In many communities, there’s a place that welcomes strangers as friends. In Rochester on the shores of Lake Manitou, The Dam Landing Owner Brett Lukens can vouch for that feeling at his establishment.
He came to Rochester for a summer job, working for the previous owner as a bartender, and when summer was over he stayed. He served as an employee for three years, and has been the owner for the past six years.
“I fell in love with the location and the industry,” he explains. “I have a strong passion for this industry. I saw the potential here.”
For Lukens, it was a logical step to move from employee to owner. It allowed him to combine his business sense with his newfound passion for hospitality.
The location has been a staple of the neighborhood for more than 100 years. It was a fishing shack, a hotel in the 1930s and 1940s, and then transitioned back into a local tavern according to Lukens. He strives to maintain that local hangout feel, and also apply modern twists in his food and beverage selections.
He creates many of the menu items himself, and has a couple of rules when doing so.
“Keep it simple,” he says.
Any new item needs to taste good, be executed well, and be reasonably produced in the kitchen. When Lukens creates a new food or beverage concept, he talks it over with his staff to get their input. Then he considers whether it can be added to multiple locations.
Any new menu item should be easy for the kitchen staff to prepare quickly and correctly every time. It also must fit into the brewpub-style cuisine concept, and make use of products provided by local vendors.
Lukens describes his menu as “approachable.” One popular burger is the PBJ, which features a hamburger patty covered with peanut butter and bacon jam. It gained popularity over time, after a few courageous diners tried it and talked about it with their friends.
The menu also features the Bacon burger, which comes with The Dam Landing’s famous bacon jam.
The food served is essentially “bar grub,” Lukens says.
Lukens currently bottles his jam to sell through his other businesses, Ghost Gourmet and Taco Break. The latter is a popular Rochester-based food truck that offers an updated take on tacos and pizza.
Ghost Gourmet is the wholesale condiment portion of his business, and it is likely to expand. According to Lukens, the business will “develop concepts and products, and pack and distribute the products to partnership accounts.” One of these is The Trap Sports & Spirits, located at the golf course on Pretty Lake outside Plymouth.
The Dam Landing is located on the water, and the docks outside see plenty of action. Many of Lukens’ customers come to the docks, tie up, and come inside to enjoy a meal and refreshments with friends. Other than those with an appreciation for the lake life, Lukens says he has no “typical” customer.
“We touch bases with people from 21 to 70 years of age,” he says.
The restaurant is open year-round, but the busiest time is during spring and summer, when the lake draws the largest numbers of boaters and families. This does pose challenges for a business owner.
“You live and die by the season,” he says. “We embrace it. We embrace the setting.”
While Lukens appreciates his building’s history, he has made changes. The Dam Landing bar has been fully renovated, and he added a patio.
Lukens is also expanding his restaurant concepts to include another lakeside community. Lake Max Beach Bar will have a similar menu, and feature a lakeside vibe. It is expected to open this summer. Located in the Culver Marina in Marshall County, it occupies the site of the former Boardwalk Bar & Grill.
“We will have a similar menu,” Lukens explains. “It’s a phenomenal location with established relationships.”
The Culver location will have a full bar. A new tap system will offer a selection of beers from local microbreweries.
Lake Max Beach Bar was supposed to open in 2020, but like many small businesses, plans were put on hold.
“It was a hard-knock year,” Lukens says.
At The Dam Landing, the staff has gotten through the pandemic with a little trial and error. The restaurant switched to carry-out and delivery, which meant going through the menu and eliminating some of the selections.
“We had to think about how the food would look in a box,” Lukens says. “We took an optimistic approach.”
For Lukens, that meant thinking about what he and his staff could do to ease the impact of the stay-at-home orders, and what could be done to move forward successfully as a business.
His foray into a second location, and the tweaks he makes to his menu, are part of the passion he brings to his endeavors. His food truck has taken familiar tacos in a new direction. He has done the same thing at The Dam Landing, and looks forward to a similar process at the Culver location.
Lukens grew up in Warsaw and graduated from Whitko High School. He and his wife Erika are raising two children, Savannah and Ethan.
Creating a welcoming atmosphere for families is also important to Lukens. Reservations are not available, and seating is done on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Everything we do is based on efficiency and consistency,” Lukens says, adding that he wants customers to have the same positive experience every time they come to his restaurant.
The Dam Landing is located at 1305 Ewing Road in Rochester. For more info including a menu, event details and more, visit thedamlanding.com, or call 574-223-8950.
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1 Review for The Dam Landing – Rochester
Love everything about this place
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Emily the bartender, makes excellent drinks, pleasant to talk to and always stays busy and communicates with respect, Love that girl, she makes my day