Mandy Yannucci’s first date with her husband was at the Twin Lakes Tavern 17 years ago.
Now, she’s working as the general manager in the new restaurant occupying the old building, located at 7508 state Route 43, now called Lake House Kitchen & Bar.
In the three months the Lake House has been open, Yannucci said, the community has responded enthusiastically.
“I’ve had people come back three days in a row because they love it so much,” she said. “I’ll see them on a Thursday, they’re back on Friday, they’re back on Saturday. The response has been phenomenal with the transition, with the change.”
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In his opinion, part of what’s driving such a high turnout is co-owner Ben Koberna’s involvement. Koberna was a longtime regular at the Tavern.
“People know that he’s bringing back that original feel,” Yannucci said. It’s a feeling of comaraderie, a feeling that everyone in the place knows each other and that they’re all friends.
Thursday night trivia is a draw as well, she said.
The Lake House’s views of Twin Lakes’ East Lake are enough to draw repeat customers as well. It’s striking how much of the lake can be seen from inside. Looking out over the tops of the liquor bottles lined up behind the bar gives one the impression of watching an Ansel Adams photo in motion as the wind ripples the water.
Co-owner Mike Beder, who owns several other businesses in Kent, said the impressive vista is a key component to the atmosphere they’re working to cultivate at Lake House Kitchen & Bar.
“We’re really leaning into our proximity to the lake,” Beder said.
Koberna and Beder bought the building on May 12, according to Koberna. They were open for business the very same evening. Most of the staff stayed on, easing the month-long transition to a new menu. “The very first thing we did when we bought it was reach out to [previous owner Richard Gressard’s] old staff,” Koberna said. “This place was interesting in that the staff that worked here was very loyal and stayed here a long time.”
He describes it as “one of the great neighborhood bars” under Gressard’s leadership, and one of their goals is to make sure that reputation endures.
The new owners and management also want to place the place into something more than a neighborhood bar — a “destination” — without losing its hometown charm.
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One way of doing this was bringing Doug Hite aboard as the Lake House’s executive chef.
Hite, who graduated from Kent State in 2017, was part of Beder’s team at the Franklin Hotel Bar. He currently lives in Cleveland Heights, coming to the Lakehouse from a handmade pasta restaurant in Shaker Heights called Scorpacciata.
“Kent has always been my favorite place to be,” Hite said. “I’ve done stints in Oregon and Pittsburgh and I always come back to Kent.”
Currently, the Lake House is offering its familiar seafood fare like fish and chips, and clam chowder that Hite said is the best anyone is likely to have.
The Lake House has a selection of craft cocktails to pair with dinner as well.
“We have some very unique cocktails. We’re definitely starting to focus a little more on bourbon as that’s become more popular,” Yannucci said. “We’ve got a couple scotch cocktails. We have a pomegranate mescarito that’s made with spicy mescal.” They’re delicious enough, she adds, that people will usually come back for seconds.
“We’re growing,” Hite said. “We’re going to keep elevating what we have and keep changing the menu up to offer some fresh new selections that people will enjoy.”
As the seasons change, it gives the Lake House a chance to do some different things. Some of those new offerings could be on the menu starting Oct. 1.
While still focusing on improving and “embellishing” their seafood menu, Hite said that he plans to shift the restaurant’s focus to something more seasonally and regionally appropriate like shrimp pasta, for example. Rotating specials to keep things interesting is a possibility as well.
Koberna mentioned that they may be reviving Gressard’s popular weekly clambake offering for the fall.
Autumn also means football, something the staff at Lake House Kitchen & Bar knows opens up other opportunities.
“I know in a couple of weeks for the Ohio State game, Doug’s going to roll out a game day menu,” said Koberna. “Richard had a great tradition of Brown’s games here, so we’re going to use the Ohio State Saturday night game as an opportunity to showcase that, and then serve that on Sunday afternoons during football.”
“The mission is to keep it fun and make this a destination for all of your football games,” Hite said. “We want to reflect the great Northeast Ohio tradition of tailgating.”
The outdoor patio features a covered kitchen and bar setup that Hite will use to grill up steaks, burgers, and more while the game airs on the television hanging above the bar. He also has plans to introduce a Polish Boy to the menu.
“I like to break the separation between the patron and the kitchen,” said Hite. “I actually enjoy being able to speak directly and relate directly to the patrons. It’s a fun thing to watch, a fun thing to be a part of, and I feel like it builds a sense of community around this place.”
Contact reporter Derek Kreider at DKreider@Gannett.com