At one time, there was a hole in the ceiling of the main dining area marking where firemen once slid down a pole in the race to get to the scene of the fire in a building that one housed the city's fire and police departments.
With a Lake Forest building steeped in such history and more than 100 years old, residents Carla and Mark Westcott will open Market House on the Square on Friday night with hopes of maintaining those community ties under a new name.
The former South Gate Café sign is still intact facing Forest Avenue for now, and it's familiarity is not lost on the Westcotts, who recall that after moving to Lake Forest in the late 1980s, one of their first meals was at the restaurant.
“We used to bring our little baby in a car seat and have dinner here,” Carla recalled. “We loved the history of the town, loved the outdoor dining. It felt like a really comfortable place.”
Now as owners, the couple don’t want to lose sight of that feeling.
“It’s not going to be a corporate restaurant,” Mark Westcott said. “It will have a personality. We want to make a connection with our customers, and hopefully, they will want to do the same with us.”
Making the Jump
Mark is no stranger to the kitchen. He cooks the family meals at home and loves creating new recipes. But jumping from a career in equity trading to owning a restaurant meant focusing on what he does best and finding others to fill his voids.
“I’m an entrepreneur at heart,” said Mark, who took ownership in January. “Owning a restaurant has been in the back of my brain for a while. I’m not sure I’m a restaurateur yet. I know I own a restaurant. I do like to eat. I do like to manage. The trick for me, it’s not what I know but what I don’t know. I need the right people to help me in the areas I don’t know.”
The couple brought in chef Dominic Zumpano, a James Beard nominee and Chicagoland native whose credits include Milwaukee’s 3½-star Graffito and 4-star Umami Moto. Larry Flam, whose restaurant career spans 30 years and includes working for Lettuce Entertain You, The Nine Group and opening the Park Grill at Millennium Park, will manage the restaurant.
Flam was enticed by the building’s strong community ties, and the couple’s vision of becoming a local establishment that could fill several roles.
“There is nothing better than a great neighborhood-driven restaurant,” Flam said. “A lot of people are elevating what that means. It’s not Denny’s. It doesn’t have to be something for everybody that is average. You can do amazing food and do it at a great value. I love the idea of people using restaurants every day for numerous, different things. It can be a place to do business, a place to bring your family, to eat on Friday or Saturday night with friends, or Sunday for brunch. That’s really what the old town restaurant should be.”
The food is American cooking, but that doesn’t mean just meat and potatoes, Flam said, noting influences from all over the country from Mexican to Asian.
“It’s so much more than that. We can do all kind of things. They all fit,” he said.
Putting Local First
In addition, the couple contracted the architectural services of Lake Forest resident Mark Knauer, whose restaurant designs are known across the country and internationally.
“The common theme what we want the restaurant to look like, the construction, menu, the feel we want is that it’s a local restaurant,” Mark Westcott said.
Look for the Westcotts to be very visible. Carla likely will be the one to greet customers when they come in, and Mark will be supervising the operation. They didn’t get into this to sit on the sidelines.
“We had a lot of community members who helped us with the strategic planning process, and they told us this place needs energy,” Carla Westcott said. “It’s going to be fun. We want it to be a community place. We want customers to have a connected experience.”