Top of Their Game (And Peninsula): Mary and Mike Mead of Shoreline Restaurant
Mary and Mike Mead have two of the most important things about running a restaurant down pat; namely, food and service. Fresh ingredients, from-scratch preparation and bold flavors typify chef Mike’s home-style gourmet menu—think pecan-crusted walleye with ginger-soy dip, or broiled chicken breasts with creamy chive, garlic and lemon sauce. Hostess Mary’s happy smile and relaxed proficiency pilot the friendly waitstaff in two busy-but-comfortable dining rooms.
At the Shoreline, however, the Meads also completely nail the three other must-haves for restaurant success—location, location and location. That’s because their long-lived dining establishment sits on one of Door County’s most unique and picturesque settings—a sunlit rise at the tip-top of the Peninsula in Gills Rock, where the view across Green Bay’s shimmering waters goes on forever.
Now that’s location.
The Meads, who both grew up in Waukesha, share a hodgepodge of talents and experience that makes them well-suited to handle the innumerable demands of restaurant operations. Mary graduated from college with a degree in Interior Design and waited tables at several restaurants, including the old Alibi restaurant in Fish Creek and Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay. Mike has done everything from pouring concrete sidewalks to managing a Häagen Dazs ice cream; his previous Door County workplaces include the Hotel du Nord, Baileys Harbor Yacht Club and Appleport Builders.
Married in 1981, they went on to have four daughters, all of whom have each worked at the Shoreline. Indeed, ask Mary and Mike what makes them proudest about the business they own and they’ll tell you it’s that Rachael, Cassie, Jamie and Shannon have been part of it.
“All of our girls worked with us as they got old enough,” says Mike. “They started as bussers, and then also cooked in the kitchen, waitressed, hosted, cashiered and did maintenance and menu design.”
The family feeling, the hard work and the pride are all there in Mike’s food, in Mary’s service and in the joy of dining where land and water meet.
Terese: The Shoreline has been a restaurant since 1955—sixty-one years. Can you tell us its history?
Mary: It started out as a small Cape Cod style of a building and grew little by little—probably with each owner—over the years. The past owners not only ran the restaurant but also ran the motel or cottages, the gift shop and the marina, and some of them hosted fish boils, too.
Terese: How did you come to operate it?
Mary: We came along after it had become a little too much for the previous owners, Susie and Craig Woerfel. They still had plenty to do to operate all the rest of it. Susie called us one sunny winter day and asked if we would like to take over the restaurant for them. We said, Wow! Then we talked about it, fretted about it and said we’d have to be crazy to do it. And then we said yes! We leased the restaurant from them [in 1990] and they helped us immensely to get going. After a few years the rest of the resort was sold to Jim and Ronnie Robinson, and we bought the restaurant.
Terese: The dining scene in Door County has changed a good deal in the years since you took over the Shoreline. What’s your take on the restaurant scene today?
Mike: The food is better than ever. There’s more establishments. The people of Door County are a savvy bunch—they know good food and good value. You can’t put out mediocre food, because they will know and you may not see them again. We believe the phrase that “You are only as good as your last meal.”
Terese: Has the local foods movement changed or affected your business in recent years?
Mike: It’s given us many more sources for fresh products, especially in the lettuce and vegetable segments. It’s made our food even better because it’s homegrown, with flavor…what a difference! We buy local whenever we can.
Terese: Who has been a major influence on your lives?
Mike: Kris and J.J. Johnson, who we were following [by having] a restaurant and four children at the same time. They gave us ideas for child care (e.g. a live-in nanny) and taught us about how to do things like scheduling at the restaurant, how to work hard through the busy season, how to relax during the off season. There have been other restaurant couples we met, too, people who shared their secrets and work ethic, who taught us that it’s hard to make it if you’re not willing to work hard.
Terese: What do you do on your days off?
Mary: There aren’t too many days off during the season…it’s more like parts of a day off. I occasionally go sit on a friend’s dock to chat and soak up some rays. I’ll hike through The Clearing or meet friends for coffee before work. In winter, there’s cross-country skiing, reading, hiking, hot yoga, trying new recipes and traveling to visit our kids and grandkids. We love to go out to eat…Mike calls it R&D (research and development). He also walks his dog, builds birdfeeders.
Mike: And restores old VW’s!
Terese: Do you have a dream vacation?
Mary: More than one! Dream Vacation Number One is a warm and sunny walkable beach hang-out with good restaurants in the area. Dream Number Two is a fun, vibrant city with lots of good restaurants in the area.
Mike: Number Three is a month at a villa, with bicycles, in a small town in Italy.
Terese: With lots of good restaurants, no doubt. What books would you bring along to read?
Mike: Ones by Stephen King and John Grisham.
Mary: My recent favorites are The Goldfinch, All the Light We Cannot See, American Dervish, and Smitten Kitchen.
Terese: One last question: What’s one of the greatest lessons you’ve ever learned?
Mike: The Seven P’s for success: “Proper Preparation Prevents Piss- Poor Production and Presentation.”
Recipe: Shoreline Restaurant's Whitefish on the Rock
Shoreline co-owner and chef Mike Mead says, “Local whitefish is our mainstay; we feature it in sandwiches and chowder, and it’s a nightly dinner center-of-the-plate item.” He serves this favorite, one of several whitefish specialties on the evening menu, with wild rice and sautéed seasonal vegetables.
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. minced onions
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
6 boned whitefish fillets
1 cup shredded Cheddar
Rinse whitefish fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange them side by side on a greased broiling pan. Heat broiler. To make sauce, combine mayonnaise, sour cream and flour in a small bowl; stir until smooth. Stir in onion, lemon juice and cayenne. Set aside. Broil fish fillets just until they are barely opaque inside, about five minutes. Remove from oven; spread a layer of sauce evenly over top of each fi llet and then sprinkle with shredded cheese and paprika. Return to oven and broil briefly, just until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.