Taking that Fork in the Road
Restaurant reopens after fire closed it six months ago

By Katherine Michalets - Freeman Staff

Sept. 25, 2015

A sign welcomes customers back to Fork in the Road after a long closure for renovations following a fire in an upstairs apartment.    
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

MUKWONAGO - Almost six months to the day a fatal fire closed Mukwonago’s landmark restaurant Fork in the Road, it reopened to the welcoming arms and hungry mouths of the community.

Owner Dennis Stevens said he wanted a soft opening on Monday, but it was anything but that because as soon as people learned the restaurant was again serving food, they flooded in.

“People are so nice and loyal,” he said. “They are a bunch of sweethearts.”

On March 23, fire crews responded to an early morning fire at the Fork in the Road building at 215 N. Rochester St., which resulted in the death of 39-year-old Julie McKenzie, who lived in an apartment above the restaurant. The restaurant space experienced significant smoke and water damage, although the fire was never in the restaurant.

Diners fill the newly-renovated Fork in the Road on Wednesday.   
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Stevens said the walls had to be opened, drained and dried out. Then, everything had to be sanded down and re-carpeted as equipment was replaced. As a result, Stevens said Fork in the Road’s color scheme has changed to dark gray outside and a light gray inside. He also has a surprise planned next week for the community that will involve decorations on one wall, which he said he hopes the village will find meaningful.

Since closing in March, Stevens said the community and customers have been unbelievably kind. He described people coming to the restaurant wearing work gloves and wanting to help paint.

“They are overly sweet,” he said.

That generosity continued Tuesday when about 400 people walked through the doors of Fork in the Rood between 5 p.m. and closing time, Stevens said. Customers were offering to bus tables and wash glasses, but Stevens said he declined their offers.

“My feet are still sore,” he said Wednesday morning.

It was the people that made Stevens want to rebuild the restaurant, he said.

“I think because of the people. Just to be honest with you, I am pass retirement age, but I just miss them. They are like family,” he said.

Fork in the Road has reopened following renovations after a fire in an upstairs apartment.  
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Fork in the Road has been hiring new staff and Stevens said he is looking for a couple more employees to get back up to full staff. Thirty-three previous  employees have returned and Stevens is in the process of hiring 20 new team members.

While insurance covered most of the repair work, Stevens said he went into the hole a bit to pay for the rest.  He is optimistic he’ll be able to recoup his losses.

After 13 years of owning Fork in the Road and rebuilding after the fire, Stevens said he “just wants to take care of the people who walk in the door and keep on modifying our menu.” Many of the classic menu items have returned, along with some new ones.

He doesn’t believe Fork in the Road will be able to host big parties any more because of the large amount of guests coming in. He also won’t be renting out the apartments above the restaurant any more.

It may have been six months of hard work, but Stevens is happy to be operating at normal hours again.

“It’s been extremely nice to be open,” Stevens said. “People are wonderful.”



Email: kmichalets@conleynet.com