FL gets seat at head table


This 7,100-square-foot facility on Second Lake will soon be occupied by a new restaurant. The building housed the Lake House Restaurant in 2008-09. The new business will be Acqua Forest Lake, an offshoot of a White Bear Lake eatery. (File photo)
This 7,100-square-foot facility on Second Lake will soon be occupied by a new restaurant. The building housed the Lake House Restaurant in 2008-09. The new business will be Acqua Forest Lake, an offshoot of a White Bear Lake eatery. (File photo)



White Bear Lake’s popular Acqua Restaurant to open offshoot in former Lake House building


Clint Riese
News Editor

Around the time the ice thaws this spring, one of the best views of Forest Lake will finally be re-opened to the public.

Fine dining fans, rejoice. A new establishment is planning to open the week of April 16 in the catching building once known as The Lake House Restaurant on Second Lake’s Willow Point.

It’s not just any venture. Acqua Forest Lake will be an offshoot of a highly successful eatery on the shore of White Bear Lake. Acqua Restaurant and Bar opened in a former bistro in 2009 and has earned regional and national acclaim.

Co-founder and general manager Daron Close expects his team to be in the building here March 1.

“We’re just excited to get out there,” he said. “It couldn’t be a better spot, couldn’t be a better community. I think it will be a lot of fun. I think that location’s going to be really beautiful.”

Ideal Template

Having the building occupied is one thing, but the area could be in for a real treat if Acqua Forest Lake carries over the recipe for success from its sister to the south.

In their first ownership venture, Close, his fiance Nicole Whetzel and executive chef Chris Whalen quickly established the original Acqua as a destination restaurant.

A Roseville native and University of Wisconsin–Stout graduate, Close met Whetzel while they worked for the D’Amico and Sons family of restaurants in Minneapolis. He managed the sophisticated Cafe Lurcat in Loring Park, then met Whalen while managing Campiello in Uptown. Close’s last position with D’Amico was general manager of Masa, a new, contemporary Mexican restaurant on Nicollet Avenue.

That high-end dining background helped them grow Acqua. The former restaurant at that site opened seasonally and used a kitchen measuring only 15-by-15 feet. Close and his crew opened it with a handful of tables and have guided it through four expansions.

Today, the restaurant uses the whole building, is open year-round and features a staff of up to 30 during the summer.

“It’s been a good run,” Close said. “We couldn’t have opened it in a better spot. The people around here are just phenomenal; amazing clientele. We know probably 70 percent of the people that walk through the door now.”

Customers return for a reason. Opentable.com users voted Acqua among the top 100 restaurants in the nation for service in 2012. In the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, it ranked in the top 10 of three categories: service, food and overall quality.

The entire menu is handmade daily, Close said, and seafood is also shipped in each day. Whalen specializes in Italian-driven entrees and is trained in French techniques.

Serious About Food

Since getting their first restaurant up to speed, Close and his team have been on the lookout for an ideal second location.

The nearly 7,100-square-foot facility on Forest Lake, which closed in August of 2009, has long been high on their list.

“I knew Forest Lake, and I knew there’s only X amount of upscale restaurants that have made a run from us north,” Close said. “That was probably the biggest venture I’d seen from somebody who built from scratch.

“When it closed I made some calls and it was way out of our budget. I’ve been watching it close.”

Eventually, the price fell to the point that Close brought it to the attention of his landlord at the Acqua property in White Bear Lake. Once paperwork is finalized, that property owner will be landlord to a second Acqua operation.

In nearly every way, Close said, the new one will be modeled after the original. The menu will remain centered on old world Italian favorites, as Whalen will make the move and be the executive chef here.

Close said Whalen’s jaw dropped when he first beheld the fully loaded kitchen.

“They certainly didn’t spare any expense,” Close said. “You could feed an army out of there.”

Accordingly, the food menu will be the overarching focus. Though Acqua Forest Lake will offer wine and beer, Close said to expect no live music, boat service or happy hour.

“We’re not a bar first. We don’t want to be a bar,” he said. “We want our dinner service to be what we’re all about.”

Hours at the original location are 5-10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and that is what Close is planning in Forest Lake, in addition to a family-style Sunday brunch.

On busy nights, complimentary valet parking will be offered so as to maximize space in a tight parking lot.

