With his formula of “good people and good food,” Mark Bohanan has brought what was once just his dream to fruition at Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood. And his philanthropic efforts demonstrate his dedication to sharing the wealth.
By: Kelly Hamilton
With each bite, a memory is created. Soft color palettes, rich woods and deep wine glasses abound among broad windows that look out to the world, allowing for a view from the cocoon of delectable smells that linger. Excruciating detail is taken with the smallest of elements. Only the most discerning eye and pallet are capable of creating a utopia for the senses such as this.
Aug. 15 marked the 10-year anniversary of Mark Bohanan’s professional pride and joy: Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood. How could such refinement and perfection be the product of a country boy from Jourdanton?
“God-given talent to cook,” Bohanan says. “I completely acknowledge that my ability to cook is a gift and a talent not to be taken lightly, and one for which I am extremely grateful.”
The class of ‘84 Aggie grew up simple. Life revolved around good people and good food. With an Italian heritage, it was not surprising to hear that Bohanan grew up in the kitchen alongside his mother and grandmother, learning the basics of sauces, slow-cooking meats and how to accent food rather than overwhelm it.
Early on, he was taught that a quality product renders a quality meal. Admittedly, one of his biggest regrets food-wise is that he did not master his grandmother’s piecrust before her passing.
The A&M business major knew in his bones that food was his destiny, and even in college, he would cook for his roommates and experiment with perfecting seasonings on meats and traditional Italian dishes.
The years between college and opening the doors of the restaurant were centered on food and learning the business of management. “If you know in your bones what your dream is, you pay attention along the way and file away information.”
Bohanan is practical from a business perspective. He readily acknowledges that you will never have enough friends to keep the doors to a dream open, and no matter how much money you have saved, it’s never enough. He wasn’t worried about the cooking aspect; it was the business component that concerned him, given that management of restaurants and lack of preparation are typically what enable failure.
The harsh reality is that approximately one quarter of new restaurants close their doors or change ownership inside of their first year of business. He recognized that bringing his dream to fruition would demand an immense investment of time and energy in addition to the knowledge and funds required.
In doing most everything on his own, Bohanan was on a limited budget and is still reminded monthly to be thankful for his sole ownership. “Hard work, following the dream and seeing it through to fruition are what matter most.”
Bohanan humbly and gratefully acknowledges the concessions his wife, Marie, has made to support his dream, as well as a seasoned group of personal friends who have guided him along the way to making the restaurant and downstairs addition come to life.
Tom Dobson, chairman of the board for Whataburger Inc.; Roy Wheeler, independent businessman; and Dick Evans, chairman of the board for Frost Bank, have provided Bohanan with invaluable business advice and mentorship, for which he is forever grateful.
Those surrounding him witnessed his transformation into a driven and headstrong businessman who was not only responsible for his well-being, but the well-being of his employees.
From the moment Bohanan opened his namesake establishment, his goal has remained steadfast in longevity of employees and their being able to better their own families. He strives as an employer for his employees to see the job as a career and readily notes that failure is not an option for himself or his employees.
Since before the restaurant opened, Bohanan has stressed to his employees that the No. 1 authority to which they answer is God and the customer. He is focused on keeping his 72 employees happy about coming to work each day, and he says he tries to do as much as he can for the benefit of the employees.
Bohanan openly admits that his restaurant is not a place for just anyone to be employed. “Perfection is expected and is, in turn, rewarded.” Bohanan states that his right hand is Head Chef Heather Nanez, and that he has a handful of employees who have been with him a majority of the restaurant’s 10 years.
Employees Scott Becker, general manager; Carlos Faz, associate GM/bar manager; Jenny Rabb, director of catering; and Staci Barta, director of business operations, compose the small group Bohanan regards as family.
“We work tirelessly to be the best in our field, and that is because we have 72 employees who buy into the fact that we are here for one reason, and that is to be the best for our guests,” Bohanan says. “We are not a chain. All we have is reputation and the drive to be the best every day. The people we hire are likeminded, and that affords us the opportunity to strive daily to be the best because we all believe in it.”
Even as the years go by, Bohanan’s priority is good people and good food.
The pride he takes in how he manages the restaurant was publicly acknowledged in the most prestigious manner through recognition in December 2007 from the esteemed Texas Monthly magazine. Bohanan’s restaurant received the coveted No. 2 ranking for Best Texas Steakhouses.
Even though the restaurant received and maintained a AAA Four Diamond rating after its first year of business, and consequently holds that rating and numerous others today, it was the Texas Monthly nod that took Bohanan to his knees.
“I opened the magazine and saw that they had given us the No. 2 rank, and I think I dropped the magazine. I would’ve never in my wildest dreams imagined such a blessing. I was as proud for the staff as I was for myself. It validated our hard work, business acumen and good food.”
Through the sweat and tears of his labor and many prayers later, Bohanan’s dream is celebrating its 10th anniversary and a successful collaboration with the HeartGift Foundation. Through hard work and the collaborative efforts of a lot of good people, Bohanan created the San Antonio Cocktail Conference. From the conference’s first-year proceeds, he was able to give back to Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital in the amount of $60,000.
“I was so thankful that for our first conference, we were well-received, and the community came out to support and give back to benefit children who need heart surgery. The inaugural San Antonio Cocktail Conference was a bigger success than any of us could have imagined.
“This donation simply would not have been possible without the countless number of supporters, partners, presenters and attendees that made the conference a reality. We are thrilled to provide such a significant contribution to HeartGift on behalf of the conference, knowing that it will save the lives of two children in need.”
Every child chosen by HeartGift San Antonio receives state-of-the-art pediatric surgery free of charge from Drs. John Calhoon and Adil Husain and their medical staff at Santa Rosa.
“HeartGift gives our community the opportunity to personally affect the life of a child who can’t get the specialized medical care they need in their home country,” says Executive Director Cathy Siegel. “Our patients come from all over the world, but I am proud to say they are taken care of right here in San Antonio. Our supporters’ dollars go directly to helping these children, and our volunteers can directly participate in the child’s care.”
Bohanan wanted an interactive, socially appealing way to draw people in on behalf of his selected charity. With the guidance of Sasha Petraske and modeled after the Manhattan Cocktail Classic and New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail, the San Antonio Cocktail Conference was born.
The purpose of the conference was to educate, inform and provide instruction on the craft of making and enjoying pre-Prohibition-style cocktails. Many people saw that through a fun event like traditional drink making, a bigger purpose was served. The conference is an annually projected event for the third weekend in January.
The bottom line for Bohanan is taking care of children in need, and through the proceeds generated from the conference, he is able to do just that.
The ultimate goal of associating with a charity was to create exposure and validation for the charity and its overall mission and purpose. The people who know Bohanan is associated with HeartGift can automatically understand the integrity behind the charity based on the standard to which he holds himself and his business.
With one child of his own, he and his wife strive to build the business not only into something they can be proud of, but in the hopes of creating a legacy for their young daughter and turning it over to her one day.
Bohanan is a prime example of how dedication to a dream, making the right decisions and keeping your nose to the grindstone can and will ultimately reap reward.
For more information, visit www.bohanans.com or call 210-472-2600.