GALENA, Ill. — Sisters Laura and Lisa Kempner know a good glass of Champagne when they taste it — almost as well as they know a good idea when it comes pouring out, bubbles and all.
Laura, 57; and Lisa, 65, are at the helm of Champagne on Main, a unique libation establishment that opened its doors in the heart of downtown Galena’s historic Main Street in September 2020, on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re a COVID baby,” Laura said of the business.
Inspiration behind Champagne on Main came years earlier from none other than a trip to wine country in California.
“In 2016, I was on a birthday trip with Lisa and some girlfriends, visiting Napa and Sonoma,” Laura said. “While we were there, we stopped at this little place that looked like an ice cream parlor. It served nothing but Champagne and sparkling drinks, and it was adorable. It was run by two sisters, and Lisa turned to me and said, ‘We could do this.’ Of course, when you’re 1,300 miles away and feeling jolly because of the wine, all ideas seem like good ideas.”
Fast forward to 2019. After years serving as space for multiple art galleries, a two-story 1869 building located at 116 S. Main St. in Galena had become available.
Lisa — a business owner with Lindstrand Balloons USA, who had moved to Galena in the mid-1990s — immediately contacted Laura, who was living in northern Virginia and managing a wedding photography studio and school of photography business.
“Laura told me, ‘There is only one building I would move out there for,’” Lisa said.
In a kind of kismet, the building — which features a grand staircase topped with a massive circular skylight — became the idyllic space for the sisters’ vision.
Laura soon made her way to Galena, and the two set to renovating the location.
Upon entering Champagne on Main, patrons are greeted by an upscale, yet casual vibe, with sparkling crystal chandeliers, sleek leather seats and various spaces to socialize, whether intimate or grand.
Unlike other similar establishments, seating isn’t at the bar, but rather, customers are taken to tables or can make reservations in advance.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Lisa said. “Because of COVID restrictions when we first opened, we didn’t offer seating at the bar. We’ve continued that, and it has given us something a little bit different.”
Pandemic limitations also gave way to an outdoor courtyard that can accommodate up to 20. Additional seating includes a second floor lounge fit for private parties, special events and other group gatherings of up to 25.
A split level a few steps up from the lounge houses Laura’s photo studio, LK Images. She offers what she dubs, “Soul Sessions,” or photo shoots that include a custom designed portrait session, professional makeup and hairstyling, and up to five wardrobe changes.
Live entertainment during select evenings also adds to the environment.
“We host live music two to three times per month, as well as for special occasions and holidays, like New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day and during the annual living windows displays,” Lisa said.
Food and drink
Champagne on Main boasts more than 60 varieties of Champagne — including the Top 10 brands in the world — as well as sparkling wines.
Also included are 50 bourbons, upscale tequilas and other specialty cocktails. Additionally, patrons can indulge in tastings to discover what they like, accompanied by baked cheese Whisps.
Alongside its drink selection, Champagne on Main also partners with other female-owned Galena businesses — Galena Taphouse and Cindy’s Classic Catering — to provide food. Menu items include “light bites,” such as a French fry trio provided by Galena Taphouse; and a charcuterie board, charcuterie cups, mini bundt cakes, and a chocolate mousse and key lime pie cup provided by Cindy’s Classic Catering.
“It’s like a hotline,” Laura said. “People put in their order, we call, and it’s ready within 15 to 20 minutes.”
A lasting impression
Although continuing to face staffing challenges, like many businesses in the aftermath of the pandemic, the sisters said reception has been positive.
“We opened during a challenging time and had to learn as we went,” Laura said. “But I think we’ve made an impression with people. We try to offer something that no one else is, and we have a lot of repeat customers and referrals who remember us for that or who think of us for their event. It really is a privilege to be a part of people’s lives and celebrations in that way.”
“And to think this idea all started over a glass of Champagne,” Laura added, with a laugh.
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.