by Luke Fannin
I don’t know anyone in La Crosse who has never been to Fayze’s. It’s not even a question you’d raise. Asking La Crossians if they’ve ever been to Fayze’s is like asking if they’ve ever been to church, or the mall, or school. No matter how you feel about the place, it’s something you’ve done at some point. When Kelsey Williams and her husband, Drew, bought Fayze’s in 2008 (becoming just the second set of owners since it first opened in 1987), they were well aware of this fact. They knew they were taking over a downtown La Crosse institution. “We relied, and still rely, on our reputation,” says Williams. “We absolutely wanted to stay consistent with the Fayze’s everyone knows. We kept all the same recipes, even most of the same staff.”
Fayze’s broad appeal has always been evident in its diverse clientele. “It’s a pretty eclectic group,” says Williams. “We’ve always been really family friendly, family focused, and we’re proud of that and work hard for it. We have the older folks, our regular coffee drinkers who come in every morning to meet their friends, and especially on the weekends we get a lot of college kids, young professionals, and visitors who are off for the weekend.”
“I always want them to come back,” says Williams of her customers. “I think the best compliment we’ve ever gotten is, ‘It looks like everyone is having fun doing their jobs.’ I’ve always wanted that kind of welcoming, casual atmosphere.”
Fayze’s is able to draw such a crowd, says Williams, in part because the restaurant’s reputation precedes it, but also because they make a concerted effort to attract as many potential visitors as possible. “People are always going to be drawn downtown for a lot of different reasons. We can cater to different groups by promoting through various events going on in downtown La Crosse.”
So whether you’re heading downtown for the Rotary Lights during the holiday season, Historic Downtown La Crosse Day, or Krazy Daze, you can expect accompanying specials at Fayze’s. Some of their regular, year-round promos include Kids’ Night on Mondays (kids eat free), Date Night on Thursdays (half off bottles of wine), and, of course, fish fries every Wednesday and Friday.
The strange thing about a place like Fayze’s is that, for locals, it sort of fades into the background. We lose track of the time we spend there in the same way we lose track of the many conversations we have with neighbors and close friends. It doesn’t mean we love it any less, but in a way it’s as if it becomes so familiar, we take it a little bit for granted. It’s not surprising, then, that many of the best reviews of Fayze’s found around the web come from out-of-towners, visitors from California to Texas to Virginia. A few excerpts:
“Every time I’m in La Crosse I go to Fayze’s for a traditional, no-frills, classic breakfast–eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and toast.”
“It feels like home.”
“Fayze’s represents what La Crosse was and where it wants to be. It’s an institution and a constant in the ever-changing downtown restaurant scene.”
“You can almost feel the love being cooked into the food. It’s like a hug.”
“My only complaint is that their prices are so low that it attracts huge crowds on the weekend.”
You get the idea. Any review of Fayze’s can be expected to make note of the incredible value, the excellent, friendly service, or any of the establishment’s notable achievements in breakfast foods, baked goods, and Bloody Marys. But what stands out the most are the repeated mentions of tradition, comfort, and homey atmosphere. It feels that way because, no matter where you come from, Fayze’s reminds you of home. Every town has a restaurant like this one. To be sure, Fayze’s has the little things that make it unique–perhaps most notably their trademark Talame roll, which can be found in restaurants and stores all over the area. But no one is going to wait 45 minutes for breakfast on a Saturday morning just for a good bun. People line up on Fayze’s sidewalk because of its cozy charm and reliability. It is the quintessential American diner, a place you wouldn’t think twice about visiting several times a month, or even a week. Everything about Fayze’s–from the classic family-restaurant menu and the twice-weekly, year-round fish fries, to the historic downtown La Crosse memorabilia and pictures festooning the walls–is an homage to its community, people, and history, all of which make it a piece of Americana at its finest. And with her restaurant occupying one of La Crosse’s most recognizable historic structures, the Tausche Hardware Building, Williams and her predecessors have always been aware of Fayze’s responsibility to local history. “We’re a part of the historical tradition of downtown La Crosse,” says Williams, “and hopefully, we’ll continue to be.”
The Williamses aren’t necessarily content to leave well enough alone, and they continue to explore opportunities to grow and evolve, such as expanding Fayze’s wholesale bakery business and opening a catering service. However, as key members of the Downtown La Crosse business community, they know their first order of business is to maintain a brand that is known and loved by locals and visitors alike. “Our number-one priority is always going to be staying the course,” says Kelsey. “We need to stay focused on what downtown is doing . . . we want all of our ideas to center around promoting downtown business, filling downtown with people, keeping this area the center of the city.”
Fayze’s Restaurant & Bakery is located in the heart of downtown La Crosse, 135 4th Street South. Fayze’s opens daily at 6:30 A.M. and closes at 9:30 P.M. Sunday – Thursday, 10:30 P.M. Friday – Saturday. For more info, including current specials and full menu, visit www.fayzes.com, or check out their Facebook page.