Food truck vendors to fill prime restaurant spot

Port couple who own and operate Yellowbellies to open their first restaurant in premier lakefront space in downtown Harbour Lights building

THE PRIME RESTAURANT space on the east side of the Harbour Lights building in downtown Port Washington will soon be occupied by Fork and Tap, a restaurant being opened by Michael and Siobhan Mesenbourg, who operate Yellowbellies food truck. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Since the Harbour Lights building was constructed with room for a restaurant at the corner of Franklin and Main streets in downtown Port Washington, people have wondered if the premier lakefront location would draw an established restaurateur such as the Bartolotta Restaurants or an upstart operation.

Turns out it’s a little of both. 

Port residents Michael and Siobhan Mesenbourg, who have operated the popular food truck Yellowbellies throughout southeastern Wisconsin for the last six years, plan to open the Fork and Tap in February. Construction is slated to begin in the next few weeks.

The restaurant will have a family friendly, casual atmosphere, they said, with a menu that will stress elevated comfort food.

The menu is inspired by memories of family meals and holiday specialties, the couple said. It will include a number of sharable items, such as Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and chicken and biscuits, as well as fish fries.

There will also be an extensive salads menu, as well as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

To say they’re excited about the opportunity would be an understatement.

“This is a blessing,” Siobhan said, gesturing toward the lakefront just east of the space.
“How can you find a better place for a restaurant? This is the location we thought we would end up with in a few years. For our first restaurant, this is amazing.”

The couple has been working with developer Gertjan van den Broek for almost two years and planned to open their restaurant last summer, but “hiccups” delayed that plan, Michael said.

Opening a restaurant in Port is their dream, they agreed.

“Being in this community is very important to us,” Michael said. “We love being here and seeing what’s happening. This is the right moment in time for us.”

The couple said they felt the same way six years ago when they opened their food truck.

It seemed a natural thing to do, given their background. The couple met while working at Rock Bottom Brewery in Milwaukee, became close friends and eventually married.

“We always talked about opening a bar/restaurant,” Michael said. 

They decided on a food truck.

“It was an opportunity to start something for ourselves at a fraction of the cost of a restaurant,” he said. “And I don’t know that we were really ready for a restaurant then.”

They pondered what their menu would be, and one day when Michael, who worked at Sendik’s in Grafton at the time, put on the rotisserie chickens at 5 a.m. one day, something clicked.

“It was just one of those moments,” he said. “You know, chicken is found across all cultures, all foods.”

The name Yellowbellies came about because the term is a synonym for chicken,  and was a term Siobhan’s grandfather often used, the couple said.

“We wanted to explain who we were without putting ‘Chicken’ on the truck” Siobhan said.

They offer 16 types of pulled rotisserie chicken sandwiches, and every week feature one other type of meat.

But while other food trucks offer chicken sandwiches and salads, “we go a step beyond,” Michael said. “We make everything ourselves. That differentiates us from other food trucks.”

Although they used to make their own bread, they’ve gotten so busy that they contract to have it made by a baker from their own recipe, he said.

They also use local ingredients when possible, such as Bernie’s bacon.

The truck travels throughout southeastern Wisconsin but is mainly found in the Milwaukee area, and they serve roughly 180 people in two hours, Michael said. And while they once worked alone, they hired someone to help them the third summer they operated the truck.

Today, he said, they have three people on the truck at all times.

Yellowbellies serves its sandwiches on folded bread with a yellow fork stuck in each one instead of a pick, and that along with the fact they plan to have Wisconsin craft beers on tap, helped the couple come up with the name for their new restaurant.

They also plan to have a “good” wine list and a specialty drink menu with Wisconsin spirits.

“It’s fun. We’re very hands-on, and I think that’s why we enjoy the food truck so much,” Michael said. “It’s sustained our lives. But with us and the growth that’s happening here, it’s time for us to do this now.”

But, they added, they will continue operating the food truck. It’s one reason they plan to open Fork and Tap in February, when traffic is low and they can spend time getting things running the way they want before it’s time to bring out the food truck — and before tourist season in Port.

Michael will operate the truck and serve as head chef for the restaurant, while Siobhan will be upfront as the face of the business.

Fork and Tap, which will have about 100 seats inside and 60 to 70 on the deck, will serve lunches and dinners, with the expected hours being from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays.

The restaurant will be closed on Sundays to allow the couple, who have an 8-year-old daughter McKenna and 6-year-old son Emmerich, time for family.

They also plan to have a room off the restaurant’s kitchen so their children can be close at hand when they work. And, when the children are at school, their parents will be close to them.

“This is it. We can still have our lives. That’s important to us,” Michael said. 

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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