Morrison couple take over Rockwood Restaurant and Marina

Mitchell and Anna Story of Morrison are the new operators of the Rockwood Restaurant and Marina at Morrison-Rockwood State Park.

MORRISON – More than 15 years ago, when he was still in high school, Mitchell Story of Morrison would spend his summer days working at the Rockwood Restaurant and Marina.

Nestled along the shore of Lake Carlton in Morrison-Rockwood State Park, the cabin-like restaurant for the past five decades has drawn in the fishermen who dot the lake throughout the day, people camping in the state park and motorists or bicyclists who head to the lake to take in the scenery.

The Rockwood Restaurant and Marina is located at Lake Carlton at Morrison-Rockwood State Park.

Story, who worked as a breakfast cook at the restaurant and in the bait shop, got to know the business quite well during his high school summers when it was operated by Chuck and Mary Norton. Story hoped someday he would be able to operate the restaurant and marina.

“I’ve always loved this place and I always had the dream of coming back out here and taking it over. And finally had the chance to do it,” he said in an interview with Shaw Local News Network.

That is exactly what is happening this week as Story and his wife, Anna, open the doors to the restaurant they have renovated and will operate under a lease with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

They also will run the bait shop below the restaurant, which provides necessities for those who fish off the adjacent docks or drop their boat from the launch, accessible from the restaurant and marina parking lot. Boats, including paddleboats, kayaks and canoes, can be rented through the bait shop. The shop will have live bait, basic fishing tackle and basic camping necessities for sale.

A fisherman is shown on the dock behind the Rockwood Restaurant and Marina on Friday, June 7, 2024.

It’s a big step for the young couple, who have been joined by Mitchell’s father, Lauren Story, as a business partner, but it was a step they had envisioned for years.

Mitchell and Anna both attended Morrison High School. Mitchell graduated in 2009. Anna, who worked as a waitress in the restaurant for one summer season, graduated in 2010. Anna went on to get a teaching degree. Mitchell became a mail carrier in Clinton, Iowa. Along the way, the couple married and now have a 2-year-old son, Vincent.

After eight years of carrying mail, Mitchell worked in maintenance for the U.S. Postal Service for another four years. Anna became a teacher in the Morrison School District in 2016 and teaches first grade at Northside Elementary School.

Both knew if the opportunity to take over the restaurant and marina ever surfaced, they would make the move. When the restaurant and campground lease opened up for bid earlier this year, the couple decided to pursue it and created a limited liability company. Mitchell attended the required pre-bid meeting, they submitted a bid and were awarded the contract.

Under the agreement, they can operate the facility for five years. They can renew the contract four times for a total of 25 years.

That’s exactly what the couple wants to do. Their commitment to the restaurant and marina runs so deep that Anna suggested Mitchell leave the postal service to devote all his time to it. He took her up on it.

“He’s been talking about this for 15 years, since I’ve known him, and it’s always kind of been in the back of our minds as a dream of ours to run the place,” Anna said.

“I saw the potential in this place and wanted to realize that,” Mitchell said.

Since their winning bid, they have made repairs, deep cleaned the restaurant, painted walls, bought furnishings, tables, chairs, new fixtures and appliances and finalized their full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

The couple also have been working in the bait shop, setting it up as Mitchell remembers it from his days working there. They have been busy hiring workers.

“It’s been such a blur these last couple months of trying to get everything ready and ordering equipment and bringing stuff in and getting it set up,” Mitchell said.

“All the tables and all the chairs, the high chairs, all the dishes, everything had to be found and bought and picked up,” Anna said.

All that’s left is to pass the final restaurant inspection scheduled for this week. The couple’s goal is to have the restaurant open for business on Father’s Day weekend. Breakfast hours will be from 7 to 11 a.m. Lunch and dinner will be served from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. There will be daily specials Tuesday through Saturday, Mitchell said, and there will be a hand-breaded catfish filet dinner every Friday.

In the days leading up to opening, the couple will put the final touches in place for customers who will be coming in for full meals, baked goods that Mitchell creates – cookies, scones and muffins – and hand-dipped ice cream in a cone or a dish.

More information will be available on the business’s Facebook page when the couple determine the opening date.

History of the park

Morrison-Rockwood State Park is at 18750 Lake Road, Morrison, and is a popular spot for a family outing at the Lakeview picnic area or watching birds among the hickory, ash, oak and walnut trees, according to the IDNR.

A view of Lake Carlton at Morrison-Rockwood State Park in rural Morrison on Friday, June 7, 2024.

The park, composed of 1,164 acres, was established in 1971 and officially opened for day use that year. The park is named for the city of Morrison and a combination of nearby Rock Creek and the heavily wooded park area Rockwood.

Lake Carlton, a focal point of the park, is a watershed impoundment constructed in 1969 by building a 38-foot high, 1,800-foot long earthen dam across a stream. The lake was named in memory of L. Carlton Anderson, a local resident who actively promoted the park and was a civic and conservation leader.

Improvements have continued to be made in the conservation area, making it one of the most popular recreation spots in northern Illinois, according to the IDNR website.

The park can be reached by taking Interstate 88 west to state Route 78. Go north on Illinois 78 through Morrison and follow the signs. On Illinois 78 follow the signs to Damen Road. Follow that road about two miles to Crosby Road. Turn left on Crosby Road, again following the signs, for about 1 1/2 miles to the park entrance.

Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema is the editor of Sauk Valley Media.