Door County’s Café Launch(ed) in Sturgeon Bay

One could fill a library with books and articles on how to get started in business. Almost everyone has an idea kicking around in their mind they think would take off, if only they knew how to get it off the ground or had the capital. Many read volumes, take notes, plan for years, decades even, before making the plunge.

Then there are those who keep it a little less complicated, like Shannon Christenson, owner of Kick Coffee and the newest addition to Sturgeon Bay’s 3rd Avenue, Café Launch.

“I bought Kick over a glass of wine,” he jokes…sort of. “They got me drunk and I signed.”

Christenson, who obviously doesn’t take himself too seriously, said there was a little more to it. He wanted to get into something, but “it could have been a book store or a t-shirt shop.” It happened to be a coffee shop that came his way.

A little over five years later Christenson was ready to branch out into another venture, this time with a bit more preparation. This past June, Café Launch set sail just a few blocks down the street from Kick.

“I’d been thinking about it for about a year,” Christenson said. “When the space became available it just made sense.”

The space most recently housed the Bluefront Café, which moved to the city’s west side, and is a nod to the city’s past. Originally home to the L.A. Larson and Company woodworkers store, the fine craftsmanship of the original owners can be seen in the intricate scroll and molding throughout the building. Christenson said he was attracted to both the building and the allure of anticipated traffic in the area with construction of the new bridge and development of the waterfront across the street.

The walls of Launch are adorned with odes to the city’s shipbuilding past with giant prints of newly christened vessels and hard, metallic hews throughout. Friend Julie Nyberg suggested the moniker, though Christenson didn’t immediately latch on. But “as the concept crystallized, so did the name.”

Christenson described that concept as “traditional with a twist.” The result is a menu featuring many recognizable Door County favorites made new with inventive preparation and presentation.

“I was looking for something different,” said the Minnesota native. The veteran of 16 years on the peninsula worked for a number of peninsula staples before jumping into Kick, including extended runs at Trio, the English Inn, and the Village Café. His wealth of experience helped him find an opening in the highly competitive Door County dining market. “I figure you can get a Caesar salad anywhere, so why would I want to offer that?”

Instead, Launch offers a cherry chicken salad with a grilled cherry-marinated chicken breast on a bed of mixed greens, dried cherries, candied walnuts, and feta cheese, with cherry balsamic vinaigrette.

There’s a quiche of the day, served in a healthy portion with fresh fruit and bakery of the day, a whitefish cake sandwich on ciabatta bread, and even the house burger comes with three enticing options. The third-pound burger, made from Marchant’s freshly ground chuck, comes topped with your choice of pesto and mozzarella, hummus and olive tapenade, or avocado, red onion, and sprouts.

One would usually expect such selections to come beside a prohibitive price tag, but Launch is more than reasonable, with lunch items ranging from $5.50 and $8 for a full plate.

A breakfast menu of offerings between $5 and $8 is available from 8 – 11 am as well. Christenson didn’t have a price point in mind when he designed the menu, but there was a general idea behind it.

“I wanted to serve a different quality of food and make it reasonable for people to come back time and time again,” he said.

Christenson originally thought the morning and lunch menu would be his staple, but he’s been pleasantly surprised by the reception his evening tapas menu has received.

“I was always looking at opening a night café,” he explained. “Something with a lounge feel, possibly with musicians. Tapas worked because I didn’t want to do full-service or compete with what other people were already doing. I thought it would take a while to catch on, but business has already exceeded expectations in the limited time we’ve been open.”

The menu of light evening fare and appetizers was created with the help of his number two, Leah Husby. Christenson came up with the items he wanted, and Husby helped work out the details. Features such as potstickers, chicken pineapple skewers, whitefish cakes and a range of items with a peninsula flavor form the base of the menu, and Christenson said featuring native items is a point of pride.

“We’ve gone out of our way to buy local,” he said, “and I hope to do more.” Among the local purveyors he uses are Marchants meats, Bearcats, Jorns Sugar Bush, Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery, Renards Cheese, and Weinke’s, as well as several others.

The local flavor extends to the beer list, which features more than a dozen Wisconsin brews. Guests can also choose from an array of wines by the glass or bottle to accompany lunch or tapas, or stop in for dessert.

Though his new venture is located only blocks from the well-established Kick, he said he isn’t competing with himself.

“I made a lot of decisions to not copy from my other place,” he said. And though it’s hectic settling into the pace of running two businesses, he has a manager at Kick who’s been with him since he bought the business in 2002 that has freed him up to take on business number two.

“I’ve been extremely lucky with staff,” he said. “A ton of people have helped get us off the ground since we signed the lease May 1.”