Of all the places to move, Culver was at the bottom of the list for Mark Damore in 2011. But when the opportunity arose to revitalize what had been one of the town’s finest — and one of the most popular — restaurants, he reluctantly accepted it. Now, nine years later, Damore looks at that life-changing decision as one of the best he ever made.
As someone who grew up around the restaurant wholesale produce business, Damore has always had an appreciation for the industry.
“I’ve always been a restaurant guy, a loyal patron over the years wherever I was,” Damore says.
That respect only grew when he went on a trip to Italy in 2010. He especially fell in love with the ever-popular Italian alfresco — or outdoor — dining.
“I don’t know if you have enough paper to write down how Italy can inspire someone,” Damore says. “From a dining perspective, the biggest takeaway was the alfresco dining. You walk around and that’s what you do — you eat outside.”
It was an experience that irrevocably changed Damore’s perspective of dining.
A year and a half after returning from Italy, his father, who owns The Original Root Beer Stand, called him.
“‘The owner of Edgewater approached us, he wants to sell. We think you’d be perfect,’” Damore recalls his parents saying. “‘We think this is your calling. Just check it out, see what you think.’”
Although Damore was looking into a career change, buying a restaurant, especially one in a small town so far from his big-city home of Indianapolis, was not one on his radar at that time.
“I always said I would end up in Culver later. And when I said ‘later,’ I meant 50s. Going at 31 was definitely a culture shock,” he says.
It took some convincing, but after six weeks of negotiations, the idea of owning a restaurant captured Damore’s imagination. After closing the deal mid-March, 2012, he jumped into renovating the property with both feet. On May 11, 2012, The Lakehouse Grille celebrated its grand opening.
“I thought I knew what I was doing. I did not,” Damore says. “I learned a lot, and I grew, along with my staff and loyal patrons.”
Despite the intense learning curve, the restaurant has only gained in popularity since it opened.
By 2015, Damore decided it was time to expand the business to include a small taste of Italy.
“I always wanted to do alfresco dining,” he says. “I’ve always had this feeling that you’re naturally happier outside. That’s why I invested so much in doing a patio. The season is relatively short in northern Indiana. There was a little gamble there mathematically. I knew that — and I knew it would take many years to pay for the patio.”
It was a gutsy move, but one that quickly became, and has remained, the most popular place to eat on the premises.
However, the alfresco patio isn’t the only place that guests love. The Lakehouse Grille also offers banquet rooms, one that guests love for events of all kinds, especially around the holidays.
“Christmas parties are kind of a big deal for us,” Damore says.
As soon as possible, Damore hopes to add one more aspect to the venue: a high-end Air B&B overlooking the patio.
“This Air B&B is going to be about a 1200 sq. ft., three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment above the patio,” Damore says. “It is going to be very luxurious. That’s the whole reason I’m building it.”
Guests at The Lakehouse enjoy the “high-end casual” atmosphere that reflects Culver’s unique culture at large. No matter where patrons sit — in the restaurant, at the bar, on the patio, or in the banquet room — they will be able to enjoy a pleasantly eclectic balance of relaxed coastal vibes and classy elegant ambiance. Anyone can feel comfortable here, whether they’re fresh off the boat sporting swimsuits or arriving for a black-tie, by-reservation dinner.
The Lakehouse’s mood is not only set by the architecture, but also by the menu. Everything listed, whether steaks, burgers, ribs, pork chops, sushi, crab cakes, or a wide variety of cocktails, are made with the finest of ingredients.
“I’ve been to a lot of restaurants in my life — all over the world — and I’ve been to a lot of great ones,” Damore says. “I know there are better restaurants out there than the Lakehouse Grille, but dollar for dollar, I believe we can hang with anyone. That’s one thing that I feel unbelievably confident about is our value. Everything we buy is literally the best. I will not sacrifice quality for cost.”
Damore has made the Lakehouse into a restaurant that has become a Culver staple. However, the incredible place he has established would not be possible without two groups of people. The first is his staff, who have caught onto Damore’s vision of treating all guests like family.
“My most successful front-of-the-house employees — they know the patrons’ grandkids names! I mean, how effective is that, if you go to a table and your server asks about your grandkids,” Damore says. “The food already has a leg up, the drinks already have a leg up, because guests are treated like family, and that is what The Lakehouse does.”
The second is his family. His wife, Dana, has become a mainstay in all of Damore’s endeavors. Their four-year-old son, Liam, is continuing the tradition of growing up around the family business. Already, he is learning to greet guests and make them feel at home.
As Damore watches his son grow, he can’t imagine any better place than Culver to raise a family. It has become a place of intense belonging.
“I embraced it,” he says. “I think that Culver is the best town in the world. I mean, the caliber of Culver is off the charts. When I realized I could make a difference in a high-caliber community, I was sold 100%.”
The Lakehouse Grille is located at 620 E. Lakeshore Drv., Culver. Check them out online at thelakehouseculver.com or give them a call at 574-842-2234. Lakehouse Grille is open Sunday 11:00 am to 8:00 pm and Tuesday through Thursday 11:00 am to 9:00 pm. Fridays and Saturdays, they are open 11:00 am to 10:00 pm. They are closed Mondays.