PORTAGE — What do a dental hygienist and steelworker do when they get hooked on brewing beer.
The answer for Tracey and Kevin Clark was simple. They evolved their home brewing operation into Bulldog Brewing Co. in Whiting.
Six years later the couple are itching to expand, not only taking their 30-some craft brews to additional clientele, but providing everything from a lounge with upscale burgers to a casual fine dining dining room featuring steaks and chops and seafood to a super casual, grab-a-burger or enjoy a pig roast indoor/outdoor dining area.
Born is Bulldog on the Lake, a multi-themed restaurant and lounge facility at the Marina Shores development, 5987 Dunes Harbor Drive.
Two years ago, they met the property's owner when they had supplied beer to a restaurant operating in the facility during a 4th of July weekend event.
"We told him that if the restaurants ever became available to let us know," she said.
The Clarks believed the building, which includes an upstairs lounge/casual dining room, upstairs fine dining room overlooking the 250-boat marina and dunes, downstairs family dining room and an outdoor patio facility, would be perfect for their next vision of bringing their brewery to another facility and opening a unique dining experience.
"The concepts (of three different dining experiences) really sparked our interest," Tracey Clark said. "We are boaters and for a time we had a boat here."
The Marina Shores development is a mix of single-family homes and condominiums on an inland marina just south of U.S. 12 and west of Ind. 249. Originally developed more than a decade ago, it fell on some difficult times during the 2008 recession, but recently, with new owners, has taken on a new life with additional residential construction. It is located across U.S. 12 from the Portage/Ogden Dunes South Shore stop and the entrance to Ogden Dunes.
Kevin Clark, who left his steelmill job in August to devote his full time to the brewing company and restaurant, said the boating aspect was significant to them with a "captured audience" for four months out of the year.
They also are setting up an order and delivery service for boaters, not only in the Marina Shores development, but to the marinas that dot the Burns Waterway. A boater, not wanting to come ashore, they said, will be able to order a sandwich to a meal and they will deliver it, via boat.
Jonathan Newman is the executive chef at both of the Clarks' restaurants. A self-described "Iowa farm boy," Newman said he trained in Italy, ran his first restaurant at 18 in Davenport, Iowa, and worked at Chicago and Valparaiso eateries before being hired by the Clarks about three months ago. He is developing menus for both the Whiting brewery and Portage restaurant.
He describes his food, from substantial burgers to steaks and seafood, was fusion-based.
"Nothing but fries and chips are cooked in oil. Everything else is cooked in wine and whiskey," said Newman, adding the restaurant eventually will feature three menus, each available in the different rooms, but also each menu will be available in rooms.
The lounge dining area opened Jan. 10 and features casual dining along with up to 14 different brews from the Standard Diamonds Ale to the Shore Sighted IPA and a selection of fine whiskeys. The fine dining room opened Jan. 19. The casual downstairs room they are naming Sandy Paws and where Newman plans on offering fresh grilled fare will open sometime in the spring after a second kitchen is installed.
They also plan on adding on a cigar room and humidor to the building.
In addition to delivering to boaters this summer, the couple also plan on hosting private events from weddings to baby showers and can provide catering, including the delivery of box lunches to local businesses.
They also have begun hosting live musical entertainment on the weekends.