When Jay's Seafood Restaurant opened 40 years ago on Feb. 26, 1976, it was a gamble.
It was the second restaurant to be established by restaurateur Jay Haverstick, who had previously opened Yankee Tavern on Yankee Road near Centerville, and the investment in downtown dining was about the furthest thing from a sure bet. Businesses were moving out of downtown, not into it.
His gamble is one that the local dining community is grateful for. It's hard to imagine the restaurant landscape in Dayton without Jay's.
It's a special place that has been able to stay consistent over the years retaining many of the same menu items, decor and staff, bucking the trend of the majority of other restaurants across the country that have seen great change.
"I came home in 2002 and had a chance to work side by side with my father for seven years. This May I will have been there 14 years," said owner Amy Haverstick, who graduated from The Ohio State University with a bachelor's in Hospitality Management and opened both of Cameron Mitchell's Fish Markets in Columbus as the front of house manager.
"Jay's is a destination restaurant because we have become a staple of Dayton. We have a great reputation of serving great food."
Like just about anything else in life, it's easy to take an outstanding restaurant for granted when it seems like they've been around forever and always will be. This got me to thinking about the myriad number of reasons I love Jay's Seafood. There are too many to count, but here is a list of 40 reasons I love Jay's Seafood (and you should too) in honor of this historic milestone:
1) That big, beautiful bar.
In 1882, James Jacob Ritty opened the Pony House Restaurant. He commissioned wood carvers from Barney and Smith Car Works to turn 5,400 pounds of Honduras Mahogany into a bar. In 1967, when Ritty's bar was about to be demolished, William H. Eicher of United Moving & Storage, Inc. of Dayton preserved its heritage by photographing, removing and storing the famous bar. Eventually it found itself a new home at Jay's.
2) The chef.
The restaurant's current chef is JD Robinson. He's been with the restaurant for 37 years, moving his way up in the kitchen, and he's responsible for those delicious dishes being served to hungry customers at Jay's.
3) The staff.
Even just a few years at a restaurant is an eternity when you put them in the scope of restaurant years, so when you hear that the bartenders have been at Jay's for 30 years and 16 years, one of the servers has been there for 31 years, the wine manager has been there 18 years and the account manager has been there 16 years, you know this is a special place. The service is attentive, thorough and consistent. The restaurant is a staple of Dayton, run and operated by staples of Dayton.
4) The menu.
With many dishes that have been featured since the restaurant opened, this is a kitchen that knows what it's good at and has created food to last. "Our menu is mainly fresh seafood, each week we talk to several of our purveyors and try to find the best quality of fish for our guests," Haverstick said.
5) New menu items.
"We try to add a few new dishes each year," Haverstick said. "We added our Kobe burger and fish tacos for those who want [a] smaller meal, and we also have added a three-course special at a very discounted rate each month that appeals to all, offering both a fresh seafood and meat selection. We also recently added our happy hour in 2015. Jay's was one of the first restaurants to have wine luncheons and dinners within the Dayton area, and we continue each month with that tradition. Seafood alone has changed since 1976 — back then the only offerings were shrimp, lobster, oysters and very few fresh fish options."
6) The space.
Jay's seats 130 with comfortable padded chairs. Haverstick says she loves that she can stand anywhere in the restaurant and see what's going on. "I love the full mirror behind the bar. I can be looking at the bar and see what is going on in the dining room behind me," she said.
7) The decor.
The inside of Jay's is a rich, handsomely appointed throwback. It makes for a comfortable, elegant dining experience. "Jay's has not changed much over the years. Our interior has stayed somewhat the same, trying to capture the history within," said Haverstick. Mission accomplished.
8) The location.
Facing Sixth Street in the Oregon District with plenty of parking, Jay's is the perfect spot to hit before a show at the Schuster, a movie at The Neon or just about anything else you can think of.
9) Crab and lobster night on Thursdays.
King crab legs ($37), steamed whole lobster ($31), baked stuffed lobster ($37), lobster pasta ($23) can all be enjoyed on Thursdays.
10) Happy hour.
Monday through Thursday from 5-6:30 p.m., enjoy $5 Kobe, tuna and Salmon Sliders (1 of each for $8), 25% off all appetizers and $4 craft draft beers, $3 domestic beers, $4 house wines and $6 martinis. The best part is you can sit in the dining room to enjoy happy hour if you wish and don't have to sit at the bar. It's definitely one of the best happy hours in town.
11) Monthly three-course specials.
Restaurant week isn't the only time to enjoy a specially priced three-course special at Jay's. It's something they do every month with new offerings and options.
12) Greek-Style Swordfish ($30).
My favorite dish on Jay's menu by far! Fresh swordfish seasoned and baked, served on seasoned spinach with a sauce of butter, cream, capers, tomatoes, fresh lemon and herbs. It's a truly fantastic dish.
