fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

A Taste of Chicago

Living the Dream

By Jordan Staggs | Photography courtesy of Boka Restaurant Group

Some careers are painstakingly pursued and mapped out. Other life paths may take time to come into focus. Some stem from aha moments, others from necessity. For Kevin Boehm, the catalyst for finding his niche was a serendipitous visit to a tiny coastal town called Seaside on Scenic Highway 30-A in Northwest Florida.

It has been twenty-seven years since Boehm decided to take a break from the University of Illinois and make that fateful trip to the coast; today he is known throughout the culinary industry for opening twenty-four restaurants. Along with his business partner, Rob Katz, and the rest of their team at the Boka Restaurant Group, Boehm is fresh off his third consecutive year as a top-five finalist for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurateur. The group’s portfolio currently includes restaurants and bars in the Chicago metro area; among the many accolades earned by their restaurants and chefs are Michelin stars, James Beard Awards and nominations, spots on Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs list, and even an Iron Chef award.

How does one venture from being a college dropout to having a dream job? We asked Boehm about it:

VIE: How did you end up getting your restaurant career started in Seaside, Florida, all the way from Illinois?

Kevin Boehm: I took a break from school in 1991 and decided to spend some time in Panama City, Florida. I was introduced to Seaside by my girlfriend at the time, Theresa, and we decided to open a little restaurant in Seagrove Beach called Lazy Daze Café. Our third day of being open, the oven blew up in my face and caught my hair on fire! In 1995, I opened Indigo Wine Bar in Blue Mountain Beach with my partner, Jeff, before selling it a couple of years later.

I loved my time in Seaside. Ollie from the Red Bar and I became good friends back in 1993. I helped wallpaper the posters on the ceiling the night before opening. I still visit with my family there and always have a sense of home when I drive on 30-A.

VIE: What is it that you love about the restaurant business?

KB: It’s been an evolution over the years. I think these days, my passion for food, hospitality, and design are all equal. Great restaurants are an alchemy of all three. I love throwing a party, taking care of guests, and seeing people spend some of the most important moments of their lives in our spaces.

I think these days, my passion for food, hospitality, and design are all equal. Great restaurants are an alchemy of all three.

VIE: You’ve partnered with Rob Katz since 2002. What makes you such a great team?

KB: First of all, beyond partnership, we are best buddies. Secondly, we agree most of the time. Lastly, we push each other. We are both competitive and want the restaurants to be the best.

VIE: What is a typical day like overseeing nearly twenty restaurants? What is the biggest challenge?

KB: Every day is different. With nineteen different entities and twenty-two hundred employees, it’s always an adventure. From design meetings to construction, P&L meetings, insurance, legal, development, and even just walking dining rooms, it’s always moving at a breakneck pace.

VIE: Where do you find inspiration when opening a new restaurant?

KB: Our core group of corporate executives and our six chef partners are some of the most brilliant food and hospitality minds in the world. Sitting at a table with all of them and developing the critical and creative path is often spirited and always inspiring.

Sitting at a table with all of them and developing the critical and creative path is often spirited and always inspiring.

VIE: When designing a restaurant, do you work directly with architects and builders from the beginning? How do layout and design affect the dining experience for patrons?

KB: We have worked with some of the most famous designers in the world, including the multiple James Beard Award– and Hospitality Design Award–winning group AvroKO. In every project they do, there is a historical narrative that the design always goes back to. At Momotaro, it’s the economic miracle in Japan after World War II, and our back bar is a replica of the old Tokyo Stock Exchange. At Somerset, the dining room mimics 1950s–60s high society and country club culture. This attention to detail keeps the designs original and prevents AvroKO from repeating their work. Rob and I are heavily involved in the design process from beginning to end.

In this ADD world we live in now, I think design is more important than ever. Creating layers of design keeps people interested. If you just realize during your eighth visit that the Japanese pay phone at Momotaro will speak to you in Japanese if you pick it up, then we are doing our jobs!

VIE: What do you consider your greatest business accomplishment to date?

KB: Rob and I have been one of the five finalists for Outstanding Restaurateur at the James Beard Awards for three straight years. For a small-town kid, getting that honor meant the world to me. It’s a long way from having my hair on fire at a six-table restaurant in 1993!

Rob and I have been one of the five finalists for Outstanding Restaurateur at the James Beard Awards for three straight years. For a small-town kid, getting that honor meant the world to me.

VIE: You and your wife have three children—are they all foodies thanks to you?

KB: Sofia (14), Lola (10), and Luca (4) are all foodies! They have been eating sushi all their lives and visit all the restaurants on a consistent basis.

— V —

Visit BokaGrp.com to learn more and see all of Boka Restaurant Group’s incredible Chicago eateries.

Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine January 2021 Special Commemorative Edition
VIE Magazine September 2020 Wanderlust Issue, Fancy Camps, The Idea Boutique
VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail