By Mary Boyle
Eighteen years ago, two twenty-somethings met while working at Rock Bottom Brewery in Milwaukee and became fast friends; the restaurant world was their world, and they thought it would be cool if someday they opened a restaurant together. Seven years later, they became Mr. and Mrs. Michael and Siobhan Mesenbourg. Fast forward to 2013, and the couple had two kids and opened their very first restaurant...on wheels: the Yellowbellies Food Truck. Finally, this February, they'll make their original dream a reality when they open the Fork & Tap in the Harbour Lights building in downtown Port Washington.
Michael went to MATC for Hospitality Management, but it was while he was a Manager at the Chocolate Factory in Cedarburg that he realized he wanted to be on the food side of the business instead of the management side. "I liked making simple food look good," he explained. Instead of going back to school, Michael took a position as a chef at the Grafton Sendiks, which is where he got used to making food in large quantities.
In the meantime, Siobhan went from being a supervisor at Louise's in downtown Milwaukee to the Events Manager at iPic in Bayshore Mall, but what she really wanted was to work with Michael and own their own place. The Food Truck was trending, and the couple saw it as an inexpensive way to get started on their dream, so they found a truck, left their jobs, and never looked back.
"The best thing about a food truck," Michael said, "is that it's just yourselves, and the worst thing about a food truck is that it's just yourselves — you don't have to employ a team, but you also have nobody else to fall back on." Not only that, but the truck breaks — a lot— and, unlike a brick and mortar restaurant, when the truck breaks, it's over. Weather, too, is a constant problem, and it keeps the truck basically closed from December through March. Then, there's the parking...
"Parking it is a nightmare," Siobhan interjected. "I have to fight to go to work almost every time we take the truck out."
Still, they love their restaurant on wheels, and their menu, consisting mainly of a variety of pulled chicken sandwiches (the name "Yellowbellies" comes from the yellow belly of a rotisserie chicken) on flatbread has developed quite a following, and though their new restaurant will offer a different menu than their food truck, they know that people who like the truck will probably like the restaurant; in fact, the food truck inspired the name of the new restaurant. Each Yellowbellies sandwich is served with their trademark yellow fork, and since they are also focusing on Wisconsin craft beers at the restaurant, they decided on the name that combines the two: the Fork & Tap.
The new restaurant will serve lunch and dinner, and will have a casual, fun, family-friendly atmosphere. "The menu is inspired by memories of holidays and family meals," said Michael, "So there will be a lot of 'shareables' — things like Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and chicken and biscuits." Because the couple has many friends and family with dietary restrictions, they will also offer gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, including a gluten-free fish fry.
Once the food truck closes for the season, work will start in earnest in their new place, putting months of planning into action. "We love entertaining and having people over," Michael said, "and the restaurant is an extension of that." An extension that happens to have an excellent view of Port's harbor and Lake Michigan, as well as a large outdoor patio for dining, which the couple hopes will be a popular place this summer. "This is what we love to do," Michael said, "and we love the instant gratification that comes from seeing people happy with what you do."