Local restaurateur Jim Lark — the co-founder and co-owner of West Bloomfield’s The Lark, the only restaurant to be named Hour Detroit’s Restaurant of the Year twice — passed away on Jan. 21 at his West Bloomfield home. He was 90 years old.
The youngest of six children, Lark was born in Detroit on Dec. 27, 1930. According to a press release provided by his family, he began selling newspapers at the age of 9 to support his family when his father, Frank, passed away. He went on to graduate from Catholic Central High School and obtain an undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Detroit and a law degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
He worked at the U.S. Capitol during his time at Georgetown. It was then — while his family says he was rooming with five other students at former Alaska Gov. Gruening’s home and eating too many tuna-noodle casseroles — that he began to hone his cooking skills.
After graduating, Lark joined the Navy and explored exotic ports in his downtime. When he returned home, he worked at Kaufman & Broad Co. and met Mary, who would later become his wife, and Burt Binder, who he built homebuilding company Binder and Lark Building Co. with. By 1981, Lark decided to follow his passion for cooking, and he and Mary opened The Lark together.
The high-end European restaurant was disliked by critics at first, but it eventually won them over. In our 2008 Restaurant of the Year feature, former Hour Detroit food critic Christopher Cook said the restaurant delivered “top-notch food, [an] expansive wine list, and unerring attention to detail.”
Later, in a 2010 interview with contributor Jim McFarlin, Lark reflected on why the restaurant’s concept worked so well. “To a lot of people, opening a restaurant, the approach is: What would ‘those’ people like? Mary’s and my approach was: What would we like? So we treated it as a restaurant we’d like to go to, and our favorite style is an upscale Southern European country inn,” he said. “We think of it as relaxed elegance. It’s not stuffy, but it is still upscale.”
Along with gaining the Restaurant of the Year designations, The Lark was rated the best restaurant in the U.S. by a Condé Nast Traveler magazine subscriber poll. It also attracted celebrity guests, including actors Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito, former British Prime Minister John Major, Michigan writer Jim Harrison, and attorney Geoffrey Fieger.
By the time the restaurant closed in 2015 after 35 years in business, Lark had cemented himself as a local culinary success. Before its closing, Hour Detroit’s George Bulanda interviewed Lark. “We brought the first world-class restaurant to Michigan,” Lark told Bulanda. “There are fine restaurants in Michigan, but there isn’t another I could describe as world-class.”
Apart from his work with the restaurant, Lark founded a scholarship for aspiring chefs at Schoolcraft College and helped establish the Prince of Peace parish. He enjoyed bird hunting, fishing, regular poker games, spending time at his lodge Up North, and reading and writing – In 1997, he wrote The Ultimate Lark about food, wine, travel, and adventure.
Lark is survived by Mary, whom he was married to for 60 years, his children Jarrat, Adrian, Eric, Kurt, and James II and their partners, and 11 grandchildren. He is predeceased by his parents, Frank and Minnie Lark, and his siblings Marion Lark, Jean Kish, Frank Lark, Betty Ladow, and Larry Lark.
A visitation will be held from 4-6 p.m. today at McCabe Funeral Home in Farmington Hills, and a memorial mass will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in West Bloomfield. Depending on the state of the pandemic, a party celebrating Lark’s life may be held this summer.
In place of flowers, the family requests donations in Lark’s memory be made to The Capuchin Soup Kitchen and The Father Solanus Casey Center.