For more than 90 years, Yankee Lake has been a place to go to.
At its inception, it was a place to go for moonshine and dancing on Sundays. Big bands led by Glenn Miller, Count Basie and the Dorsey Brothers played the Yankee Lake Ballroom, and the lake was a draw for families and young people.
Later on, top rock and country acts played there, and who hasn’t been to a wedding, fundraising event or Truck Night there?
Yankee Lake is not the go-to place it once was, but a new management company hopes to bring back and strengthen that tradition.
Irish Yanks LLC, a company made up of Dan O’Brien, his cousin, Sean O’Brien, both of Brookfield, and silent partners, have taken over management of the ballroom, Yankee Lake Party Store and Yankee Lake Inn.
Dan O’Brien, a long-time partner in Penn-Ohio Electric of Brookfield, was looking to move to another firm and ply his electrical engineering skills when he learned that John Jurko, owner of the Yankee Lake properties, was looking to sell.
“My cousin (Sean O’Brien), he was kind of brokering a deal for (John) Jurko, who owns this place,” Dan O’Brien said. “There were some outside investors looking to come in and buy the liquor store, because they owned a bunch of liquor stores. They made John an offer. We just didn’t want to see it go to outsiders. Kind of wanted to keep it in Brookfield, locally owned, so we said, ‘Well, let’s take over management,’ so that’s where we’re at right now.”
Jurko retains ownership of the enterprises and property.
Dan O’Brien is the hands-on manager and, with no background in retail or restaurant management, he admits to being overwhelmed at times. But, he has set in motion a series of plans to raise the visibility of the businesses.
“I think it’s gonna be a positive thing for the whole area,” he said. “You see things die down and die down. Somebody’s gotta take that back over, do something.”
Much of O’Brien’s focus has been on the store. He has succeeded in getting a liquor license change so that the hard liquor is out on the shelves and not behind the counter, and he has expanded the liquor offerings with an eye to having things that Pennsylvania state stores don’t stock.
He’s renovating the store and bringing back cigarettes and the lottery to “Get it back to that party center atmosphere.”
“I want to make it like a nice atmosphere when you walk in here,” Dan O’Brien said. “You’re in no hurry to leave.”
At the restaurant, O’Brien is looking to add menu items, but doesn’t want to make drastic changes.
“There’s great food over there,” he said. “People love the food. The prices are as good if not better than anybody around.”
His focus at the ballroom is to get it booked more often for weddings, banquets, parties and other events. He’s also reaching out to people who know more about the entertainment industry than he does about holding concerts and festivals again.
The property also has a nice amphitheater that would be great for live shows, he said. Bike Night will be back as a weekly event, and Battlefront Paintball Reloaded will hold events on the property.
O’Brien complimented the staff, some of whom have worked there for 20-30 years, for how helpful they have been to him. He also noted Jurko still comes around and gives him advice or shows him how something is done.
“I want Yankee Lake to be a community hangout,” O’Brien said. “There’s so many things that can be done down here.”