The Channel Marker Restaurant Celebrates 25 Years In Northern Indiana
The Channel Marker restaurant has been offering Northern Indiana residents a taste of the island life for more than 25 years.
Situated on the main channel between Lake Syracuse and Lake Wawasee, the establishment provides a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere with a family-friendly, upscale-casual menu and plenty of signature cocktails to sip on during hot summer days.
In March of 1995, Steve Johnson and his business partner Keith Wronka officially opened the doors to the Channel Marker, and the concept stemmed from their mutual affinity for the type of tiki bar atmosphere one might find down in southern Florida.
“When we thought about starting the place, I wanted to bring a little bit of Florida to Indiana, especially since we’re up here in the northern parts where we can appreciate the warmth since it can get so cold,” Johnson says. “When you walk in the building, it feels like Key West and has that vacation feel. Our mantra was always, ‘Island atmosphere with an island attitude.’ We’ve tried to keep it in that vein since we opened.”
A native of Northern Indiana, Johnson worked in the food service industry for the vast majority of his professional life prior to opening the Channel Marker.
“Opening my own place is something I always wanted to do,” he says.
Johnson adds that operating a lakeside restaurant with an island concept in northern Indiana can be challenging, particularly in the winter, but he says patrons have proven their dedication over the past quarter of a century.
“We’re in a remote town too, and we’re open year-round but we’re seasonal with how busy we get,” Johnson says. “Most of our business comes around in April and early May through October. The biggest challenge in those early days was getting ourselves established as a destination dining place so that we could get traffic from a lot of different communities.”
Johnson characterizes the Channel Marker food selection as upscale casual, and he says patrons of all ages can find something on the menu to enjoy. A recent customer favorite is the Out Rigger, a burger that comes with fresh Angus beef, smoked Gouda, Asian slaw and bang bang shrimp on a brioche bun.
“We’ve got everything from burgers to prime rib, fresh seafood and appetizers,” Johnson says. “Our pan-fried lake perch is one of our big items. Everything we do is from scratch, so we hand cut our own steaks, pan bread our own shrimp, and all the sauces are made to order in a skillet. We don’t use any pre-made sauces. We also use a lot of unique seasonings.”
Even the desserts are made fresh in the Channel Marker’s scratch kitchen. When it comes to beverages, the establishment has built a reputation for its Swamp Water – a popular signature drink whose ingredients remain a Channel Marker secret after all these years.
“Nobody comes to the Channel Marker without having a Swamp Water or a Wawasee Sunset,” Johnson says laughing. “When people ask about the Swamp Water, I say that I could tell them what’s in it but I’d have to kill them.”
Other house cocktails include the Sundown Hurricane, which comes with Cruzan Mango, dark rum, orange juice and grenadine, and the Wawasee Sunset featuring Captain Morgan rum, peach Schnapps, cranberry juice, and sweet-and-sour mix. Those with a sweet tooth can opt for the Banana Split, which comes with creme de banana, strawberry liqueur, chocolate syrup and ice cream.
The eatery can seat a total of approximately 300 patrons inside and outside, including a covered, open-air patio. In 2005, Johnson and Wronka decided to build a tiki bar outside to increase capacity.
Despite being located in a somewhat off-the-beaten-path location, Johnson says his eatery has remained as popular as it was when he and Wronka began to build up its reputation in the late 1990s as a destination dining and relaxation spot.
“We’ve done a few small things here and there to the inside of the place to keep it up to date, but the general feeling of the restaurant is the same as it was 25 years ago,” says Johnson, who enjoys boating in his spare time away from the restaurant. “We still want to provide a great island dining experience. The key to our longevity has been our consistency, not only in our food but the service and our great staff. Our employees are a tight-knit family here, and that seems to be how the customers feel too when they’re here.”
The Channel Marker is located at 5793 East Pickwick Drive in Syracuse, Indiana, and is open year-round. For more information, including a food and drink menu, visit channelmarker.net and call 574-457-5900.