Lake House 13 rebuilt in 63 days after fire.
Dustin Racen had a dream that he brought to life with a little help from friends. He restored an old building in Chimney Cove at the Lake’s 13-mile marker and christened it Lake House 13. Business was good. People came to eat and drink, listen to live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and play Giant Jenga or Four Square.
In February 2018, Racen’s dream went up in smoke. The restaurant burned to its cement footprint. Those first-generation arcade games and vintage neon that added so much character to the restaurant’s interior? Ashes. Those skis donated and autographed? Destroyed. From kitchen to tiki bar — gone. Only the panels painted by Thomas Richmond, an artist known as Sabertooth, stood, and they still stand today, a reminder of Racen’s dream: to create a place for gathering, a cozy place, just like hunting cabins in the woods.
One of those panels in Autumn colors with pine trees standing tall still bears the black smoke residue from the fire that took Racen’s restaurant to the ground. Nevertheless, and again with a lot of help from friends and neighbors, Lake House 13 opened a short 63 days later. It looks and feels very much like that original cozy lodge, but it’s quite new. Tables and chairs? New. Floor, walls, windows and roof? New.
Indeed, little appears to have changed except the tiki bar which has been replaced with a larger rectangular bar inside and out. A door connects the two so that bartenders can easily step from one to the other as needed. More stools around the bar and a streamlined organization overseen by Ron Westgate, bartender from the beginning of the Lake House 13 dream, mean more people can be served efficiently.
The kitchen is larger, too. Making sure the delicious foods are presented well is Kyle Putney, a local resident who learned the art and craft of food and food management in kitchens at Lake of the Ozarks. He collaborates with Racen to fine-tune the menu and flavors.
Lake House 13 takes pride in its meat. Everything is smoked in-house. A tender brisket may be the heart of a BBQ Brisket Swiss Burger or three soft-shell tacos for Taco Thursdays. A margarita that actually tastes of tequila pairs well with either one.
Pizza is another star at Lake House 13. Putney and Racen experimented with a daily, freshly-made crust until they perfected it. A brick pizza oven renders the dough firm on bottom, golden at the edge, and sturdy enough to support a manly pizza known as the Carnivore. A five-meat pizza, the Carnivore is abundant in pepperoni, ham, bacon, sausage and ground beef. It’s a force to be reckoned with, especially when paired with one of Lake House 13’s beers, including Budweiser products, of course, Pacifico, and Kansas City’s Boulevard Wheat, Pale Ale, and Single-Wide IPA.
A lighter drink now proffered at Lake House 13 is Buzz Water, aptly named because it has a 5% Alcohol by Volume rating plus electrolytes, and is gluten-free. With wine providing the spirit, it’s bottled in raspberry, watermelon, and cucumber flavors. It was a refreshing hit for Harbor Hop patrons.
Still, some customers want a mighty kick in the cocktails, and Lake House 13 has a drink for that, too. It’s called Sleeping with the Fishes because the five different liquors used to make it could put someone underwater if not consumed responsibly. It’s made with Blood Orange Sour, Sprite, vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and Triple Sec. A couple of Swedish Fish float through the drink, adding a fun element to a drink doing serious business.
Another favorite menu item is the Catfish Po’Boy, made with catfish that tastes like the fish Grandpa pulled from the Lake years ago. The flavor of Lake House’s Po’Boy fish is true! It’s better than the average farm-raised fish that may or may not have taste beyond the crisp fried breading. Served with a side of Twice-baked Potato Salad topped with the restaurant’s candied bacon, the Po’Boy meal is a delight.
Racen has brought Lake House 13 to life twice now, and it’s going strong for 2019. The flavors are great, and the ambiance is first-rate. Variety in both food and drink should please every palate and every age. Children love chicken tenders and corn dogs — two menu items just for them.
A variety in music also pleases different ages. Lake House 13 has featured Reggae one weekend and KC Group Therapy on another. Both genres bring music that gets people dancing, and the restaurant has space for that, too.
Happy Hours Monday through Friday provide deals on drink and food. So does Taco Thursday. Above all, Lake House 13 is a place where people gather. In fact, Lake House 13 is a community of people serving good food and good times.
Rebuilding the Dream
A large Caribou was a conversation-starter in the first Lake House 13. That animal, so long preserved, became ash after the fire. Racen’s neighbors in Chimney Cove searched online for a replacement and found one in Iowa. They drove the distance to buy it and deliver it to him. He installed it in a place of honor. It now wears a brimmed hat and reminds Racen of what was. More important, it reminds him of what is: a community of support without which he could not have opened in 63 days. People showed up and picked up paint brushes. They did what they could to bring the dream back to life.
Other neighbors donated and autographed paddles and skis as good luck tokens and décor. In fact, framed prints, Lake maps, and memorabilia looking old and weathered are gifts from those who wanted to see Lake House 13 thrive again. Just a few items could be salvaged. Metal signs for the Royals and Cardinals are two that were dug out of ash, cleaned, and restored. They hang beside donated things, given by good people residing here at Lake of the Ozarks.
Sasquatch Versus Scalawag
The restaurant business is a community of its own at Lake of the Ozarks. Branding Iron’s owners, Kelly and Laurie Preator, are now enduring what Racen has overcome. The Preator’s restaurant burned down earlier this year, but before it did, Racen could count on them for supplies in an emergency. Lake House returned the favor, of course.
One recent Fourth of July evening — a busy, busy time for restaurants at the Lake — the Preators closed The Branding Iron and treated all their employees to a night at Lake House 13 to show their appreciation to the Iron’s staff — the ones who made their restaurant thrive. That’s the kind of people the Preators are, says Racen and Westgate. That’s the kind of people behind Lake House 13, too.
Still, it must be granted, Lake House 13 has a sense of humor, one admired by Joe and Christy Jung, owners of Jolly Roger’s who also faced a loss by fire and had to rebuild in 2008. As the legend goes, the Jungs make a game of pilfering some item from other Lake restaurants. Apparently, they are so practiced at this prank the staff doesn’t notice — at least that was Lake House 13’s experience. They just didn’t see their four-foot Sasquatch disappear.
Of course, a missing Sasquatch requires a hunt or at least a tradeoff so Lake House took off with the Jolly Roger’s’ pirate. For months, he sat atop a partial wall for all to see and directly across from the Sasquatch who was returned New Year’s Eve 2018. At some point, Lake House will return the pirate but good fun and good feelings between restaurant owners will surely continue.
How a Devastating Loss Changes a Man
Racen has always been a hands-on boss. He builds, cooks, serves, cleans, and pours when necessary. He did the same after Lake House 13 burned so anyone might ask: what’s different now? He’s more responsible, he says, but he attributes most of that to his own family expanding. He’s now the father to Miller Marie, 8 months old in July.
DJ Shannon, Miller’s mother, is the karaoke master on Sunday afternoons and just as hard-working. She pitches in wherever and whenever she’s needed. Together, Racen and Shannon are building at and for Lake of the Ozarks. They’re putting down deep roots in addition to the restaurant. They just bought a house on Shawnee Bend and plan to stay. This is their home, one that began with an old building in need of repair and Racen’s dream.
About Lake House 13
98 Oasis Circle, Sunrise Beach
Chimney Cove, 13-mile marker
Open Daily at 11 a.m. Closes Monday-Saturday at 1:30 a.m. Closes Sunday at midnight.