Meet this Dayton couple blending food and innovation

The husband-and-wife team of Joe and Tonia Fish have been deeply intertwined in the Miami Valley’s foodie scene for several years, mostly in and around downtown Dayton, where they own and operate The Chef Case at the 2nd Street Market.

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Joe Fish has served as executive chef at The Racquet Club in downtown Dayton and, a decade ago, at the now-defunct Pacchia restaurant in the Oregon District. In between those stints, he served as head production chef at the University of Dayton, where he also oversaw a $4 million upgrade to the Virginia W. Kettering residence hall’s food-service operation.

Tonia formerly served as the co-founder of Synergy Incubators, a non-profit aimed at offering certified commercial kitchen support services and programs, and she now serves as revitalization strategist for the city of Fairborn, where she and other city officials have launched Spark Gluten-Free, Phase I of Spark Fairborn — a kitchen incubator aimed at serving food businesses and entrepreneurs. Spark Fairborn, the larger kitchen, is projected to open its doors in July.

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Joe and Tonia Fish were our Daytonians of the Week from Feb. 14-24, and we caught up with the busy parents of two girls to find out a bit more about them. Tonia provided the answers on behalf of the couple.

What have each of you been up to lately?

I started working with the City of Fairborn this past summer, and Joe left the Racquet Club after many years to focus on The Chef Case at the 2nd Street Market. We have grown our business at the market over the past 7 years, and Joe has some great ideas for new and creative offerings. Joe has also joined our friend Jo Dyck at The Little City Cooking school in Oakwood. He loves teaching and cooking for our community at the market, and he is preparing to take the Master Chef’s exam.

What’s your current job title and duties and how did that come about?

I was introduced to Fairborn City Manager Rob Anderson to help him consider the idea of activating the old Rouch’s restaurant as a kitchen incubator. After a few months working together, it became clear that something very special was happening in Fairborn, and I was excited to join the city staff as the revitalization strategist. I’m extremely passionate about helping people build businesses that allow them to both share their passion with the world and take care of their families and am thankful that this is something I get to focus on every day in Fairborn.

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What’s your favorite spot in the Dayton area?

We don’t have a favorite, but there is a theme: we love to hike and kayak and explore all the amazing parks our region has to offer. It’s lovely to me that I can stop at a place like Eastwood Lake right on my way home from work! We spend hours exploring Glen Helen and the Narrows, too. We are nature lovers.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

As a family we share two guilty pleasures: pizza and Star Trek. Joe has a saying about pizza: “It’s a chef’s dream food. It comes delivered in a box, has very little mess, you can keep the leftovers in that same box, and even when it’s bad, it is still pretty good.” When the weather is crappy, you can bet we are snug as bugs binge-watching Voyager, and more than likely, a pizza is probably involved!

Why did you decide to stay in and settle in the Dayton area?

Fifteen years ago, Joe and I met at our 15-year Carroll High School reunion. We lived and worked in New York City. A year later we were married on Valentine’s weekend at Saint Mary’s church in Dayton. A couple of years later, after our daughter was born, we decided to move back to our hometown.

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We came back to Dayton so that our daughter would have the Ohio childhood experience instead of growing up in Manhattan. We wanted her to have a backyard, wildflowers and summers filled with camping trips, Young’s Dairy and lots of festivals. Joe’s mother and my parents live here in Dayton, which is wonderful because our daughter has them in her day-to-day life, and they provide a great sense of support.

What’s been your most recent professional challenge, and how did you push through the challenge?

A few years back we worked with an amazing team, working hard to make a kitchen incubator happen in downtown Dayton. In the end, it wasn’t meant to be. At the time, I tried to really focus on the fact that due to the deep need, a kitchen would some day happen and benefit from the soil we tilled.

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I never imagined I would be part of that kitchen when it finally happened in Fairborn. Seeing the faces of business owners, whose businesses were stalled for years, now busy and smiling and growing is a source of great inspiration.

What inspires you about the Dayton area?

We are grateful for the richness of culture and the arts community — our area museums, theaters, the ballet and philharmonic. There is just way too much to try to mention here. Our summer festivals provide a wonderful opportunity to celebrate different cultures. I remember the World Affair from my childhood and I know our daughter will always remember participating the Dia De los Muertos parade. For the size of our town, we are truly fortunate for the multitude of ways we can celebrate culture and art.

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What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years?

We know that Dayton is going to continue to grow! We hope to see the local food revival continue to take root and for a master plan to integrate creative and diverse housing offerings, including some plans to utilize vacant lots and give old housing stock a new face similar to the way it has been done in East Nashville.

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