Map to Pete's Simonton Lake Tavern.


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Outside Patio at Simonton Lake Tavern.


History of Pete's & Re-Pete's Simonton Lake Tavern

East side of SR-19, (0.8) mile North of Indiana Toll Road I-80/90 Exit #92, Elkhart

Linda and Merle Anderson

Photo: Linda and Merle Anderson

Article by Dave & Carole Foutz

Pete's is one of the oldest family run restaurant-bars in Elkhart,  and an important ingredient in what people call Simonton Lake.

To paraphrase an advertising jingle, as American as hotdogs and apple pie, the neighborhood tavern is truly an important component of our Yankee culture. Taverns are described as primarily being in business to serve the locals, and secondarily to serve travelers. What is often considered the first tavern in America was opened in Boston in 1633. "Cheers" would have to be the best known tavern in the country, "the place where everyone knows your name." These descriptions would apply equally well to "Pete's Simonton Lake Tavern", known by lake residents as "Pete's". This celebrated establishment has been quenching the thirst of locals since the repeal of prohibition in 1933, but the "Pete's"  story really begins in February, 1970.

The seeds of "Pete's" were planted much earlier when Pete Kilgren married Lou (Lucille)  Cappelletti and purchased the family home on North Shore Drive. Lou's father was the owner of a Harrison Street tavern that he sold and later became Nicki-D's. Then in 1950 he opened Cappy's on Michigan Street, across from Adams and Westlake. Lou Kilgren was well schooled by her family in the fine art of running a commercial kitchen that produced savory Italian dishes. As they say, the rest is history. In 1970 the couple bought the business from Jack Fidler and changed the name to "Pete's."

"Pete's" has always been a family operation, Pete ran the bar side of the operation and Lou ran the kitchen. Lou's cooking was a huge element in the success of the enterprise that fit perfectly in the Simonton Lake life-style. Residents could spend the day enjoying lake activities and then have a home cooked dinner and cold drink at their neighborhood tavern. In the words of Kate Nusbaum, "It was a local hangout. When Lou and Pete purchased the bar, it took on an Italian flavor. People would come out from town to enjoy their Italian spaghetti. Not only did the men like to hang out there but the wives often joined them for meals which were exceptional." As time went by Pete and Lou's family grew with the addition of Frank, Don, Linda, Lori, and Joe, all lending a hand in the operation. Then in December 1975, Linda married Merle Anderson* who had moved here from Southern California.

* The couple met while Linda was working in sales for Honda Michiana, a local motorcycle dealership. At that time Merle was employed by "Team Honda" based in California.  During National motorcycle competitions at RED BUD race track, Buchanan,  Merle and other team members would stay in Elkhart and socialize with Honda Michiana employees.  Who made the first move?  Who knows, but it definitely worked!

Merle's responsibilities have sort of ebbed and flowed, but for the past several years Merle has been the driving force in the operation. Merle explains that the business has changed over the years. In the old days, workers from factories on the north side of the city, such as CTS, Miles, Adams and Westlake, and Reese Manufacturing, would hit the bar at the end of a tiring workday. Some days the bar would be lined five rows deep waiting to be served. It was tough for the bartender just to keep up opening bottles of beer. Due to the loss of most of the north side industries, and changes in the driving and alcohol laws, today "Pete's" now caters to a slightly different market. Nowadays there is more emphasis on the dining and entertainment segments of the market. One thing that hasn’t changed is that comfortable, neighborhood atmosphere, where when you walk in the door you’re going to know the people around you.

Pete passed away in 2003, but his legacy lives on. Merle has a kind of laid back California management style, but you can always see the gears turning. As work was being completed on the new outside patio, Merle was engineering the seating arrangement and landscaping in his mind as we talked. There are a lot of ingredients that make up the unique character of a lake community and "Pete's" is truly an important ingredient in what people call Simonton Lake.

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