Local entrepreneur Andrew Driscoll is getting creative and taking risks in trying to enliven Peoria’s Downtown
When it came to finding a tenant for the space that housed his former Broadway Lounge entertainment and restaurant venue for nearly a decade, Andrew Driscoll didn’t take the regular real estate marketing approach.
After months of limited interest, Driscoll came up with a creative solution to his problem: He launched a contest.
“I felt whatever went in there needed to be a big concept,” said Driscoll, 49, who grew up in Germantown Hills and Peoria.
Named Peoria Pitch, the contest asked entrepreneurs to pitch their business ideas for the space in the MAXAM Building, 316 SW Washington St. in Downtown Peoria. It’s a large space — 5,000 square feet of dining space with seating for 130 in addition to a 2,000-square-foot kitchen.
‘I wanted an entrepreneur who with their passion could contribute to Downtown Peoria’
The winning concept would be offered a 3 1/2-year lease agreement, which includes added support and an incentive of the first six months rent-free.
The four-week contest drew 38 entries, with seven making it to the final round.
“I was blown away by the creativity and the interest of the applicants. The surprise I had was how many entries came from outside of Peoria. We had entries from the Quad-Cities, Rockford, Springfield and Bloomington-Normal,” Driscoll said. “I wanted an entrepreneur who with their passion could contribute to Downtown Peoria.”
And the winner is …
Irfan Mohammed had imagined having his own restaurant for years. It was 2:30 in the morning when he first learned about the Peoria Pitch contest and started immediately filling out the application.
“I’d been sitting with this idea about an authentic Indian restaurant for a few years,” said Mohammed, chief executive officer of Dgtal World LLC, a software development company.
On that early morning, Mohammed, 38, woke his wife, Shagufta “Muskan” Shaikh, 36, who serves as chief financial officer at Dgtal, and together they came up with the name of the restaurant: Bollywood Bites Bistro & Events Center.
“Bollywood is a growing scene and as a cinema has a rich tradition. I think most people are very accepting to try new cultures,” said Mohammed, who immigrated to Peoria in 2007.
He thinks it will be a big draw to Downtown Peoria, complimenting the eating options already available.
“It’s about getting visitors from outside to see what Peoria is all about,” Mohammed said. “It really is a big city with a small-town feel.”
The concept and passion shared by Mohammed and Shaikh is what convinced Driscoll.
“I was blown away,” he said.
Bollywood Bites Bistro now gets a six months’ rent-free head start, which started Aug. 1, a graduated gross lease and $50,000 in capital for purchasing equipment, furniture and other needs.
The restaurant’s menu is extensive, offering more than 60 items, including appetizers, chaat (savory snacks), biryani (rice and meat) dishes, fusion items such as pizza on naan bread, vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries, grilled and tandoor items such as kababs, sides and desserts. Dishes come hot, spicy or mild.
The recipes incorporate a blend of authentic Indian dried spices including garam masala — pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cumin, coriander, tej patta — in addition to fennel, ginger, garlic and turmeric.
Chutneys, a relish made with vegetables, herbs or fruit, also are a common condiment found on the menu. They can be sweet and sour or spicy and sour. They tend to be made fresh and the ingredients are preserved with an acid, either citrus or vinegar, which adds heat and zing.
Alcohol will not be served. Instead, a variety of mocktails and juice blends will be on the menu.
“I want everybody to come here, from kids to families to adults,” Mohammed said.
Come for the food, stay for the show
The Bollywood name is a combination of Hollywood and Mumbai (formerly Bombay), where the Indian film industry is based.
But entertainment offered at the restaurant won’t solely be Bollywood-focused, Mohammed said. There could be a paint night, belly dancing, henna painting, jazz or blues nights, even country music and comedians.
Mohammed also hopes to partner with the Peoria Riverfront Museum and its theater to promote a Bollywood cinema event. Matt Daughenbaugh, marketing director for the museum, said discussions are ongoing with a potential collaboration with the Giant Screen Theater.
J.D. Dalfonso, president and CEO of the Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Bollywood will be filling a space in proximity to the Civic Center and the RiverFront, which are key drivers for restaurants.
“It’s a nice, diverse approach to a culinary experience and adds to the scope of options when enjoying time Downtown,” he said. “I just have so much admiration for people who take risks to add excitement and opportunities for visitors to Downtown. Will it ‘Play in Peoria?’ I hope this does, for sure.”
The stage calls
Bollywood Bites Bistro & Events Center’s takeover of the former Broadway Lounge space is closely tied to the journey of its founder, Driscoll. During his senior year at Peoria High School, Driscoll played the role of Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Eastlight Theatre, a pivotal experience that sparked his passion for acting and singing.
A scholarship granted him the opportunity to study at the American Musical & Dramatic Academy in New York City, where he graduated and entered the professional world at just 19. Driscoll originated principal roles off-Broadway and made his Broadway debut in Miss Saigon at the age of 21.
Afterward, he pursued a diverse career, recording solo albums and performing in regional theaters. Following the events of 9/11, Driscoll returned to Peoria to be closer to family and established the Apollo Professional Theatre. Later, he purchased The Waterhouse, transforming it into the Peoria Cabaret Theatre (PCT) and producing a variety of stage shows, improv comedies and musical revues.
In 2005, he launched Central Illinois Dueling Pianos, which has hosted over 500 shows. Driscoll’s businesses moved to the MAXAM Building, where he manages ADJD Management LLC.
Additionally, he’s producing an original solo show starring Greg Batton called Life. In Boxes, which debuts at the Illinois Center College Performing Arts Center on Nov. 4.
Driscoll’s journey from Broadway to Peoria reflects his enduring commitment to the arts and entertainment industry, culminating in his current role and involvement with Peoria Pitch.
The next performance
Driscoll hopes to promote round two of Peoria Pitch toward the end of the year. He’s working to find at least two other properties.
“Part of the struggle is convincing other property owners to engage in this. They’re being asked to put a little skin in the game,” Driscoll said.
It’s all about introducing new businesses to Downtown to help make Peoria a destination spot for tourists and locals alike.
“The goal of this is not to have a successful business move in and put somebody else out of business,” said Driscoll. “We need everyone who’s here now to continue to succeed and grow.”
Driscoll returns to stage
For the first time in nearly 20 years, Andrew Driscoll will take the stage on Dec. 23 for the 25th anniversary reunion performance of What I Am.
Released on Conundrum Records in December 1998, What I Am is the first of Driscoll’s three self-produced solo recordings and features 17 songs from various theater performances and songwriters.
Driscoll’s performance will take place at The Waterhouse at the MAXAM Building,
316 SW Washington St., Peoria. For ticket information and performance times, visit WaterhousePeoria.com.