This restaurateur started busing tables at 15. Now he owns the Amber Rose

Joe Castellano is the owner of the Amber Rose Restaurant and Catering, a Dayton institution specializing in homemade Eastern European cuisine. LISA POWELL / STAFF
Joe Castellano is the owner of the Amber Rose Restaurant and Catering, a Dayton institution specializing in homemade Eastern European cuisine. LISA POWELL / STAFF

Joe Castellano, whose restaurant shut down for weeks after the tornadoes, is our Daytonian of the Week

Joe Castellano, owner of Amber Rose Restaurant and Catering, believes he was born to be a restaurateur.

We’ll let him tell you why:

“I was always drawn to the industry,” Castellano said. “My great-grandparents and grandparents owned a tavern in St. Louis for years, and hearing their stories as a young boy influenced my path, I think. I started busing tables and washing dishes at 15 at the Bill Knapp's restaurant by the Salem Mall, and I worked there on and off through high school around sports seasons.”

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“I went to Bowling Green State University and received my degree in Restaurant Management. I worked ‘corporate’ for a few years and found my way to Amber Rose. The restaurant industry has provided me with so much. I met my wife of 22 years, Jennifer; I have two awesome kids, Joseph and Sophia. It has allowed me to build friendships and be a small part of our wonderful community.”

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Castellano is our Dayton.com Daytonian of the Week. Here’s what he had to say about Dayton and his experiences here.

How did it come about that you became the owner of The Amber Rose? 

I was high school friends with Elinor Sluzas’ nephews, so I knew of the restaurant. Elinor founded the restaurant in 1989 and opened it in 1990. I was approached about coming to work as the general manager when Elinor was looking to retire. I thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime, and over the years I was blessed to be able to purchase the restaurant.

What’s a typical work day for you now? 

I am usually in the office or at an offsite catering location by 7:30 a.m. Mornings are filled with reviewing and prepping the day with our chefs, catering staff and restaurant staff. At 11 a.m. the restaurant opens, and lunch catering orders are out the door. I try to spend lunch in the dining room or out visiting a catering event.

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A typical afternoon will consist or some planning time with catering managers and chefs looking ahead to any special events, maybe a meeting with a vendor or client, then some time in the office catching up on paperwork, calls and emails. At 4 p.m., we switch to dinner service. I will check in with the dinner staff and usually visit with folks in the dining room until 7 p.m. or so and call it a day.

You’re a Dayton-area native. But tell us why you decided to stay in and settle in the Dayton area.

I came back to Dayton after college to start my career and met my wife here. Both of our families are here. But that was only part of it. We both love it here. For us, Dayton has all the best of the large city that it is, but still has that small-town feel. We have great restaurants and nightlife, awesome schools all around the area, great parks and museums. We love the fact that you can run into someone you know almost anywhere you go. You’re never far from a friend.

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

The aftermath of the Memorial Day tornadoes was a real challenge. Reflecting back on those first few days and weeks, I truly feel blessed by my staff, friends, vendors, customers and community. We were closed for a few weeks, but were very fortunate compared to so many. I knew we would get through the challenge by taking it one step at a time while keeping an eye on the big picture. Yes, it was devastating to us as a staff, but we still had a building, a business and our homes.

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My staff was amazing. They just started showing up as the sun rose that Tuesday, and we just got to work with the cleanup. We had customers supply us with generators, vendors supplied us with extra dumpsters, volunteers arrived with water, etc. Our insurance agent, Steve Henne, and Cincinnati Insurance has been amazing. Most of all, the outpouring of the community and the resolve of Dayton helped us through.

>> PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Historic Dayton restaurant damaged in tornado reopens

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What are your favorite places to eat and/or drink in the Dayton area, other than The Amber Rose?

I do like to eat, and we have so many great places. I love Tank's for breakfast, Slyders for a great burger, Lucky's or Warped Wing to grab a cold draft. For a special night out, Wheat Penny or Basil's, Shen's Szechuan for Chinese, and Ozu852 for sushi.

What’s your guilty pleasure? 

Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip Ice Cream and Hazelnut Lattes.

What inspires you about Dayton? 

The people of Dayton, their resiliency, work ethic and sense of community.