Ron and Christy Sweeney’s restaurant careers in the Dayton area span decades.
In the 1980s, Ron Sweeney was the founding general manager of the former Charley’s Crab restaurant that overlooked the main floor beneath the rotunda of The Arcade in downtown Dayton.
In 1994, Ron and Christy founded Sweeney’s restaurant in the heart of Centerville, operated it for 18 years, then sold the restaurant in 2012. It has changed its name slightly, but subsequent owners have kept the couple’s last name — it’s now called Sweeney’s Seafood Bar & Grill, and it is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month.
Two years later after selling their namesake restaurant, the Sweeneys opened Sea Jax Tavern on Bigger Road across from the Oak Park Plaza near the Kettering-Centerville border. The space was built in 1975 as a Pizza Hut restaurant, and housed multiple eateries in the years since, including The Oaks, Bosco’s, Toscani’s and Arthur’s Restaurant. The building was vacant when purchased by the Sweeneys, but now, as Sea Jax Tavern, it is bustling every night.
Ron and Christy Sweeney are our Daytonians of the Week, and we caught up with Ron and persuaded him to offer up some morsels and nuggets from the couple’s careers.
Summarize for us what you and Christy did prior to launching Sea Jax Tavern. What were the primary factors that prompted you to launch Sweeney's Seafood, and later, Sea Jax Tavern?
Before selling Sweeney’s, I knew what I wanted to do next. So after taking a little time off, we started our search for my Tavern Concept, not knowing its name. I would spend hours every day searching for a property to purchase. It had to be south of Dayton and a former restaurant.
After almost a year, I negotiated a deal to buy 5900 Bigger Road, then spent almost another year working on the transformation into what became Sea Jax Tavern. So in short, I decided to take a risk and work my ass off for two years instead of just relaxing.
I don’t see retirement in my future. I love what I do.
Why did you decide to stay in and settle in the Dayton area?
When I opened Sweeney’s in Centerville, I lived in Cincinnati, where I owned two other restaurants, one being the original Sweeney’s that was opened in 1988. I was younger then and wanted a third restaurant, thinking more is better.
I knew Centerville from opening Charley’s Crab in the Arcade and knew a second Sweeney’s would be well-received, and it was. After 18 successful years I knew it was time for a change because I did not feel the excitement anymore, and I told my wife I have one more left in me, and I know what it is: a small, cozy tavern. So the search was on.
I met so many wonderful people during the first couple years after opening Sweeney’s, I decided to sell my restaurants in Cincinnati and move to Centerville. Dayton seems like a small big town. Everyone is so friendly and down-to-earth. Owning a restaurant is certainly a good way to meet a lot of people, and many have become close friends. Best move I ever made!
What’s been your most recent professional challenge, and how did you push through the challenge?
My most recent professional challenge was actually opening Sea Jax Tavern. I know I chose this challenge by leaving a successful business in the attempt to open a new one. Opening any new business is risky, especially a restaurant, and the banks know this.
Even with over 30 years of experience in owning successful restaurants, my bank of many years would not help me finance the project. It sure was easier 20 years ago.
Bottom line: I paid out of my pocket for the entire project, which was not cheap. It was stressful, but what pushed me through was the excitement of knowing my Tavern concept was unique and would be a huge success. And after five years it has become just that!
I also changed banks. Their loss.
What are your favorite places to eat and/or drink in the Dayton area, beyond, of course, Sea Jax?
I get this question a lot, but to be honest, when we are not at Sea Jax, we like to eat at home. My wife and I are pretty good cooks — well, she is better than me, but I’m the grill guy.
I will say we are at Dorothy Lane Market most days, but when we do go out, we support local businesses such as Old Scratch Pizza, Figlio, Warped Wing, Dayton Beer Company, China Cottage, and The Century Bar, to name a few.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
My guilty pleasure, you ask? Bourbon.