This past month marked a milestone for The Lark – the beginning of our 35th year in business. Considering the fact that only about one in 50 independent restaurants lives to see a tenth anniversary this is quite an accomplishment. When the restaurant opened in 1981 the economy was in turmoil; the 1981-1982 recession was the worst economic downturn in the United States since the Great Depression. One might say that my father was foolish for opening a high-end restaurant during such trying times but he had the will and gusto to make it through.
When asked about why he opened The Lark my father has several reasons, most importantly his love for food, his desire to perform as the ultimate host and his will to share his culinary vision in a magical way with others. In creating the restaurant the ambience was equally important to the food. My mother, Mary, is the soul of the restaurant and the creative touch to everything one sees – the fresh flowers around the room, the art hung on the walls, the charming garden, even our Gien plates. It’s the combination of my father’s Teutonic management style and my mother’s artful touches that makes The Lark the special place it has come to be.
Thank you for all your warm wishes for these 35 fabulous years. We’ve enjoyed serving all our cherished patrons, whom we are pleased to call friends and without whom The Lark would not exist.
Click below to read an article by the Detroit Free Press about our anniversary.
The Lark Celebrates 35 Years
This morning while getting ready for work, the television caught my attention. Kelly and Michael on their show ‘Live’ were discussing an article they had read stating that some restaurants have started taking credit cards with reservations and now charge $30-$200/person if a table doesn’t show or cancels late. The two acted surprised and disapproving. Why?
Taking a credit card to hold a reservation at a restaurant has always been a touchy subject. For whatever reason, people who have no problem doing such to guarantee a hotel night or a plane reservation can balk at the same request from a restaurant. Perhaps this is because big, casual restaurants, where Americans dine most often, tend not to take reservations except for large groups, and if a table doesn’t show there are often other walk-ins to fill the space.
The world of small fine dining establishments is completely different. A large percentage of independently-owned, high-end restaurants are relatively small. With the high food and operating costs associated with such an operation, filling every seat possible is imperative. In order to guarantee a table at these establishments one needs to make a reservation. At The Lark we gladly take walk-ins as well but often times a table is not available. As locals have grown to discover this, walk-ins are a rare occasion at our 12 table restaurant. Thus, when a table no-shows or cancels last minute, it will remain unseated.
As it takes 2-3 hours to dine at The Lark, when one reserves a table Tuesday through Thursday (and sometimes Friday), the table is reserved for the entire evening. Very different from casual restaurants where tables are constantly being turned. Thus a no-show equates to an empty table for the night. This causes a loss to the service staff, who depend on gratuities to support their families. A 4-top no-show at The Lark could be a third of a waiter’s income for the day. Of course the restaurant takes a hit as well, as the lost income will never be recouped. And folks on the waitlist have been denied the opportunity to dine at the spot of their choice that evening.
I’m not sure why people are so disrespectful to restaurants that they no-show or cancel ten minutes before their arrival time. It’s a problem that many restaurateurs face and in many cases can be the difference between turning a profit or taking a loss. If one doesn’t want to be hit with a fee for failing to honor a reservation the solution is simple: be courteous enough to cancel with sufficient notice so that the restaurant is able to rebook your table.
Detroit has never been nationally known for having a strong local restaurant scene. While it can be argued that there certainly have always been some great restaurants in the Metropolitan area, the economic climate since 9/11 has made it difficult for independent restaurants to thrive. As small restaurant owners ourselves, we Larks try to support locally-owned establishments, many run by the hardest-working and best people you could want to know.
In the news of late there has been much hoopla about all the new restaurants opening in downtown Detroit. The last few months have already seen a slew of openings including Selden Standard, Gold Cash Gold, Antietam and others. Eater Detroit published an article this week titled “Detroit’s Most Anticipated Openings of Spring/Summer 2015“. It highlights 15 new ventures opening in the city proper over the next six months. That’s a lot of new restaurants in an area that has already seen so much activity in the last year. And while we wish each and every one of these new establishments success and prosperity, one can’t help but wonder how many will make it in the long run. The restaurant business is a challenge to say the least, with costs so high that only about one in 50 non-chain restaurants survives for more than 10 years.
We hope that readers of this blog will support these and other new establishments in and around Detroit, in lieu of going to the chain restaurants that flood the market here and around the country. Of course it’s safer to dine at a national chain where you know you like the food and atmosphere, but each dollar spent at a chain is one less dollar spent supporting the restaurants that give a city its local flavor. And we must not forget the old standards, the tried and true, the spots found all over town that opened in some cases decades ago, run now by the original owner’s children or grandchildren. Have you forgotten about a place like this down the street from your office? Your house? Revisit it. Say hello to the hard working owners and managers and let them know you’re happy they are there, day after day, working hard to stay afloat and to give this great city of ours a personality, character, a heartbeat. This is our city and it’s up to all of us to support the establishments that make Detroit a great place to be.
Running a small fine dining restaurant certainly has its challenges, but the rewards far outweigh the day-to-day struggles. One of the main reasons we so enjoy running The Lark is the special people we have met throughout the years. Many of our patrons have become like family to us. What may have started as a couple coming to The Lark for dinners back in the 80s in many cases has now evolved to family dinners including their children, and in some cases grandchildren. We look forward to hearing the updates on who has gone off to college, gotten married or had a baby.
Sometimes the news is not so good, as cherished regulars might fall ill or pass away. This week has brought much sadness to the staff at The Lark as two of our favorite patrons have parted. Dr. Thomas Kwyer, who drove up from Toledo regularly with his family to dine with us; and Anna Rose Waak, who enjoyed dozens of our monthly theme dinners with her husband, were wonderful people and the world was a better place for them having been in it. They will be missed by everyone at The Lark.
Back by popular demand, we will be offering small plates in addition to our regular menu on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, February 17, 18 & 19th.
Chef John will be featuring Lark specialties as well as creative new dishes. Prices for small plates will range from $6 to $25.
Please join us for our upcoming small plates nights, April 15th-17th. House specialties, such as our famous Salt-Baked Shrimp, will be offered along with new creations from Chef John at pocket friendly pricing – most $8-$14. Fabulous food shared with friends in beautiful surroundings – a perfect way to welcome in spring. We hope to see you there!
Vacation was nice but now it’s time to get back to the busy days of summer. Chef John is well rested from vacation and has some new dishes he’s trying out on our grill. John loves company so remember that our patio is available most evenings for those wishing an appetizer or two or wanting to just enjoy some drinks. So, on any evening when the weather is fine, give Carl a call to find out if the patio is available and stop by to relax after your busy day. We hope to see you soon!