bistro Perennial.
All are in the Lincoln Park area, a gentrified neighborhood full of impressive greystones, brick town homes, theaters, gardens, beaches, Lincoln Park zoo and more bars, restaurants and boutiques per capita than any other part of the city.
After high school, Boehm spent a couple of years studying political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but was more interested in restaurants.
“I remember going to the Southern Air (now Chesapeake Seafood House) as a child and being intrigued by the oysters and caviar,” he said.
He moved to Panama City, Fla., where his sister lived, and got a job as a restaurant server.
After a few years, at age 22, he opened a six-table restaurant run on a shoestring budget. After selling it, he launched a wine and sushi bar that seated 100 customers. He later returned to Springfield and founded Indigo, 3013 Lindbergh Blvd.
“I wanted to be in Chicago, but I had not done well enough to open in Chicago. We looked around Springfield and thought on the west side we could attract the people who lived there and maybe pull the Senate crowd out west.”
Boehm’s parents, Dee and Larry Boehm, and sister, Melissa Grubb, were supportive.
“In the beginning it was myself and mom,” he said. “It was fun. We designed the place. She painted the blue dogs,” he said, referring to paintings that still hang on the walls of Indigo.
Boehm got to know singer Kim Carnes through festivals and live music promotions, and she encouraged him to open a restaurant in Nashville. He did, after selling Indigo. In 2002, he moved to Chicago and started working on BOKA. In 2003, it was named “Best New Restaurant” by Chicago Magazine.
Boehm met his wife, Cortney, a ballet teacher, in Nashville. They have a 4-year-old daughter, Sophia, and are expecting another child at the end of June.
He has this advice for young people thinking about a career in the hospitality industry: “I should have gone to culinary school. Even if you’re not going to be a chef, it teaches you about the business.”
He also recommends traveling in Europe — something he regrets not doing — to soak up the wine and food culture.
When Boehm returns to Springfield to visit his parents, he likes to stop at Magic Kitchen, Cafe Brio and Ross Isaac.
“I love living in Chicago and will probably live here the rest of my life,” he said in a telephone interview. “But I’m so glad I grew up in Springfield. I appreciate the fact that it was a good, solid Midwestern upbringing with sensibility to it.”
Kathryn Rem can be reached at email@example.com.