Aker talks Culver Marina changes, additions, and TV show
Those members of Culver’s Kiwanis Club hadn’t yet experienced the Boardwalk Bar and Grille at the Culver Marina on State Road 117 had their chance recently, as marina owner Gary Aker hosted the club for a closer look at the longstanding business’ operations.
Kiwanis member Bob Volkert, in introducing the speaker, said Aker has been “a wonderful sponsor for our (Kiwanis) bass tournament, as well as (local realtor) Chris Collins. They made it a huge success. It was probably the most successful single-day fund-raiser Kiwanis has held.”
Volkert praised the marina’s ability to get boats into the water, and added participating fishermen “thought it was wonderful.”
Aker, noting the marina had been at its present location since the early 1970s, explained he and his family have added a new facade to the main building in addition to creating the Maxinkuckee Board Shop, which he said has been very well received by customers.
“The board shop is far and away one of the leading accessory shops in the Midwest,” Aker said. A great deal of hard work goes into supplying it, including traveling to shows such as the Surf Expo in Orlando, Florida to choose brands to sell here in Culver, noted Aker.
“We try to pick trends from California the year before,” he added. “That’s been pretty successful.”
The addition of the Boardwalk restaurant came about from talking to customers on the dock.
“They said, ‘If we could just have a place to get a sandwich (when stopping by from boating). At first it was a window to order hot dogs, burgers, salads, and fries -- that sort of thing. Then customers said, ‘Now if I could just get a beer!’ So we embarked on the Boardwalk Bar and Grille.”
Aker said he and friend and developer Alan Collins sat down and drew up plans for the project three years ago in April, with hopes of opening by July 4 that same year. The bar and grille was complete “from post to finish” in 87 days and made its July 4 deadline. Some additional docking was added on the side, he noted, so boaters could “tie up, have some lunch, and go boating, and it’s worked out very well.”
The liquor permit the facility has requires the restaurant to be open whenever the bar is, Aker explained, and drinkers must stay on the property while holding their drinks; they aren’t allowed to set foot on the dock. The restaurant is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and until 9 p.m. on weekends.
The Culver Marina is “full service on the water” as well, said Aker.
“A couple years ago, we did a time study (working with) the service manager at the time...who set up a clock. We’d hit a stopwatch from when we got the call to when we were reacting to do something about it. The average time was 13 minutes to charge a battery, jump start a boat, tow it in -- all kinds of things.”
The Marina also continues to be an official distributor of Shoreland’r and Shorestation lift products for all of Indiana, southwest Michigan, and parts of Ohio and Illinois, meaning any products from those lines purchased in covered areas come through Culver.
The marina presently offers 150 pier slips for rent to boaters. Culver’s town park, said Aker, took around 30 percent of the marina’s customers several years ago when it added its own boat slip rentals. The facility also stores around 500 boats and power watercraft. Some $15,000 was recently spent by the business on removal of duckweed in its harbor, he added.
Aker, who said he’s from Plymouth but has been a Culverite “a long time,” noted his family left a condo at Chadwick Shores in lieu of a cottage they more recently purchased on the east shore of Lake Maxinkuckee.
“Then the marina thing happened,” he added, “and here we are.”
Aker’s wife Yvonne and two children -- Gary Jr. and Lindy Raider and her husband Ben -- help keep the operation going.
One Marina-related fact of which some local residents may be aware is the nationally viewed television show Aker sponsors on the Sportsman Channel, “Angling the Great Lakes.” Aker said he’s involved with the Raghorn Company, which produces Indiana Outdoors news magazine, and which a few years ago approached Aker about a “destination-based TV show.”
The first year, the program aired on area affiliates like WNIT and SBT-2, in addition to Midwestern affiliates elsewhere in Indiana and other states. The show then embarked on a Comcast venture on the Sportsman Channel, which brings it into 39 million homes.
“They see angling on the Great Lakes,” he said. “You see my mug on there a few times. It’s based on lots of places in the Great Lakes region to fish.”
Locales have ranged from Lake of the Woods in Minnesota to the Niagara River, he said.
Most episodes can be viewed online at atgltv.com, and of course Culver Marina has some advertisements on the show, in addition to other businesses in the Culver community.
“I’m selling boats (because of) it,” Aker pointed out. “Every week, somebody says, ‘I saw you on TV.’ And every fish we caught, we ate!”