Close and Whetzel will split time between the locations. JJ Maleitzke, an Acqua employee with roots in Scandia and Forest Lake, will serve as general manager of the new location. One or two members of the White Bear Lake wait staff may be shifted, but the rest of the staff will be hired locally. Close expects the staff to number up to 35 in summer months, with 25 jobs being full-time.

The building’s physical structure will be unchanged.

“It’s a beautiful property,” Close said. “They did a great job on the build. It’s gorgeous.”

Expecting Success

With over 15 years in the industry, Close trusts his hunch regarding the site’s potential.

The Lake House closed after less than 15 months. Close said high overhead costs and the departure of an acclaimed chef may have contributed to the struggles.

Leasing the building will keep his group on solid financial footing, Close said, noting Acqua’s low turnover and established reputation. Many customers frequent White Bear Lake from Forest Lake, Wyoming or even further north.

“We have a lot of faith in our concept, and also, we have faith in hospitality,” Close said. “We feel that as long as we’re putting out a really quality, honest product and doing it with integrity…If it didn’t work, then we might have to rethink our whole place in this business.”

  • http://www.EricLangness.com Eric Langness

    It will be nice to see this place open again. I hope they price point their food lower than their White Bear Lake facility so that enough people continue to visit the place and it stays open!

    • Brent

      Forest Lake Residents,

      Acqua opening in your city is a great thing – the owners are very genuine people and their menu and service is unmatched by anything in the NorthEast Metro. I encourage you to open your mind and focus on what will be a tremendous dining experience and huge asset to your community.

      The value for the experience is worth it. Try it and I thing you’ll agree.

  • The Critic

    The overhead cost to operate this business in a building of this size is destin for failer!

    • English 101

      Nice spelling!

  • Kristy (new lake house owner on Forest Lake)

    According to the hundreds of local comments on Face Book already and continue to climb in number, regarding this arricle this restaurant will not make it. No boat access, no bar, and now events makes for a lose lose situation. Too bad for Forest Lake, and we were all hoping for this restaurant to reopen as a fun, family, friendly, dockside/snowmobile place; darn’it.

  • Mike

    Sounds like these people know more about Fine Dining then Forest Lake. They are using the same templete as the origional Lake House…and look how that worked out. I remember the Lake House at the beginning being all about the high end dining…When they finally caught on to what the people were looking for in this town it was to late…

  • Colleene and Andy

    Are you kidding? Have you done your research? If you are from this area you should know
    the white tablecloth, expensive dinner idea will not work here. It has been done twice and
    failed. We are hundreds of residents, lake people, snowmobilers who are desperate to
    come off the lake for a great burger, sandwich, and yes, pasta. The people have expressed this over and over again. Why aren’t you listening. We want to dock our boats or drive up on snowmobiles or walk in for decently priced food and have fun. Believe me, we will come by the hundreds and spend our money.

  • Andrew

    They are making all the same mistakes The Lake House did. Fine dining wasn’t really cut out for this community and there was not enough parking. The Lake House tried to have a parking lot put in but the community circulated a petition and shot that down. People don’t want to park along side North Shore Trail and walk to the restaurant. With no boat service they are turning away a TON of business. We really won’t know what it will be like until it opens but as a former employee of The Lake House, it sounds as if they won’t be doing anything different aside from turning away business from the people coming off the lake. Best of luck anyways!

  • Charlie

    As one who frequents the White Bear establishment, I am very happy that Acqua chose to reopen the Lake House and operate it in the same manner as the White Bear Acqua. The food, service and hospitality are exceptional and make Acqua a destination location.

    Thank you for believing in Forest Lake Acqua and here is to many years of success at your new Forest Lake location.

  • http://facebook eva

    We live on Big Marine & Aqua is our favorite fine dining/special occassion restaurant. We are delighted & excited for the Forest Lake location & the shorter drive. We loved the Lakeside & can’t think of a prettier restaurant. If valet parking is free why all the concern about parking? We will help spread the word & you can count on us to be there.

  • Tony

    I give it 6 months

  • Karly

    Since we can’t dock our boats and come and eat we will have a nice view to watch it fail

  • Tim Wilhelmson

    Having frequented Aqua many times I’ m confident they will succeed. Knowing JJ will be the manager confirms their success! Forest Lake is fortunate to have such a wonderful eating establishment locate in their city!

