On the western coast of Italy, a short drive south of Rome, lies Naples. Though the city is rich in history and culture, the pride of the city is found at the table. Naples is said to be the birthplace of pizza; to this day, the region is famous for its unique Neapolitan pizza. If making pizza is an art, the Neapolitan is a masterpiece. Though the ingredients are simple, the recipe is very precise; a recipe only the best trained pizzaiolo can create. Fortunately for us, we need not travel to Italy to taste this delectable treasure.
Oakfire was opened in spring of 2015 when David Scotney, who was vacationing with his family in Lake Geneva, convinced his wife to abandon their plans to build a lakefront home in Maine, and instead stay in town to build a lakefront restaurant. With the help of Keefe Real Estate agent Debbie Cobian, they found the perfect location. After a successful initial eight months, Scotney decided it was time to further develop the restaurant. “I saw the opportunity to take advantage of the view and build up,” he says.
Oakfire 2.0, as Scotney refers to it, opened its doors to the public in spring of 2017. The new building has almost tripled the seating capacity as well as added exciting new alfresco dining. With large glass garage doors on the second floor, the patio and interior seamlessly blend to make a dining area with an exceptional view of the lake. Scotney, who has a history in design, cultivated the new Oakfire image. “Industrial vintage vibe is the heart of the brand,” he says. He and Pete Juergens, of Geneva Bay Construction, worked closely with architects to design the new building. Juergens then operated as a liaison between Scotney and Keller Construction, the commercial builders for the job. Steel, concrete, and reclaimed wood all contribute their unique texture to the fresh atmosphere. Though the environment is crisp and new, it’s still the exquisite pizza that still steals the show.
“Neapolitan pizza is a hundreds of years old tradition. It’s a very specific type of pizza that follows a very specific set of guidelines,” says Scotney. The pizza is typically characterized with a smoky, charred outer crust and a soft, delicate center, then topped with the freshest ingredients before being baked at one thousand degrees in a specific wood burning oven. As per its name, only Oak is burned in the ovens at Oakfire. To celebrate the fusion of traditional Italian with an American twist, many ingredients are locally grown and made, including our own Wisconsin cheese. In addition to using local fresh ingredients, executive chef Nick Crawford works to fulfill the Oakfire promise by doing everything he can to make their entire menu from scratch.
However, for traditional Neapolitan pizza, not everything can be found in Wisconsin fields. Some things require true Italian roots. Oakfire tomato sauce is made from San Marzano tomatoes, imported from the base of Mt. Vesuvius. They are hand crushed, and mixed with sea salt, oil, and basil. Also imported is fresh mozzarella di bufala, or buffalo mozzarella, which gives a creamier and sweeter taste to their special Napoli pizza.
To accompany the savory menu, Oakfire offers a great list of Italian and American wines as well as craft beers and a meticulously created craft cocktail list. “Sean Forbeck, our bar and restaurant manager, has really brought our bar to life.” says Scotney. Sangria, Beached Mule, and the Melonballer are all favorites of Oakfire patrons.
These delicious drinks are no longer limited to mealtimes; Oakfire is now open late on the weekends. Scotney saw a niche for a different type of bar in town. “You have your sports bar covered and your local bar. But there isn’t really a craft cocktail and beer bar in town.” Oakfire now fills that gap. Weekend evenings the bar remains open till two in the morning and offers DJs or live music. As one would assume, weekends are very busy. The restaurant can easily serve fifteen hundred people on any given Saturday. Consequently, a very large staff is needed to operate a restaurant and bar of this size. Paul Meckler, Operations Manager, oversees the near one hundred employees. “He is basically my right hand man.” says Scotney.
With an executive team including the likes of Crawford, Forbeck, and Meckler behind him, you can be sure Scotney has big plans for the future of Oakfire, including the possibility of a second location. However, for now, Southeastern Wisconsin locals can enjoy Oakfire’s new alfresco dining experience, gourmet pasta dishes, and even local delivery.
“We are extremely proud to bring a three hundred year old Italian tradition to Lake Geneva, and we are three hundred percent committed to great service and great food out of a scratch kitchen.” says Scotney.
Photographer: Matt Haas & Grant Goldenstern
By: Kinsey Quernemoen
OAKFIRE | 831 Wrigley Dr
Lake Geneva, WI | 53147