The restaurant at Junction City offers casual and elegant dining experiences unlike any other in central Illinois.
From the friendly welcome at the door to the soft lighting and flavorful profiles of southern-cooked meals, the owners of Magnolia’s on Prospect know that it’s the little things that make a difference—and keep guests coming back for more. Once inside, guests are graciously guided to their table or led to the bar to sample a signature drink. Comfortable seating coupled with an atmosphere encouraging friends, families and business associates to mingle over a cocktail or catch up while enjoying a topof- the-line steak, seafood or Modern American-influenced entree combine to create lagniappe—that little something extra.
All About Experience
Kelly Mohr, president of Magnolia’s on Prospect, along with her son and daughter-in-law, Dustin and Ashley Allen, and daughter, Kendra, helped bring about the evolution of the restaurant as it transitioned from The Butcher Block Steakhouse, a meat and deli shop, to the current southern-style establishment featuring both casual and formal dining.
“We’ve been in this space for four years,” says Kelly. “Dustin took ownership of the restaurant in December, and we decided to change the name to Magnolia’s on Prospect. Magnolia’s officially opened on March 1st of this year.”
But the name change reflects more than new ownership. It mirrors the one-of-a-kind experience guests share as they chat over a lighter fare of Sicilian portobello and a glass of wine or indulge in the southern decadence of shrimp scampi with linguini or bourbon mussels with trottole. Dustin, who grew up in the south and serves as chef and general manager, combines southern hospitality with the unique and memorable flavor typical of dishes found in the fertile Mississippi River Delta, New Orleans and the low-country areas of the Carolinas.
Growing up, Dustin says, food was his “creative outlet, and I just somehow had the knack and the palate to make food taste good.” Over a decade, he traveled across the country, but found himself drawn to the various flavors of southern regions, which he says birthed “my love of quality meals and seafood, and my passion for fresh ingredients.” His desire is to “take simple dishes and give them a robust, southern-style twist.”
“He can taste a dish and tell you what ingredients are in it,” says Kelly. “He has a very intuitive instinct for flavor.”
Dustin says the new name gives guests a more modern experience and “really allows my vision for the restaurant to come alive. It allows us to move away from the meat and deli atmosphere and focus more on the southern culture of food.”
And the restaurant takes its specialty seriously. All seafood comes straight from the Gulf of Mexico. “I believe in using pure food,” says Dustin, adding that cooking with fresh ingredients and fresh meat and seafood, hand-cut on the premises, allows him and his staff to create the entire menu in-house. “With this philosophy, we are a true throwback to a time gone by when all of life was created with the utmost quality in mind. Everything is made specifically for each guest.”
“Changing our name really allowed us to have more freedom,” adds Kelly. “With the new menu, people don’t view you just as a steakhouse. Dustin now has more options and more leeway with the menu.”
Indeed, from the complex flavors of southern dishes to the 24 varieties of bourbon at the bourbon bar, Magnolia’s is pushing the boundaries. “I want to introduce the bourbon experience to people who may have never tried it,” says Dustin, adding: “Just like no one does food the way we do, no one does bourbon the way we do.”
Rich, southern taste combined with excellent service work together to create an unforgettable dining atmosphere guests will want to experience again and again. “Our table turns are two hours, so guests are welcome to stay and enjoy an unhurried, unpretentious, elegant, relaxed and memorable dining experience,” says Dustin. “It’s all about the experience.”
Setting the Standard
Creating a memorable meal means going above and beyond to produce an intimate getaway that combines experience with quality. For Dustin, quality means variety. “Our bourbon bar features an ever-growing wine list you can’t find anywhere else. We’re big on things that are unique to the individual—little things that enhance the overall quality of a meal for all types of guests.”
And nothing raises overall quality like hosting special occasions. The restaurant offers bourbon tasting dinners for groups of friends, families and business associates. “Our guests can experience four varieties of bourbon, including single-barrel, small-batch, rye and wheat. Wine & hors d’oeuvres parties are another of Magnolia’s most popular events. The restaurant is also open for birthday celebrations, bridal and baby showers, club meetings and other celebrations.
Monday through Friday, the restaurant hosts business dinners and travelers. On Friday and Saturday evenings, 90 percent of business comes from the local crowd. Out-of-town guests compare Magnolia’s to restaurants in Chicago, which, Dustin says, “is one of our strong suits.”
“We want to make an impression from the moment our guests arrive until the time they leave,” says Kelly. “Our atmosphere is laidback and quiet. Our philosophy is to allow our guests to come in, let time fly by and forget about everything else in life. We want them to feel pampered the whole time they’re here.”
Recipe for Success
For some of the family, success in the restaurant business dates back to childhood. Growing up, Dustin and Kendra spent hours hard at work in their grandparents’ restaurant, The Wagon Wheel, in the small town of Perry, Illinois, near Griggsville. “We helped our grandparents out every summer,” says Kendra. “When Dustin was 14 years old, I remember he would catch crab and bring them back to the house to cook. We grew up around food, and the passion really stuck with us.”
“Food was an integral part of our family,” adds Dustin, “and everyone was involved in the cooking. I cooked at home from a very young age. I tried school a couple times, but I didn’t like working inside a box. I liked experimenting on my own.”
But the true recipe for success has always been family first. “We work as a team,” says Kelly, adding that they don’t always agree, but “we always compromise, working toward the same goal.”
“When you’re working with family, there’s more trust,” adds Kendra, “and it really improves the working experience.” She is the restaurant’s office manager, handling office operations and directing phone calls, while Kelly is in charge of marketing and finance. Dustin’s wife, Ashley, bartends in the evenings, and Kelly’s ten-year-old grandson, Carson, helps bus tables.
Although the family each has their own strengths, they always count on each other for advice, relying on one another to anchor them through the business of the day. “We’ve found each of our own strong suits, but there’s never an aspect of the business that everyone doesn’t participate in,” says Kelly. “We can have our differences of opinion regarding the way things need to be done, but at the end of the day, we are family, and we all gravitate toward what’s best for each other and the restaurant.”
Not that working with family doesn’t add a few surprises to the day. When asked for an example of an interesting dynamic combining work and family life, Kendra pointed to Ashley’s little girl as she ran around a table. “This,” she said, laughing. “There’s never a dull moment when you work with your family. When things come up, you just have to be flexible.”
“It’s a blessing that our work allows us to keep such a close family connection,” Kelly says. “I see my grandkids everyday. I have a great
relationship with my daughter and son-in-law. It can be a little unpredictable at times, but when we’re all pulling our loads and doing our jobs it makes our efforts pay off faster. It’s always family first. And really, our success is not worth anything without that standard.”
For Kelly, the future is all about legacy and family. “We’d like to expand, but that takes a secure foundation first. For our guests, we want to become a go-to destination. Family-wise, I want to make certain we have a strong business so my grandchildren can have that legacy. Right now, we’ve been ever-evolving and growing, and Magnolia’s has arrived. I think we’ve truly found our path.” iBi