  • http://www.acquawbl.com Daron Close

    Thank you all very much for sharing your feedback! We definitely will take your concerns to heart as we develop our concept for the property. I do want to clarify that we most certainly will have 15-20 dock slips for daily boat parking for guests. By “boat service”, we meant we will not be serving beverages or food directly to boats. In addition, we do have an excellent beverage program which will offer beer, wine, liquor and crafted non-alcoholic drinks. We do sincerely look forward to bringing our passion to your community. All we hope is that you give us a try someday. We are very excited to meet you all.


    Daron Close

    • Shelby

      I’m looking forward to your opening. Seems like there is a lot of negative Nancys on this post. Apparently they did read the article correctly about the boat slips that are available. Having moved to forest lake from mpls a year ago, I look forward to having a classy place, with good quality food. Every place in forest lake consists of anything deep fried and burgers. I love coastal seafood market and love that you are using them for quality seafood. I will be docking our boat there for dinner soon! Good luck!

  • Bill

    It is very hard for me to listen read all the negative posts on a very successful restaurant. Want to get a burger, go to all the other places on town. Want to have a great, fresh, realistic Italian meal with the best service I have. Ever seen in the entire metro, Go and visit the Acqua Restaurant. And Wine bar. They must be doing things right to get national attention and acclaim for their Great food.

  • Excited Boater

    The new owner, Daron, clarified on the Times Facebook site that they will have a bunch of dock slips. I think this article is misleading. No boat service means they will not be serving to people on their boats. They are listening to the community which makes me very excited that this will be exactly the kind of place that residents are looking for.

  • Anna

    SOOO Excited to have Acqua Forest Lake!! Finally some where to get a great meal in Forest Lake!! Hopefully the trend will continue!! Forest Lake is in for a treat!! Thank you to Acqua to be daring to venture this way, despite all of the negativity that is being said!! Can’t wait!!!

  • Viviane

    I drive to the Twin Cities a lot for dinner, even in the snow and ice, so I’m ecstatic that one of my favorite restaurants is going to be located a lot closer to home. For all you who think Acqua coming up here is a bad idea, look at it this way—-wouldn’t you prefer I spend my money in Forest Lake or would you rather I go elsewhere?

  • Mike S

    I am thrilled to see a restaurant of the caliber of Acqua moving into that location. Your combination of wonderful food and service makes for an exceptional evening. Acqua is one of our favorite fine dining/special occasion restaurants.

    We live on Forest Lake and spend the majority of the summer/winter on the lake with our family and friends, boating, snowmobiling, and fishing, as do so many other people. Forest lake is a very laid back group of people that still holds a small town feel.

    From my point of view, the reason the Lake House didn’t survive was for two major points, it was very poorly managed and fare was too extravagant for the local clientele. I understand Acqua is already established and the quality of the food is good enough to bring the clientele in, but it would you please consider a family friendly fare also? If high end dining is going to be your only approach, I fear that you will struggle in this area.

    Could both high end customers and families/lake traffic be accommodated? Could you direct some of your talents to create a portion of your menu that is not only special occasion, but a go to after a day on the lake?

    Everyone on the lake has been waiting so long for that restaurant to reopen, please accommodate the wonderful people and families that live in the area.

  • Lake House Owner

    I really think all the negativity was from the many, many people who own houses on the lake, or spend long days on their boat in the summer months, and were disappointed they would be unable to use their boat as a mode of transportation to get there. The article was misleading when it said there would be no boat service. People thought that meant there would be no way to dock their boat and come in for a meal. I was one of them, and felt like our business wasn’t important to them. Now that the owner has made it clear there will be 15-20 boat slips, that negativity has disappeared. The facts are, there are only 60-70 parking spaces, with no room to expand, and there are hundreds of boats on the lake on a typical Saturday and Sunday. I am very glad to know now that I will be able to dock my boat there as it is a 2 min. boat ride from my dock as opposed to a 15 min. drive around the lake. Another factor would have been the families who don’t live on the lake and launch their boats for the day. Most would be more than happy to stop in for dinner before taking their boat out of the water, but would probably not take their boat out and then drive around the lake for a meal. So, no matter how great the service is, or how fantastic the food is, it wouldn’t have been enough if people couldn’t get there.

