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Major makeover for Mokena bowling alley

New tappers placed off bar top arehelp open up space Morgan's Thunder Bowl which is being renamed The Alley Grill

New tappers placed off the bar top area help open up the space at Morgan's and Thunder Bowl, which is being renamed The Alley Grill and Tap House in Mokena, Illinois, Thursday, April 25, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 28, 2013 2:05PM



After 14 years in business, Morgan’s Thunder Bowl in Mokena needed a face-lift.

It got a big one with sweeping changes, and a new name for the bar and dining portion, now called The Alley Grill and Taphouse.

A grand opening May 8 is to feature a totally revamped dining and bar area, a retooled menu with an emphasis on fresh, diverse items, and a soon-to-be-redecorated 24-lane bowling area.

Craig Engberg, of Homer Glen, and his brother, Paul, are the new/old owners of the business, 18700 Old LaGrange Road. They were partners from the get-go in 1999 with Bob Stump, who has decided to leave the restaurant business.

They had been talking about remodeling the place for about two years, and Stump’s decision to opt for an amicable exit opened the door to making some changes, Engberg said Thursday morning while sitting at the restaurant’s meandering bar.

“Our original core was family entertainment and we want to get back to that, an entertainment complex with the bowling, the family restaurant, the banquets, just the whole thing. Over the years, you get complacent. The younger crowd came in with the leagues. We lost the family feeling,” Craig Engberg, 43, said.

The six Brunswick pool tables have been refinished and remain. That room is one of three that can be rented out for banquets and private parties.

Walls have been removed and added. A stage used for bands is gone. In that space is a dining area.

“I’m still waiting on some of my tables. That’s how new this all is. I’m still waiting on a long booth that’s shipping today out of Atlanta, they tell me,” Engberg said.

There will be 30 craft beers to choose from, and plenty of new items on the menu that were to be unveiled Friday during the soft opening.

“We had 18 taps before. With 30 we can offer a nice variety of craft beers, amber ale to IPAs (India pale ales) to stouts to fruitier beers,” Engberg said.

The restaurant business is one of the toughest, and change is sometimes needed to keep regulars coming back and to attract new customers.

“That’s one of the main reasons we did this. It was starting to show its age at 14 years. And with all the new restaurants opening up around us — and those closing — we felt we needed to rebrand. We wanted it to be ‘Come check out the new place’ instead of ‘Oh, it’s just remodeled,’ ” Engberg said.

Engberg built the new oak bar that is stained “burnt cherry,” he said.

The restaurant hired a new head chef, Joe Rizza, of Oak Forest, who formerly worked at restaurants in Oak Brook and Westmont.

“Everything is done in-house. There will be more entrees. It’s been a heck of a couple weeks,” Rizza said. Being a chef “is not all the glam you see on TV,” but he’s thrilled with the new challenges.

“Instead of pub grub and finger food, we’ll have a lot of pastas, a shrimp scampi with Creole cream sauce, pasta with an option of blackened chicken or shrimp. There’s nothing wrong with pub grub, and our sandwiches will be the best product I can give them,” Rizza said.

Daily specials will be available. The kitchen will be open until 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, midnight Fridays and Saturdays, and 10 p.m. Sundays.

In keeping with the new family focus, mothers can bowl free on May 11 and May 12, Mother’s Day weekend. Kids 14 and under can bowl two free games daily until 6 p.m. this summer by getting vouchers from visiting kidsbowlfree.com, Engberg said.

Bowlers soon will see new carpeting, freshly painted walls and remodeled bathrooms.

“Just changing the carpet will take three days,” Engberg said.

Manager Diane Lauzze, of Mokena, who has worked at Morgan’s for 11 years, is thrilled with the changes.

“It’s more than putting on new lipstick,” she said.



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