Laura Kelsey has either been a part-time or full-time resident of the Lake Geneva area her entire life. The oldest of five siblings, her family had a summer home on the lake, where Kelsey said they created precious memories.
“We spent every minute in the lake, boating, waterskiing or swimming, and we were always together,” she said.
So when the GBS graduate—who raised her now 14- and 19-year-old children in Glenview, summers in Wisconsin, of course—decided to fulfill her lifelong dream of opening a restaurant, the quaint town of Williams Bay, Wisconsin was a no-brainer.
Kelsey, along with her two business partners, Chef Don Yamauchi and Yamauchi’s wife, Cleta, are finishing up their first summer as the owners of Shore Club, the upscale American and French-inspired restaurant that opened last May.
“It was something I wanted to do my entire life,” said Kelsey, a graduate of University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, who with her children moved from Glenview to the Lake Geneva area two years ago. “Anyone who knows me will tell you it has always been my dream.”
Kelsey, who spent four years in restaurant management before her 20-year career as a mortgage banker, said when things “fell apart” in the mortgage industry in 2008, she was forced to reinvent herself.
“I worked on 100 percent commission, so I had no business,” said Kelsey, who has been a single mom for 14 years.
It was Kelsey’s passion for cooking and her fondness of the restaurant industry that drove her to earn a culinary certificate from Kendall College, and to look up her old friend, highly acclaimed chef, Don Yamauchi, who she’d met decades earlier through friends. The two had talked about opening up a restaurant together a decade earlier, but it never panned out.
“We hadn’t talked in years, and Don was working in Michigan. I figured there was no way he’d ever come here and do this,” Kelsey said. “Out of the blue, I got a Facebook message from him that said, ‘Do you still want to open a restaurant?’”
With its hardwood floors, white cushioned benches with pillows, huge windows, and lake views, Shore Club has a nautical, lake house feel and seats 120 guests.
“It’s comfortable, but upscale,” Kelsey said. “We want people to feel that when they come here, they are coming into our lake house.”
Describing the menu as “American with French-inspired food,” Yamauchi said he makes all his dishes unique by adding a twist.
“For example, our burger is a blend of short rib, chuck and brisket, our mac and cheese has three cheeses in it,” said Yamauchi, a James Beard nominee, who in the past has held positions at Gordon in River North, Carlos’ in Highwood and Le Francais in Wheeling.
Yamauchi’s favorite menu items include lemongrass garlic marinated pork chop with fried egg, honey fried shrimp tacos, and the restaurant’s Friday night fish fry.
Kathy Quinn of Glenview is a childhood friend of Kelsey’s, who recently dined at Shore Club with her husband John, while the two were on vacation in Lake Geneva.
“I’m so happy that Laura pursued her dream,” Quinn said. “Her hard work has really paid off. The atmosphere was inviting and comfortable, the bar area was lively, and the food was delicious.”
Quinn said she and John ordered duck quesadillas, shrimp tacos, and mac and cheese she described as “the best I have ever had.”
“I never know who is going to walk in the door, someone from here, or someone I know from Glenview,” Kelsey said. “The combination of me being a local who grew up here and who has that connection, and an amazingly talented chef who makes everything taste so great has really worked. Our first summer was just fantastic.”