SHERIDAN — Before Travis Sorenson found his place in the restaurant business, the restaurant business found him.
At age 15, a sister of one of Sorenson’s friends offered him a job working as a hired hand for a Holiday Inn banquet service in California.
After high school graduation, Sorenson moved into a dishwashing job for a month at a sushi restaurant. The chef recognized his quick and efficient work ethic, as well as his disdain for the position, and asked him to move to the food preparation line.
“They could just tell my speed was going to be fast and efficient,” Sorenson said. “I took that job, said, ‘Yeah, that’s fine. Anything’s better than dishes.’”
Two significant things happened for Sorenson during his time at the sushi restaurant — he met his future wife, Heather, and realized his desire to make cooking a lifetime career.
The owners of the restaurant — both graduates of the culinary institutes in New York City — encouraged Sorenson to pursue a career as a chef.
“That was the intro to cooking,” Sorenson said. “Right after I worked there is when I realized I am going to do this forever.”
Sorenson took a risk. He admired a famous American chef, Thomas Keller, and made a decision that if he couldn’t work his way into an apprenticeship with Keller, he would go to culinary school.
After a week of knocking on the door of Keller’s kitchen and one night of staging — a term for a quick test to see how a chef works in the kitchen — Keller hired Sorenson. It only took a year for Sorenson to work his way from his starting position to just below managerial status.
“He said in one of his all-staff meetings, ‘If you can work through my kitchen in a year — that’s hard to do — but if you can do it then you should leave to a new restaurant because you’ve learned quite a bit in a short amount of time,’” Sorenson said.
Sorenson took Keller’s advice and worked in multiple Michelin-star kitchens throughout the Northern California area. On a whim, he moved to San Luis Obispo and struggled to find a job that fit exactly what he wanted out of a kitchen.
It was there he reunited with Heather, and the couple became inseparable. Heather Sorenson (née Meese) was raised in Sheridan and served as the connecting link between Sorenson’s dream of running his own kitchen and the perfect location to live out that dream.
When the Sorenson family, which now includes 4-year-old Cash and 2-year-old Piper, moved to Sheridan, Travis Sorenson thought he’d reached his potential as a chef and moved away from the business for a short time.
“Not to be cocky, but he was better than (a lot of chefs there),” Heather Sorenson said.
“I had worked very hard to get that status and all the knowledge I had tried really hard to get,” Travis Sorenson added. “I soaked up as much as I could from people.”
A stint as a roughneck on an oil rig ended in a layoff; working as a landscaper for Inner Tree in Sheridan just reassured his passion for culinary work, and he eventually landed in The Brinton Bistro kitchen. He revamped brunch at the Bistro and found enough rhythm to gain a following for lunches and dinners, too.
A fellow Californian, Bruce Moriarty, gave Sorenson his business card during an event at The Brinton and told him to call without any context to what he wanted. Moriarty, uninterested in financing a business venture known to have a high failing rate, later passed Sorenson’s information to investor and local business owner, Greg Von Krosigk.
Von Krosigk, who co-owns The Foundry, was looking for the perfect restaurant to put in the building.
“(A group of eight investors) talked with many interested people, both local and from out of town, but the two-search ended when we sat down with the Sorensons,” Von Krosigk said. “They had proved themselves capable of providing very high-quality food and an enjoyable dining experience when they operated at The Brinton.”
Travis Sorenson’s training with professional chefs and his wife’s local ties pushed the investors further into the decision to welcome the Sorensons into the building.
“We believed they would be a good fit for what the building owners hoped from the space,” Von Krosigk said. Alas, Birch was born, and the Sorensons took no time in designing the building to their specifications.
The restaurant, which opened last month, used local designers to create wind screens, tables and a bar serving area.
The atmosphere welcomes collaboration among patrons with semi-communal seating, and the Sorensons anticipate outdoor seating and lunch hours in July.
Travis Sorenson achieved the dream of running his own restaurant, but he can’t stop dreaming. He hopes to someday expand the business in like-minded locations in the Mountain West. For now, he’ll enjoy soaking in time with his family when he’s not in the kitchen crafting new courses for the Sheridan community.