October 3, 2023

Holy Mole!

Loco Boys Brewing Company brings Cali- and Mexican-inspired dishes to Traverse City
By Craig Manning | March 11, 2023

Six years: That’s how long it took for Loco Boys Brewing Company, Traverse City’s newest craft brewery and restaurant, to evolve from the germ of an idea into a full-fledged business. As of February 5, though, this new establishment is officially up and running, slinging from-scratch Mexican food and unique beers from its space in the old Impres Salon building near Slabtown.

Loco Boys is the brainchild of Mike Mohrhardt, a born-and-raised Traverse Citian who hit the road and moved to Mexico shortly after completing a bachelor of arts in business marketing from Michigan State University. Drawn south of the border by his grandmother’s Mexican heritage, Mohrhardt wanted a chance to fully immerse himself in Mexico’s culture. He ultimately ended up in Los Angeles, where he fell in love with craft beer.

“June 2017 is when I first put the idea together in my head for [Loco Boys] as a business,” Mohrhardt says. “I was living out in California at the time, and was involved in the entertainment industry and looking to shift gears. My wife and I loved visiting breweries up and down the coast of California, and I started thinking of starting my own.”

A Long and Winding Road

While Mohrhardt hadn’t called Traverse City home in the better part of two decades, he had a few aces up his sleeve in the form of his family members. “My dad was involved in Timber Lanes from its inception, into it becoming Lucky Jack’s,” Mohrhardt says. “And then my brother, Chris Mohrhardt, was involved with Incredible Mo’s and Pangea’s Pizza. So I started having conversations back and forth with them about this idea, and we put a business plan together and started the journey.”

That journey ended up being a lengthy one. Step one was moving from California back to northern Michigan, which Mohrhardt and his wife did in late 2017. Step two was finding an appropriate space for a brewery, which was easier said than done in the midst of Traverse City’s economic boom, which was followed by the pandemic, which stalled years of growth in the world of Michigan craft beer.

Loco Boys Brewing eventually found its home in the former Impres Salon building at 901 West Front Street in Traverse City. Two years, a big renovation, some struggles with liquor licensing, and a few other hurdles later, the 3,800-square-foot brewery opened its doors.

Perhaps above all else, Loco Boys Brewing is a love letter to Mohrhardt’s heritage. The name, he says, is both a play on the phrase “local boys” and a tribute to his Mexican grandmother, who appears in the form of a big mural on the brewery wall. Other elements of the business, from a tap list of original beers heavily influenced by Mexican and California brewing styles to a scratch kitchen that focuses on authentic Mexican cuisine, also pay homage to the Mohrhardts’ heritage and to the years that Mike spent living in Mexico and Southern California.

Assembling the Crew

While the family is pulling in a lot of their past to make Loco Boys what it is, Mohrhardt is quick to note that the brewery’s X-factor is really its collaborative nature.

To lead the establishment’s beer and food programs, Mohrhardt tapped Andy Largent and Bryon “Fig” Figueroa, two well-known and well-seasoned northern vets in their respective fields.

Largent comes to Loco Boys off a lengthy stint as head brewer at The Filling Station, and before that, from brewing and distilling jobs at Stormcloud Brewing Company, Grand Traverse Distillery, Right Brain Brewery, and North Peak Brewing Company.

Figueroa, meanwhile, was the owner and chef at Lake Leelanau’s beloved Fig’s Breakfast & Lunch until that establishment closed its doors in September 2019. For the past few years, he’s served as head chef at Northport Pub & Grille, which opened in summer 2021.

Scoring both of those key team people for his crew, Mohrhardt says, was crucial for setting Loco Boys on the path toward success.

In Largent—who is not just an employee, but also a co-owner in the business—Mohrhardt was looking for a brewer who could capably make great beer in any style. Largent’s background, which ranges from the experimental bent of Right Brain to the Belgian-style expertise of Stormcloud, made him a no-brainer choice.

In Figueroa, meanwhile, Mohrhardt saw a chef who could bring his vision of a Mexican-centric menu to life with authenticity and flare.

“When Bryon and I met for the first time, the first thing I said to him was, ‘Hey Bryon, how’s your mole game?’” Mohrhardt says with a laugh. (Pronounced MOE-lay, mole is a term used in Mexican cuisine to describe a type of sauce.)

Mole appears twice on the current Loco Boys menu—first in an appetizer called Mole Bravas, which tops crispy potatoes with a mole poblano sauce; and second in the restaurant’s flagship entrée, Enchiladas de Mole Poblano, described as “pulled chicken in corn tortillas, scratch mole poblano, with steamed rice and refried beans.”

“That’s one of the dishes that I’m most proud of,” Mohrhardt says of the enchiladas. “Mole is tough, because there are so many different variations of it. If you’re from the Oaxaca region in Mexico, I think there are seven different moles of Oaxaca, and every other region of Mexico has their own take on mole, too. It’s always very ingredient-driven. There’s anywhere from 25-30 ingredients that go into it. So it’s a pretty intricate dish, and it takes a bit of time to develop that right. We went through a lot of tests to recreate the mole I love, and Bryon just really nailed it.”

While mole is one specialty that Mohrhardt expects locals will be trying for the first time at Loco Boys, there are also a few more familiar options on the menu. One example? A La Hora Que Sea (translated roughly to “any time at all”), a breakfast burrito that Fig’s fans will recognize from Figueroa’s old Leelanau restaurant.

Golden Stouts and Mexican Lagers

A similar approach of balancing Mohrhardt’s vision with the ideas of his collaborators also drives the Loco Boys beer program. On that side, Mohrhardt once again had a few checklist items he knew were must-haves for the menu. Case in point is Dirty Over the Shoulder, a golden milk stout that boasts all the rich, sweet, creamy, and coffee-tinged flavors of a stout beer, but that pours with a golden hue more associated with IPAs or amber ales.

“That was a type of beer I tried and really liked in my time in California, and I remember asking Andy if it was something we could brew here,” Mohrhardt says of the golden stout. “And it’s quickly become the beer on the menu that everyone has to try. My uncle, who is a Miller Lite drinker, came in, and I said, ‘Ok, you’ve gotta try this.’ He took one sip of it, his eyes lit up, and he said, ‘I’d probably order that.’”

For the most part, though, Largent says he’s had free rein to design a well-rounded beer menu that ranges from Mexican-inspired recipes (a Mexican lager, a habanero chocolate porter) to familiar staples (a variety of IPAs, an English brown ale). For his part, the brewer is excited about exploring the Mexican influence a bit more in the future—ideally, in tandem with Figueroa.

“Bryon and I have talked about doing something with the mole he’s been making and putting it in a beer,” Largent says. “We’re definitely going to do some collaborative projects where we get some of the stuff from the kitchen into the beer.”

After a pause, Largent laughs and adds: “If we have time. We’ve been extremely busy these first few weeks. But that’s a good thing.”

Find Loco Boys Brewing Company at 901 W Front St. in Traverse City. (231) 252-2378, locoboysbrewing.com

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