When Mari Pawletko-Mund was a teenager, she dreamed of being a chef. She even studied food and nutrition when she attended Illinois State University. But her career path eventually took her first into insurance, then into real estate supervision and opening her own interior design business in Carmel.
Pawletko-Mund turned 65 in September, but instead of retiring, she decided to finally put her food degree to good use and pursue her culinary dreams.
And this dream is called the Kokomo Alehouse.
The restaurant opened on Pawletko-Mund’s birthday last year, serving unique takes on classic bar fare, such as wings, beer cheese pretzel bites and five kinds of specialty pizzas. .
The centerpiece of the menu is the nine burgers, all of which are named after iconic places and landmarks in Kokomo. The Haynes burger is made with peanut butter and jelly sauce, bacon and American cheese. The City of Firsts burger comes with a black bean and chipotle patty, loaded lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and onions.
But the signature dish comes straight from Pawletko-Mund. These are the steak tacos made from his secret beef brisket recipe. None of the chefs, cooks or staff know how to prepare it. Only Pawletko-Mund, who regularly come to prepare their unique beef.
“I will never be able to resist doing this breast now,” she said with a laugh. “It’s like a full-time job. People come here just for that. Anyone can come in and figure out how to make our burgers, but brisket is a whole other animal.”
The menu includes some interesting bar food, but in a way the restaurant itself is a unique take on the bar concept. And it was a deliberate choice by Pawletko-Mund.
She first became involved in establishing 1134 Home Ave. when it was Mulligan’s Sports Pub after marrying one of his co-owners three years ago.
Pawletko-Mund said at the time that the pub had become more of a club that drew rowdy crowds interested in drinking and dancing, but that business model was not working. The couple ended up buying out the co-owners, and that’s when Pawletko-Mund took control of the establishment.
From the start, she says, the idea was to reinvent the bar as a quiet, relaxing space that appealed to people from all walks of life — not just younger crowds looking to party.
This included closing the restaurant at 11 p.m. on weekdays instead of 3 a.m., like at Mulligan’s. Pawletko-Mund also revamped the menu of dishes using his culinary experience to focus on unique, made-from-scratch tastes, and added more craft beers and premium cocktails.
“Our food doesn’t come from the Sysco truck anymore,” she said. “We cut our pepperoni and cut our own chicken and cook, cook, cook.”
One of Pawletko-Mund’s biggest additions to the tavern hosts monthly craft activities for guests, including making holiday and spring wreaths, painting champagne glasses, or planting pots and holding of wine and canvas style events. She said they have all been well attended and she hopes to start hosting these kinds of events more often.
All of this ties in with one of Pawletko-Mund’s main goals when opening the restaurant: to create a safe and comfortable space where women can come alone, with a group of friends or with their mothers.
“I wanted it to be a place where women could come in, sit at the bar and not be disturbed and feel very comfortable as a woman,” she said. “That’s what we have here. We definitely have that kind of environment where you can walk in on your own and not feel intimidated or uncomfortable and feel like part of the family.”
This same philosophy applies to servers. Pawletko-Mund said she wants to have an establishment where waitresses don’t feel harassed or threatened and feel good about themselves.
“I want to make sure these women feel good about themselves and know they’re doing a good job and being respected,” she said. “As 20-year-olds, I want them to know that I’m like a mother, and if they have personal issues, I want to help them. They know that.”
But that doesn’t mean everyone won’t have a great time. Pawletko-Mund said with darts, pool tables and a shuffleboard table, there’s plenty to do for people hanging out after work and grabbing a few drinks.
There’s also a room full of games like Cards Against Humanity or Five Second Rule for those looking for a relaxing game night. Pawletko-Mund said groups have already started using the large round table in the back to play competitive card fighting games like Warhammer. When the building housed Mulligan’s, this space was used for beer pong.
A big draw to the restaurant has also been the free live music scheduled every Friday night, where a variety of players take the stage. Pawletko-Mund said the shows provided a pleasant atmosphere for people dining or just coming in to listen. When summer rolls around, these shows will be held on their back patio, which will have outdoor seating, a cornhole, and other activities.
Pawletko-Mund said that after less than a year of operation, all the changes, new activities and new foods are part of his strategy to find out what customers like and dislike to create a place that fits well into the Kokomo community. And so far, she’s off to a good start.
“You want something to be different,” she said. “I always try to find something different. I hope that in the future we will get better and better.”