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Recipe for good: Elks' eatery, events help fund scholarships, youth activities

Tesla Caperton is the Elks general manager. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

Many people who go out to eat in Dickinson might not have any idea of what they've done — all of the good they've done.

Diners who dine at the Dickinson Elks Lodge's restaurant and sports bar typically experience the food of Joe D'Amico, the Elks' new executive chef trained at the Culinary Institute in New York.

But they typically don't know that the money they paid for that meal indirectly helps the Elks pay for numerous college scholarships and for the Elks' summer camp for disabled children — the Elks Camp Grassick south of Dawson — as well as a spectrum of youth activities in the Dickinson area.

However, Elk officials don't expect the general public to know that because before they themselves became involved with the Elks, they didn't know it either, said the lodge's general manager and other members in recent interviews.

"I didn't know much at all when I joined the board, what the Elks stands for," said Jeremiah Thorpe, 33, a local banker, who said he joined the Elks because his company wanted him to volunteer in the community.

But Thorpe, who currently heads the lodge, serving a one-year term as its exulted ruler, said he has developed a passion for the organization as he learned all that it does.

"It was a lot more than I expected ... so much more," he said.

He said that, for example, the national Elks organization is second only to the federal government in the amount of scholarships awarded.

Among other projects, the Dickinson lodge in 2016 gave $9,900 to the Dickinson State University's Heritage Foundation to fund nine $1,100 scholarships.

Tesla Caperton, the Elks general manager, also didn't know anything about the Elks when she applied for a job there.

Now, knowing what she knows, she decided to become a member, confident her annual dues of $75 would "help make other people's lives better."

"It's such a great organization to be a part of," she said.

She said the Elks focus on youth and local organizations and donate between about $10,000 to $15,000 a year to everything from scholarships, sponsoring softball teams, helping Make a Wish Foundation, paying student expenses to music festivals, to helping sponsor the Elks' national Hoop Shoot free throw contest.

She said there are some common misconceptions about the Elks, including that someone has to be a member to eat at the restaurant.

Not so.

Anyone can eat at the restaurant or sports bar or attend the many events there — like the comedy shows and music events. And they can rent the meeting-room areas in the about 21,000-square-foot building for wedding receptions or other large or small events.

Local organizations, such as the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, hold meetings there. It's also used for various fundraisers, workshops and luncheons.

The Elks' new chef recently was overseeing a luncheon for a women's empowerment event there with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

During a break from that, he told the Dickinson Press he had no idea how much the Elks did when he came to work there.

"I think it's great — great what they do for the community," D'Amico said.

Elks members in turn think it's great what their new chef is doing for the Elks. Diners have been heard using the word "fantastic" to describe the food.

"We're getting so many compliments about the food," said Linda Candrian, a board member who will oversee the lodge for a one-year term when she is installed in April as exulted ruler.

D'Amico said he has a degree in music education and taught for a while, but decided teaching wasn't for him and turned to cooking for a career, which was already a big part of his life.

He had already cooked his way through school to pay for college, and is "full-blooded Italian," so grew up in a family of chefs, he said and laughed.

He then went to New York to study at the Culinary Institute.

He would later cook at a fine-dining restaurant on Long Island, and in Florida at the Hilton Hotel at Disneyworld, before owning his own restaurant for several years in Arizona.

He said when he came to Dickinson with his big-city experiences it was a culture shock because it was "so small and laidback ...(and there were) lots of friendly people." Now, he says he loves it just because of those things.

D'Amico said the best things on his menu are the steaks that he hand-cuts daily. He said a lot of people come in for the shrimp, as well. Also, the hamburgers are hand-pressed and the cheesecake is homemade. He said entrees range in price from $15 to $50 for things like fresh crab.

"We have something for everyone," he said.

He said the restaurant's atmosphere has an upscale ambience. There is live piano music on Fridays and Saturdays, with plenty of room between tables for privacy, if needed.

"It's a very nice place to take clients (for lunch), a quiet room... You can find a small table in the corner," Candrian, a business banker, said.

In April, the lodge's restaurant will have an Italian night, featuring some of the chef's Italian cuisine and live jazz music.

A recent event that drew a crowd was a Valentine's Day dinner that included babysitting, staffed by local high school dance club members.

The lodge has had well-known talent come in for music and comedy nights and other events to attract younger crowds. There was a wine and art event, giving participants a chance to paint on canvas while sipping and socializing.

So all of this and more is available to non-members, but the Elks would also like to add members on to its rolls.

The lodge currently has about 1,040 members, but they would like to get that number up to about 1,500.

Thorpe said the more members they have, the more scholarship money they can give out because a portion of the membership dues goes directly to scholarships.

Candrian, who will be this lodge's first woman exulted ruler, said she will focus on, in her term, getting more members — and particularly more women members than the 29 women they have, now.

Benefits of being a member include developing friendships with people who subscribe to the Elks principles of "charity, justice, brotherly love and fidelity."

Other benefits: A portion of the members' annual dues goes directly to paying for scholarships and community projects, which, if they have the time, they can be involved in. But their involvement isn't required, Candrian said.

Being a member also helps the wallet. Members get discounts on lodge meals — $2 off everyone's meal in their party — and discounts on drinks. There is also a 20-percent discount on room rentals. Annually, the lodge throws a free picnic for members.

Members can get discounts on everything from hotel rooms to prescription drugs, insurance, some big-box-store items and so on — which are listed on the national Elks website.

Caperton said the Elks Lodge remains financially sound because of its members' "huge support."

She said members often help at various events, like the Sunday buffets, to keep labor costs down. And members donated the televisions that transformed the bar into more of a sports bar.

Jason Fridrich, 47, a former exulted ruler, said it's easier than people think to become a member: Call the office, fill out an application and one of the board members will sponsor you.

Willard Beaudoin, 93, of Dickinson, who has been an Elks member for 68 years, said it's great when traveling throughout the United States that he can walk into any Elks Lodge and is welcome there.

Ryan Kilwein, 26, an electrician by trade, has been a member for less than a year, but was raised in Dickinson and had many experiences at the lodge attending weddings, dances and fundraisers. Most recently, he held his wedding reception there and praises the professionalism and support from the lodge's staff that took care of the event.

"It was great," he said.

Dickinson Elks Lodge, established in 1909, moved out of its downtown historic building in 1982 and into its current building at 501 Elks Drive.

Candrian said the Elks was for many years the upscale "stellar place in the community," to eat a nice meal and be with family and friends.

"We want to get back to that," she said about having people think of the Elks Lodge in that way, again.

"We have been a very important part of this community," she said.

For more than just food and camaraderie.

"It brings you to tears," she said, about reading letters from parents detailing how much it meant to their disabled child to attend the Elks' Camp Grassick summer camp.

"What we're doing is very important," she said.

The restaurant and sports bar is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 5-9 p.m., for the restaurant — and the sports bar is open from 4:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. with meals available there until 10 p.m.

On the first Sunday of every month, the restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for a Sunday buffet.

Starting in mid-April, weather permitting, D'Amico and staff will grill steaks on the patio Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wednesdays will be hamburger-grilling nights.

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