Motor Cycle Center rumbles ahead under new ownership

‘COVID saved the power sports industry,’ says former owner staying on as mentor

To a motorcycle enthusiast it’s like a field of dreams on asphalt.

Greg and Geoff Mellinger brought a motorcycle repair business out of their parents’ garage and turned it into one of the country’s premier European motorcycle specialist stores.

After more than 40 years, another enthusiast owner, Johnny Scheff, is taking it to the next level.

The owner of Motoworks Chicago, Scheff purchased Motor Cycle Center, Inc., at 443 E. St. Charles Road in Villa Park last October.

“I’m just thrilled that my business we created from scratch will continue on to its next chapter,” said Geoff Mellinger, 66, who will remain in a front-of-the-house role he describes as “emotional support dog.”

Greg Mellinger, 69, a master motorcycle technician, decided to retire after a “heart-to-heart” discussion, Geoff Mellinger said.

Calling the Mellinger brothers local legends in the business, Scheff brings a more detail-oriented approach to a Villa Park company that owns dealer license No. 001 for the British Triumph brand of cycles, is the nation’s oldest dealer of the Italian Ducati motorcycles and the Great Lakes region’s No. 1 dealer for KTM (Austria), MV Agusta (Italy) and Husqvarna motorcycles.

“I’m looking forward to telling the story of the rise of these brands and the history of the store,” Scheff said. “It’s exciting. I think it’s a neat story. I hope other people are as keen to hear it as I am to share it.”

In 1980, the 20-something, motocross-racing Mellinger brothers who had worked part-time on motorcycles in the garage of their Villa Park home since they were teenagers, got a partner and started Motor Cycle Center.

Eventually separating from their partner, over time the Mellingers moved the business three times — from a former Mr. Donut in Lombard to an old Pizza Hut across the street in Villa Park and, in 2012, to the current 28,000-square-foot building on 3.5 acres that once housed a Ford dealership.

Scheff calls it one of three motorcycle stores in the country with “any history or legacy,” along with shops in San Diego and San Francisco.

Scheff also brings an origin story.

A young trader at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Scheff became disenchanted when the nature of the industry changed and trade floors lost their hustle and bustle.

Seeking a connection with people since his youth working at a Detroit steakhouse, Scheff, who lives in Chicago’s Norwood Park neighborhood near Park Ridge, sought to give the motorcycle repair business “a little love.”

In 2004, at age 29, he opened Motoworks Chicago at 1901 S. Western Ave. Motoworks is an official dealer for BMW, Royal Enfield and Triumph motorcycles, Ducati, and is among the nation’s top dealers of another famous Italian scooter, Vespa.

Scheff and the Mellingers had similar experiences operating a business before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Stagnant inventory was followed by booming demand.

“In a weird way, COVID saved the power sports industry,” said Geoff Mellinger, a Willowbrook High School graduate who lives in Glen Ellyn.

He said he and his brother were seeking “an exit strategy” even before the pandemic, but felt like the post-COVID boom was the right time to sell. The brothers heard from potential buyers who wanted to alter inventory or sell off property.

The Mellingers did not appreciate that approach, and had been talking with Scheff, a more serious aficionado, for more than a year before the deal broke.

“There was no one who wanted to keep the tradition, the legacy of the store. To me it was really special,” Scheff said.

He said Motor Cycle Works’ business has been bullish since the October deal.

“Every month we sell a record number of motorcycles (over) what we have historically,” Scheff said.

Meanwhile, Geoff Mellinger works the floor, engages with customers, continues to mentor employees and makes sure things go smoothly between both parties.

“I think it was important for our employees and our customers to see a familiar face that they’ve seen for a long time, and kind of reassure them that this is a good direction and everybody’s going to be taken care of,” he said.

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