Chef Damian Heath has fostered thriving restaurants for decades.
Interviewed by Taylor Maple
Berkeley Springs is affectionately known as the country’s first spa. Nestled cozily in the West Virginia mountains, offering peace and seclusion, but not far from bustling cities like Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, the town truly is the best of both worlds. So it’s perhaps no surprise that when Chef Damian Heath, a Berkeley Springs native, was pondering where to open a restaurant that was upscale and luxurious yet comforting and relaxed, he knew returning home was the right decision. Lot 12 Public House, serving seasonal upscale comfort cuisine created with locally sourced ingredients, opened in the summer of 1999 and shows no signs of slowing down.
Heath has traveled all over both the United States and Europe, studying at the Baltimore International Culinary College and opening a renowned bistro on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with his wife, Betsy. But now, with Lot 12 flourishing out of what was once an old house on Warren Street, Heath is comfortable—and successful—right where he is.
What made you turn your childhood love of food into a career?
Damian Health It just seemed natural. It was what I liked to do. It was a natural path. I enjoyed cooking, with my parents, mostly. Growing up, my parents were artists, and so they did a lot of craft shows and art shows along the East Coast. So we were at a lot of restaurants. I was exposed to a lot of different cuisines. I liked going to restaurants, and they seemed like a fun place to work and be in.
You’ve had stops in Baltimore, Europe, the Carolinas—what made you think that coming back to Berkeley Springs was right for Lot 12?
DH Well, I knew that being around family and friends would help, you know, starting a business. That would be a very helpful thing. And I just thought that our community at the time was and still is a very special place. There’s tourism, number one. It’s a great tourist town, very close to D.C. and Baltimore and Pittsburgh and Richmond. It’s a very nice tourism destination. It’s a second home to the D.C. crowds, so I just knew that there was a market for a fine dining establishment.
Does your seasonal menu allow you to take advantage of what the farms around you are growing at any given time?
DH Yeah, we’ve been doing this whole farm-to-table thing before it was even popular. We had trouble getting ingredients when we started 20-some years ago, you know, produce and stuff. We found it easier to just get people to grab it for us. We definitely base our menus around the season for that reason. And I just like cooking seasonally. You know, in the fall you want stews and braises and things like that. In the summertime you want to grill things.
You’ve had this restaurant for so many years. Do you have anything in mind for the future, or are you happy focusing on what you’ve already built?
DH I’m pretty much just focusing on keeping the quality and keeping that high standard that we’ve set and been able to attain. Keeping that high level throughout, it’s pretty hard to do. Keeping that up, that in and of itself, that’s enough right there.