  • Kristi Sherman

    I am soooooo excited to have Acqua in Forest Lake. We live on the lake. We thought the Lake House food was so/so. We have been going to White Bear to enjoy Acqua and I guarantee they will NOT disappoint. We have long had to travel to White Bear and Stillwater for a really good meal. We have been waiting for something of substance to come to Forest Lake. We are ecstatic that they are opening on the lake. We for one and all our friends will be visiting Acqua frequently as possible. There is nothing like it in Forest Lake. This is such a great opportunity for a classy experience in Forest Lake. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! ohhhh and just so you know I have a special wish and that that we would be able to bring our well mannered dogs to dine with us on the outside patio. Makes Summer SO much FUN and Winter.. we will be driving over :) Thank you so much… I will be there opening with my hubby who has a bday that week!

  • Penny Terry

    Thank you for coming to the Lakehouse. I, like Kristi Sherman, love your restaurant in WBL. Please include your spaghetti Bolognese on the menu, I could eat that once a week.

  • Christy

    I am sooo thrilled to see that Acqua is opening in Forest Lake! I have been reading how people don’t think this restaurant will survive, but those people obviously haven’t been to the White Bear location. My husband and I go there once every couple of months and when we walk in they instantly recognize us and we have over and over again received the best service anywhere!! (And my husband is in the restaurant business) Forest Lake is growing and all kinds of people live there…including those who would LOVE to see fine dining in the area! I am so excited for them to open and will definitely be going there with my husband!

  • Brenda

    I am SOOOO excited to have Acqua coming to Forest Lake!! I frequent the White Bear Lake location and the food is AMAZING and the staff is exceptional! These guys know what they are doing! I live in Forest Lake and I’m embarassed by some of the negative comments on this page. WE NEED A GREAT RESTAURANT IN FOREST LAKE. If you want a crappy bar-go to one of the many in the area but this is what we need-I challenge all of you negative-nancys to go and eat at Acqua Forest Lake when they open and then complain about the prices-you can’t put a price on an amazing meal. Be open-minded for once, swallow your freakin pride and go eat a great meal for God’s sake!! Wouldn’t you rather have a great, new restaurant opening than to have a beautiful building sitting empty on the lake?! GO AND ENJOY A NIGHT OUT!!

  • Julie Frandsen

    I am too excited that Acqua is coming to Forest Lake! Our family lives in White Bear Lake and have frequented Acqua many times. It is one of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities and will draw more people to beautiful Forest Lake. It will be a great addition to the area.

  • http://stellas97.com Max Stephens (Stella’s on 97)

    I, for one, would like to welcome Acqua to the shores of Forest Lake. It will fill a niche that has existed since the Lake House closed. I have been to Acqua in White Bear and I’m confident they will do a better job than the Lake House did.

    Fine dining has great power to pull people from long distances. Acqua will help make Forest Lake a destination rather than just an exit you pass on your way down I-35. That can’t be bad.

    A lot of people don’t know Forest Lake has a great variety of independent, locally owned restaurants and Acqua will be a nice addition. We will now have a restaurant for every occasion.

    Godspeed Acqua!

  • Joe M

    Judging by how many neighbors we meet eating at White Bear Lake restaurants of similar caliber as Acqua, I would guess Acqua will do very well.

    We went to Acqua the other night and had a casual outstanding meal. It can compete with ANY restaurant in the area or the Twin Cities.
    They would fill a niche and I would guess all of us who travel to the cities, and other suburbs, will stick around more when we want to have a night out, or celebrate an important event.

    The Lake House site is fantastic

  • Mary

    I am reading all of these negative comments from our home in Florida. As a 78 years old resident of Forest Lake and former owner of “Der Lach Haus” it makes me sad that these nay sayers are not willing to give Acqua a try. We should all welcome a new “up scale” restaurant to Forest Lake. Please don’t judge lest ye be judged.

  • Kristi

    Welcome, Acqua!! As a lifelong local resident, who is now raising her own family here, I love, love Forest Lake. However, dining choices are limited, really, to unoriginal franchised chains. We have needed a quality dining option in town and I believe Acqua to be the perfect fit. Come on, Forest Lake, let’s support them! They have proven success in White Bear Lake, along with a loyal following of fine diners. I believe they have adequately addressed the concerns voiced in some of the critical comments above. Kudos to you, Acqua Owners, for recognizing what you do well and sticking to that! Simplify and intensify…do one thing and do it well. Those of us that appreciate you and what you are bringing to the Forest Lake area will support you and spread the word! Amazingly delicious food and exceptional service that is consistent…Thank you!