Local Restaurant is Still a Culver Favorite 43 Years Later

Photographer: Tabitha Dillner

Papa’s, 824 North Lakeshore Drive in Culver, has enjoyed a rich and entertaining legacy over four decades because it stresses food and family.

It also has a strong connection to The Beatles.

Brian McCormack, president of Papa’s, says the restaurant was started by his father, Jim, because he wanted to establish a family-friendly restaurant where families and friends could gather for good times, great food and warm memories.

“My dad started Papa’s in May of 1976 with the dream of creating a family atmosphere like the bar and restaurant (on the hit television series)  ‘Cheers,’ only a decade before the ‘Cheers’ show existed,” Brian says.

But before he started Papa’s, Jim McCormack’s background was in the record and printing business. Jim even later designed an album cover for The Beatles.

“He originally worked for a label called Vee-Jay Records in the late 1950s, into the year 1965,” Brian says. “The label was founded in Gary, Indiana, in 1953, by Vivian Carter and James C. Bracken, a husband-and-wife team who used their initials for the label’s name. They later moved to Chicago.”

Vee-Jay was one of the earliest African American-owned record companies and quickly became a major R&B label. They had tremendous success later with pop and rock and roll acts, including The Beatles.

While he was with Vee-Jay, Jim designed dozens of album covers, including the jacket for what was to be the Beatles first album cover. Brian says the original test lithograph still hangs over Papa’s bar.

The Papa’s menu says, “Vee-Jay didn’t see much of a future in Rock & Roll ‘nonsense,’  especially those snotty British kids, John, Paul, George and Ringo.

“They sold The Beatles to Capitol Records for $350 in 1963,” Brian says. “I can still recall when dad came running into my bedroom before I went to school yelling, ‘I knew it! I knew it!’ when the first Beatles hit, ’She Loves You” came over the airwaves.

“Papa was like that, he always knew when something big was about to happen,” Brian adds.

Jim also played a role in discovering other talent for Vee-Jay, who maintained their origins as an R&B label, with artists like Jimmy Reed and Sarah Vaughn.

“My dad also spent some time scouting out an unknown band in California,” Brian says. “They played this strange surfing style of music full of bizarre,  three-part harmonies with high male voices.”

Brian says that Jim urged Vee-Jay to sign them, but they vetoed on that deal too. That band was The Beach Boys. Vee-Jay later went out of business.

Brian says that his father, Jim, later went on to form his own graphics company, creating content for large companies in Chicago, including Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Harris Bank and many others.

The Beginning of Papa’s

In the late 60s, Jim and his wife, Marion, with their four kids in tow, went in search of a lake getaway.

“I remember touring Bass Lake and then finally Lake Maxinkuckee,” Brian says. “Jim was a bit of a spontaneous guy. We pulled up to a cabin for rent in the woods and stayed for the weekend, forgetting that we hadn’t brought a change of clothing, food or anything. They bought a cabin the next summer, and eventually moved to Culver full-time in the mid-70s.”

In 1976, Jim opened Papa’s with the help of his three sons and wife, with little to no experience in the food industry. It took a while, but Brian says “the results have proven to make Papa’s an institution in Culver.”

Jim died in 1983 after a heroic battle with cancer. Brian and Brian’s brother, Jim, continue the Papa’s tradition today in his memory.

In 1984, Papa’s added a screen porch dining area for summer seating, and then later added 30 inside seats in 1986, which proved to be a short-sighted build out, as they quickly grew out of the space. Papa’s added the area that is known as the bar room and family dining space. They also put in new bathrooms and a new entrance in 1989. Kitchen remodels and additions also took place.

Brian says he later took a brief hiatus to further his music career before rejoining Papa’s in 2003.

A Family Business

When Brian’s stepson, Jason Newman, graduated from Indiana University in 2003, he decided to get back into the food business with his family. He has been with Papa’s ever since.

In 2011, Brian’s other stepson, Matt Newman, and his wife, Catie, announced they wanted to return to Indiana from their home in Portland, Oregon. They joined the staff in September that year.

Brian’s wife, Carla, partner and acting CFO. Matt says he grew up in Papa’s and loves the restaurant.

“I remember coming in here when I was five years old,” Matt says.  “Our award-winning pizza is still my favorite. Eating our delicious pizzas has been a part of my entire life. We have been named Indiana’s best pizza, and it is what we are most famous for. It’s our lifeblood.”

Matt also recommends the prime rib, fresh seafood and delicious hamburgers. There is also a wide selection of pastas, salads, entrees and more.

“We get fresh seafood every week from a great supplier in Chicago, and we really sell a lot of burgers,” Matt adds. “Our grill business has exploded to an entirely different level. We have really grown in that area.”

Matt runs the kitchen and has the freedom to come up with the specials.

“My brother, Jason, executes the food specials, and our guests love the food he makes,” Matt says. “We also have fresh produce, and all of our food is locally sourced. We really pride ourselves on the high quality of our food. Everyone in the family is very passionate about what we do, and it is the bond of our family.”

Papa’s is located at 824 North Lakeshore Drive in Culver. You can give them a call at 574-842-3331 or visit them online at indianasbestpizza.com for more information.