Old Traditions Return to Lake Martin with Opening of Kowaliga Restaurant


By Heather VacLav

It's hard to believe Lake Martin was ripped to shreds by a tornado nearly two years ago, but Lake Martin has bounced back. This spring, many people going to the lake will find some old traditions with a new twist...the Kowaliga Restaurant is back.

Hank Williams wrote a song about it...and now the "Kaw-liga" tradition is returning to Kowaliga Bay at Lake Martin. 

"It's just the corner stone of this community, we've had it all our life, and I didn't know it without it until it disappeared and I am so thankful that it's back," said Mary Daugherty, who has lived at Lake Martin her entire life.

But it's rebirth is bringing back more than just a new restaurant.

"I believe the original name Kowaliga is going to bring back a lot of people that remember Kowaliga," said lifelong boater Jeff Lucas.

The restaurant is sort of the hub of activity in terms of meeting friends and relaxation," said Roger Holliday, Vice President of Russell Lands, which owns and developed Kowaliga Restaurant. "It's more about the community, than it is a place to eat."

For many people, when they think "Kowaliga", they think of the iconic pine Indian. It used to stand in front of the old Kowaliga building more than 60 years ago. The new Kowaliga Restaurant hired an artist to recreate it, in hopes to not just bring back old memories, but create new ones.

Holliday says his passion to develop Lake Martin comes from his childrhood. He grew up at the lake and he remembers passing on traditions of Kowaliga to his children.

"They'd sit out [at the docks] and throw hush puppies to the fish and that's what I want my grand kids to experience one day," Holliday said.

Lucas remembers the rental cabins once behind the old Kowaliga restaurant, and like Holliday wants to pass the tradition. "Now I have nine grandkids, and I hope their memories will be just as good as mine were," he said.

Russell Lands owns Kowaliga Restaurant, on top of other Lake Martin restaurants, Catherine's Market and Spring House. The developers decided to reclaim the space when Sinclair's lease ended, after occupying it for 12 years.

Spring House general manager and executive chef Rob McDaniel was excited to get on board as general manager of Kowaliga, because it's a whole different style and approach than what he delivers at Spring House.

"We want to be intertwined with a memory that people have of being on Lake Martin, we don't want to be the memory, we want to be a big part of it though, because there is so much to experience here," McDaniel said.

Experiences that will not only bring back boaters and families, but breathe new life into the Lake Martin community. 

For more information on visiting Lake Martin and Russell Lands, click here.


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