Karen Wick-Gagnet left the corporate world after working 17 years at Reynolds + Reynolds, after her daughter Coco was born.
At the time, Wick-Gagnet said, she “mentioned” to her husband, Jim Gagnet, that perhaps they should look into buying what was then called the “American Saloon” (now Lucky’s Taproom) in Dayton’s Oregon Historic District, and open a small restaurant there.
It happened, and now, a couple of decades and a couple of restaurant relocations later, the 55-year-old restaurateur and her husband co-own Coco’s Bistro at 250 Warren St., nestled between downtown Dayton and Miami Valley Hospital. As anyone who has tried to pop in unreserved at peak times knows, the restaurant is a busy place.
We caught up with this week’s Daytonian of the Week to find out more about one of the Dayton area’s high-profile restaurateurs.
What are your favorite spots in Dayton?
The top of Woodland Cemetery, The Neon Movies, Square One Salon, Dorothy Lane Market, Coco’s Bistro and home.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
What’s one word you think people would use to describe you?
Nice. (I hope.)
Why did you decide to settle in Dayton?
I grew up in a small town north of here and relocated to the big city at graduation of high school, and I’ve been here ever since. It’s a great place — affordable, with great amenities, and a central location making it easy to get places. It also has diversity, warmth, opportunity and a sense of community.
After you “mentioned” the possibility of buying a space in the Oregon District and opening a restaurant, what happened?
My husband’s love of old buildings and turning them into something through adaptive reuse and vision, along with my genuine love of people, food and entertaining, combined with our abilities to get it done – that’s what made for the beginning of this experience.
What was the most challenging part of that?
Original challenges included navigating the city’s requirements and securing the original financing, because we had little.
How did you push through the challenge?
We pushed through because we were determined and are resilient to meet the opportunities that are in front of us on a daily basis.
What inspires you about Dayton?
I am inspired by Dayton because of the people. The abundance of people who are dedicated to their craft, their business, their family and their community are what make Dayton.
If you could change or bring one thing to Dayton, what would it be?
I love all the energy and excitement around the re-invention of Dayton. I’d like to see more involvement from our community in public education for our young people and continued effort to enhance opportunity, because good public schools are a great foundation for any community.
We need to continue to work hard to lift people up and facilitate affordable housing, fair and equitable wages and hands-on learning experiences that diminish poverty and change the story and trajectory that many of our young people face. They are our future.
On a less serious note, I’d like to see the trolley cars running. They are fun, they represent the past, provide an experience through our downtown area and are an affordable entertainment and transportation option.
What do you think Dayton will look like in 10-15 years?
I think in 10 to 15 years Dayton will benefit from all of the development that is underway. We will have more people living downtown, more businesses and a larger economy which will facilitate continued growth.
We need to continue to re-invest funds and efforts with strong leadership and vision that will move Dayton forward. We are a community of innovators re-inventing our future. It is an honor to be a part of such a community.