James David Lark

December 27, 1930 - January 21, 2021

James David Lark passed away Thursday January 21, 2021 peacefully at his West Bloomfield home with family at his side. 

He is survived by his wife Mary, children Jarratt (Janet), Adrian, Eric (Mandy), Kurt (Rebecca) and James II, and grandchildren Mary Claire, Christopher James, Anna, Sara, Cassandre, Julia, Jack, Christine, James III, Henry and Steven.  He is predeceased by his parents, Frank and Minnie Lark (Gignac), and his siblings Marion Lark, Jean Kish, Frank Lark, Betty Ladow and Larry Lark.

Born during the Great Depression, the youngest of six, Jim began working at age 9 to help support the family after his father passed away, selling newspapers on a street corner in front of Sanders Chocolates, and worked hard his entire life (a characteristic he attributed to the Prussian side of his family). After putting himself through Catholic Central High School and University of Detroit undergraduate (accounting), he put himself through Law School at Georgetown University where he was the Assistant Editor of the Georgetown Law Review and worked the elevators at the Capitol, meeting many politicians including John F. Kennedy, who gave him a PT 109 lapel pin as a gift. It was there while sharing Alaska Governor Gruening’s home with five other students and experiencing too many tuna-noodle casseroles, that Jim honed his cooking skills and built on the foundation his French-Canadian mother instilled in him as a youth.

After graduating, Jim traveled the world while in the Navy as the ship’s yeoman on the USS Ford County (LST-772), taking advantage of free days to explore exotic ports, and experiencing things like Boar hunting and Kobe beef for the first time.

Upon returning home from military service, Jim put his tax attorney background to use as treasurer of Kaufman & Broad Company, where he met his life’s love Mary, and Burt Binder, with whom he left to form Binder and Lark Building Company. During the 60s and 70s Jim, with Burt, gave hundreds of families the opportunity to become homeowners by building affordable, quality brick homes in Livonia, Southfield, and Farmington, while raising his own large family of four sons and one daughter in the home he designed and built.  He and Burt also developed many subdivisions, and the Moon Lake Townhomes, in West Bloomfield.

In 1981 Jim decided to follow his lifelong passion for food, travel and wine, and opened The Lark restaurant with wife Mary in West Bloomfield. At first, critics were not kind, but Jim and Mary knew they had something special and The Lark became internationally renowned and one of the most celebrated restaurants in the United States. Jim was a pioneer in the restaurant business and he and Mary traveled the globe discovering new cultures and cuisines, being amongst the first Americans to vacation in countries such as China and Russia. They shared those experiences with patrons through the world’s first monthly restaurant newsletter and theme or wine dinners, predecessors to today’s popular “pop ups”.

Jim also had a passion for wine, and oenophiles visited from across the country to experience his highly lauded cellar. Jim loved all his wines but would police the choices patrons made, removing a bottle of red until the right moment in the meal, replacing it with complimentary champagne or a white if he felt it went better with the course.

Though The Lark was a high-end European Country Inn, Jim also appreciated great casual cuisine and in the 70’s founded the Michigan Chili Society, establishing Michigan‘s first sanctioned chili cook-off which was held on the tennis courts of his Moon Lake townhome development and then at The Lark, with Jim as “Head Chili”. Being an avid cook, which his large family appreciated many nights and each Sunday at brunch, Jim won the Ontario chili cook-off and placed fourth in the world competition. To his final days Jim would scoff, “If it has beans in it, it’s not Chili!”

Jim and Mary hosted patrons at their Award-winning restaurant for 35 years, where Jim bragged about his “bride”, children, and grandchildren, and entertained diners with his stories of travel, hunting and adventure, and strong opinions about most anything. Patrons may not have always agreed with him, but he was respected and well-loved.

Jim was a generous man, never forgetting about his humble beginnings. In addition to his many charitable contributions, he founded a scholarship for aspiring chefs at Schoolcraft College, helped establish Prince of Peace parish, and sacrificed the second phase of the neighborhood development where he lived so that West Bloomfield Township would have land for its civic center, police station, township offices and library. 

Jim’s hobbies included bird hunting and fishing. He was a long-time member of Hunters Creek in Metamora, where he made many friends with whom he hunted throughout the world. He also prized his regular poker games.  Jim was a voracious reader, and an excellent writer, having written “The Ultimate Lark” in 1997 about food, wine, travel and adventure.  Jim treasured his many friends, loved his family dearly and was religious. Having been in his church choir as a youth, he enjoyed singing at mass.  He loved nature and animals, especially dogs, and cherished the time spent “Up North” with Mary at their Lodge in Good Hart.  Known for his excellent sense of humor until the very last, Jim was never afraid to unleash one of his witty one-liners.

James David Lark lived a full life of 90 years, sharing 60 of those with his wife Mary, and the world is a better place for him having been in it. As Jim would say, laissez le bon temps rouler, “Let the good times roll!”

Visitation for Mr. Lark will be held on Monday, January 25th from 4:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. at McCabe Funeral Home, 31950 W. 12 Mile Rd., Farmington Hills. He will lie in-state on Tuesday, January 26th, 12:30 p.m. until time of Funeral Mass 1:00 p.m. at Prince of Peace Catholic Church, 4300 Walnut Lake Rd, West Bloomfield Township. A party celebrating Jim’s life will be held in the summer of 2021 (post-COVID) with details to follow. 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Jim’s memory be made to The Capuchin Soup Kitchen, 1820 Mount Elliot Street, Detroit, MI 48207 and The Father Solanus Casey Center, 1780 Mount Elliot Street, Detroit MI 48207.

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