13) Clam Chowder ($7).
Jay's New England style chowder is worth seeking out.
14) Oysters Rockefeller ($15).
You don't have to love oysters to love these. Fresh oysters are cooked up with fresh spinach and spices and topped with mozzarella cheese. It's savory and delicious.
15) Fish tacos ($11).
They are some of the best in town.
16) Spiced Bourbon Salmon ($28).
Fresh salmon with bourbon sauce over horseradish mashed potatoes (I can't get enough of their horseradish potatoes!) and sweet potato puree.
17) Salmon en Croute ($28).
Fresh salmon and mushrooms wrapped in puff pastry and served with lobster sauce and your choice of side.
18) The Fisherman's Platter ($30).
Wild-baked cod, pan-seared scallops, fried shrimp and oysters.
19) Scallops Andre ($14).
Seared large sea scallops with white wine mushroom sauce.
20) Shrimp Cocktail ($4 each).
Large domestic Gulf shrimp steamed in Jay's secret beer spice and served with homemade cocktail sauce.
21) The meals come with a salad.
Salads are not à la carte and they are nicely portioned.
22) The desserts.
All of the desserts at Jay's are made in house by Sherri Boyd. They are known for their chocolate mousse, but I would argue the key lime pie with the nutty crust is the highlight.
23) Four Yums ($9).
A special dessert option featuring slices of key lime pie, cheesecake, chocolate pecan pie and flourless chocolate cake.
24) The wine.
Jay's wine selection is one of the best in the Dayton Area, offering over 200 selections with many varietals, at great prices.
25) The VIP program.
Once guests spend $600 on food, Jay's will issue them a $40 gift certificate for their next visit. Ask for the card and get started. In the 10 years they have been running the program they have had more than $25,000 in VIP gift certificates redeemed.
26) To-go orders.
Jay's offers 20 percent off on all to-go orders.
27) The kitchen.
This is a kitchen staff that knows how to execute.
28) Seasonal menu items.
Get ready for April through June when Walleye, soft shell crabs, Alaskan king salmon and Alaskan halibut will all appear on Jay's menu. It's the happiest seafood season of all!
29) The quality.
Jay's seafood is seriously fresh.
30) The celebrations.
Over the years, Jay's has been the site for many a party. It's not unusual to see people celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions when you are in for dinner. It's great energy and fun to watch.
You can get 25 percent off all bottles of wine, except the monthly wine feature on Mondays.
32) Wine tastings.
Fridays from 2-8 p.m. and Saturdays from noon-6 p.m. Jay's has wine tastings.
33) Special luncheons.
Want to have a private reception? Jay's is available for lunch rentals requiring a minimum of 25 up to a maximum of 130.
34) The decor.
The banisters and railing comes from the Old Xenia Hotel that were rescued after the city's historic tornados, and the back of the oyster bar is from College Corner, Ohio. The beautiful light fixtures are antiques, although the origin is unknown.
35) The photos.
Sadly, Jay Haverstick passed away in 2009. In addition to leaving an incredible legacy with his restaurant, he also left a portfolio of art as an avid outdoor photographer. The photos on the north and south balcony are Jay's photos that he took over the years.
36) The entry.
As you enter the regal brick building, be sure to check out the brass plaque in the vestibule. It's from the original gates of the Montgomery County Fair Grounds, dated 1901.
37) The history.
Dayton was one of the leading areas in the nation for flour milling in the 1800s. One of these mills, located on the Miami Erie Canal, was known as the Joseph Kratochwill Dayton Corn and Grist Mill. The building was constructed in the 1850s and now houses Jay's Seafood Restaurant.
38) The special dinners. In fact, there is one coming up for the 40th anniversary ...
A 40th anniversary luncheon will be held on Feb. 20 at 12:30 p.m. Cost is $80, which includes tax and tip. Scallops St. Jacques, an endive, ricotta and watercress salad, a Venetian crab salad, cottage pie, filet with parsnips and an anniversary cake will all be served paired with wines.
On Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m., an Antinori Wine dinner will be held ($85 including tax and tip) featuring a Caprese salad paired with Antinori Toscana Bianco; a fish course paired with Bramito Chardonnay; Rigatoni Alla Forno paired with Peppoli Chianti; Beef Tagliata with raddichio paired with Badia a Passignano Chianti; lamb chops with fava beans paired with Tignanello and fried sweet polenta paired with Francicorta.
39) The legacy.
Jay Haverstick had a major role in the Dayton community and Jay's Seafood stands as a reflection of a life well lived.
40) The next chapter.
A great recipe can't function without a great chef. Amy Haverstick has taken the reins and settled in as the visionary behind one of Dayton's most iconic restaurants. It's an exciting time. Congratulations on this significant milestone, Amy!
Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at firstname.lastname@example.org with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.