Kelsey Williams has a pretty big family.

If you spend any time with Williams, who along with her husband, Drew, has owned the iconic downtown La Crosse eatery Fayze’s since 2008, you’re left with the impression that everyone who helps make the restaurant a success is family to her.

That, after all, is how she thinks great leaders are motivated.

“I think the No. 1 motivator is a desire to create a work environment for employees in which they feel they have friends, they are comfortable, have some fun and feel like a part of a family,” Williams said.

In a way, it all makes sense. Williams, who was born and raised in Onalaska, married her high school sweetheart, took on a business closely molded into the very identity of La Crosse, and together they’ve raised their family in the heart of God’s Country.

“I suppose it’s an excitement about where you live,” she said, “and to share it with people.”

She did move to Minneapolis for four years, where she graduated with an entrepreneurial management degree from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. But, she found it “too big and impersonal” in the Twin Cities, and she came back to her hometown. Since then, she’s never taken it for granted.

When the opportunity to buy Fayze’s, which has been downtown La Crosse since 1987, came up, she and Drew jumped at the chance.

“I always wanted to do something like this,” Williams said.

Working with so many different people, not just on staff but with the public, has been full of surprises.

“It’s a great thing,” she said, “but it’s eye-opening.”

So is being an owner of a popular restaurant, which means working everywhere from the floor to the kitchen, the “back-of-the-house” to the books.

She generously gives credit for the enterprise’s continued success.

“I enjoy the people I work with,” she said. “I like the conversations with our regular customers. I love our group of co-workers, and I enjoy being a hands-on owner and manager. Most of all, my husband and I work well together, and there is no better person with whom I would like to celebrate successes or navigate through our endeavors.”

It doesn’t end there, either. Williams is actively involved in Downtown Mainstreet, where she sits on the board of directors, and will serve a term beginning in 2017 as the president-elect. She’s also involved in the Tornado Youth Hockey program, serving as the MITE program parent representative. And her volunteering continues with New Leash on Life Dog Rescue, with an emphasis on its annual fundraiser. And, she’s a parent volunteer at Irving Pertzsch Elementary School.

Robin Moses, who nominated Williams for Rising Stars Under 40, cited her work, advocacy and leadership for the city’s downtown district as chair of the Summer Days event, support and promotion of everything from Trick or Treat to Shop and Stroll Open Houses, Downtown Walk Around and Downtown Historic Day – not to mention the edible (and drinkable) donations to the annual Santa Claus Workshop, and the popular Downtown Eat Week, to mention only a few.

“Kelsey has a strong ‘can-do’ attitude that reflects in everything she does,” Moses said. “She is positive, professional, community-aware, kind and a hard worker. When asked for help, her response is almost always, ‘Yes,’ or, ‘We can do that.’ She is respected in her community, neighborhood and within the downtown district.”

Williams and her husband have also frequently reached out to the Salvation Army and area shelters, offering employment opportunities to those in need. She doesn’t want to take too much credit for those who’ve succeeded.

“It was really them,” Williams said. “We just help the best we can.”

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