Restaurant owner Bob Byers adapts to survive, as he has for 36 years in Dayton

Carmel’s and former Cold Beer & Cheeseburgers owner is our Daytonian of the Week

What’s a classic Italian dish like lasagna doing on a Mexican restaurant’s menu?

Helping to pay the bills, says Bob Byers, owner of Carmel’s Restaurant on Shroyer Road just inside Dayton’s border with Kettering.

Byers is a seasoned veteran of the local restaurant scene, having owned and operated Cold Beer & Cheeseburgers for two decades and currently owning Carmel’s and The Somewhere Lounge in Dayton. His restaurant career in Dayton began 36 years ago, when he came to town to work for what was then Dayton-based Ponderosa Steakhouse.

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Like restaurant owners throughout the Miami Valley, Byers has found creative ways to keep his businesses afloat during a coronavirus pandemic that forced his Carmel’s dining room and bar to shut down more than two months ago. The restaurant — which will resume its dine-in service and reopen its popular and newly renovated patio next week, on Wednesday, May 27 — developed a strong carryout game during the shutdown, in part because it expanded its menu beyond its Mexican theme with dishes such as lasagna and roast chicken.

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“I’m too old to be reinventing myself like this all the time, but  what choice do I have?” Byers said.

Byers is our Daytonian of the Week, so let’s hear more about this restaurateur — in his own words.

Summarize your experience in the restaurant industry and what impact it has had on your life.

I began work in Dayton in 1984 with the former Ponderosa Steakhouse chain that was headquartered near the Dayton International Airport. I came from a company steakhouse in the Pittsburgh area. I came to work in the product-development department. It was perhaps the most important job of my life, and I enjoyed it. As a manager of new product development, you had to supervise an idea of a new entree from its discussion around a table of marketing managers to the start-up day in the restaurants. No other job could have prepared me better to own my restaurants.

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From this position I learned food product knowledge, buying, testing, writing of manuals to implement and train about the new item, and observing the production of television commercials. Most importantly I learned patience and teamwork. Bringing a new product, and additional work, to 600 steakhouse managers required learning diplomacy and motivation skills.

From there, I helped other entrepreneurs open some restaurants. Then I was ready. I bought the recently opened restaurant Cold Beer and Cheeseburgers downtown on Jefferson Street. For 20 years, we served hundreds on daily basis a great lunch in a fun atmosphere. We later had a few other locations serving the Dayton area.

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Today, you will find me working at Carmel’s or at my little bar, The Somewhere Lounge. Moving toward the retirement zone, I sold the last Cold Beer and Cheeseburgers (now CBCB Bar & Grill) last fall. To the many thousands of employees I have had over the last 25 years, I give thanks for the dedication, hard work and good fun we had.

What’s a typical work day for you now? 

Since we are now coming out the lockdown, my work day mostly consists of planning for our reopening for full service dining. After two months of carryout only, all of us workers have settled into new routines that will require some tweaking back to our former selves.

Frankly, it is as though we are opening a new restaurant. After the reopening to the public for dine in, I hope my day will resume the course of reviewing staffing, looking at product coming in the back door, coaching staff on service tips, and the most important part of work: greeting our guests for a few hours each day.

My work day is a complete non starter if I don’t get to spend time out front in the dining room, patio, bar or the host stand.

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

The restaurant industry has truly been a great partner in my professional and personal development. I have a strong need to be around people, to enjoy those I am working with and learn about my customers. The restaurant constantly requires new learning, always developing new social skills as well as management skills for each new generation of staff. The restaurant industry demands that you learn new skills every day.

Case in point, this virus has turned our restaurant into a carryout facility. During regular business our kitchen was not big enough to handle carryout business, so we did not promote it. Within two weeks of the lockdown, we learned quickly about appropriate packaging, phone manners, directing people for safety, how to market effectively on social media and how to manage efficiently with less.

We are proud of maintaining a large portion of our sales. The restaurant industry teaches you over and over to be proud and appreciative of your team. Without their flexibility and resourcefulness, we would not have accomplished this.

Tell us why you decided to stay in and settle in the Dayton area, and what inspires you about the Dayton area? 

After moving to Dayton, I never imagined leaving. I first lived in South Park Historic District, where I found myself among a group of diverse folks dedicated to historic preservation. Our camaraderie was fulfilling. For 30 years, I have lived in St Anne’s Historic District, and again, the diverse population keeps life interesting. I have as neighbors blue collar factory workers, charity administrators, university leaders, hospitality workers, lawyers, doctors and many small business owners like myself. It truly does inspire. Come live in a city neighborhood.

What are your favorite places to eat and/or drink in the Dayton area?

As a restaurant owner, getting out to eat is a challenge. I enjoy eating the foods I do not serve. I am a regular at Linh’s Bistro, I like a quick nosh and beer at Blind Bobs, and I like Sky Asian Bistro and Franco’s. And when it has to be a perfect evening with family and friends, The Oakwood Club. When not working or nursing my tomato plants, I can be found in my reading chair with a glass of port and a historical novel.

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