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St. Clair Shores

Beach Grill to close after 15 years; will reopen with new owners

October 24, 2012

It was a summer retreat with a view of the lake over cocktails or beer, a spot for a nice evening out with a sweetheart, somewhere to take the family for a beautiful Sunday brunch, and a fun stop with friends for a night of dancing.

But that’s coming to an end at the Beach Grill, which closed its doors for the last time in September.

“It’s sort of an end of an era,” said Mark DiMaso, who has owned the Beach Grill for the past 15 years — ever since closing the original Brownie’s on the Lake. The Jefferson Avenue restaurant bearing that name is in a different location now with different owners.

“I literally was the last person to walk through Brownie’s on the Lake,” DiMaso said. “I waved to the bulldozers, they knocked down Brownie’s before my eyes. A week after that, we started the building of the Beach Grill.”

Construction took nine months and cost $6.5 million in 1997. Since then, the business has been open seasonally, with a core staff of 20 returning each spring from the fall before to train about 75 new workers every year.

Now, DiMaso has sold the restaurant to the owners of Jefferson Beach Marina. It will not be operated under the Beach Grill name.

“I’m a 57-year-old man who has been in the business since I was 14,” DiMaso said. “I’m a little tired. It’s a huge operation here, 20,000 square feet. We open and we close and most people think” that would be easier than being open year-round.

“It’s actually not a big plus because you have to rehire, retrain every year. It’s actually pretty complicated stuff.”

Nevertheless, DiMaso said he has “loved every single minute of it.”

Manager Lynn Arrington worked at the Beach Grill since its inception and has held positions from server to banquet coordinator and manager of the hostess staff.

“It’s a fun place to work because, with it being on the water, a neighborhood place, it was always a good place to work,” said Arrington, of Grosse Pointe Woods. “I think it’ll be greatly missed because it was a destination spot.”

She has fond memories of different special events the restaurant hosted over the years, including Christmas parties for employees and regular customers, and holiday brunches. She said she’s really going to miss the customers and staff.

“It really was quite a ride,” DiMaso said, estimating that millions of customers have come through the doors over the years, lining up on Friday and Saturday nights and then coming back for Sunday brunch.

“Before times got a little soft … we might have 1,200 people in the building at 10 o’clock and have a line outside of about 400-500 … waiting to get into the nightclub,” he said.

The Beach Grill itself was divided into the main restaurant and the Aqua Bar Room with an elevated bar, dance floor and disc jockey flowing out to the lakefront deck and tiki bar. A common lobby connected the two aspects of the business.

“It worked out tremendously,” DiMaso said.

The new owners pledge to bring the same or better level of service to the new restaurant that customers have become accustomed to with DiMaso.

“Our interest is, continually, to elevate the level of service and the amenities for our patrons, as well as visitors,” said Danny Samson, a principal with Jefferson Beach Marina. “The folks who have their boats at the marina, as well as the general public, will always be welcome to enjoy the operation and all that it has to offer.”

Samson said it is their goal to make sure the restaurant is open for business as usual in the spring.

“The restaurant has always been an important part of the marina operation and will continue to be, and we very much look forward to our continued success within the Nautical Mile and enhancing, really, the amenities for residents and visitors in the area,” he said.

Over the past 15 years, DiMaso said he was at the restaurant seven days a week, upwards of 16 hours a day when the Beach Grill was open from March through September each year.

“I’ve loved all the customers that have come in over the years; they’ve loved us right back,” he said. “It’s been a great run.”

One of the great things about the Beach Grill, Arrington said, was that there was something new every year to bring excitement to the customers and staff.

“Our local following, that’s not going to be there anymore,” she said. “So that’s going to be a big hole, I think, to the community.

“I’ll miss it (but) … all good things come to an end, eventually.”

DiMaso said he isn’t leaving the area he loves and will continue living in “sunny St. Clair Shores, Michigan,” as he calls it.

“I love this community, and people are going to be seeing me around,” he said, adding that he “may or may not get involved in the restaurant business again, but for right now, I just want to relax.”

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