Executive Chef at On Par Entertainment wants to ‘set the culinary world in Dayton on fire’

Originally from Toledo, Executive Chef and Kitchen Manager Erin O’Neill is eager to bring guests at On Par Entertainment in Beavercreek unique flavor combinations after decades in the restaurant industry.

“I’m not going to try and reinvent the wheel, but I will always try to do crazy flavor combinations that other people aren’t expecting,” O’Neill said.

Credit: Natalie Jones

Credit: Natalie Jones

From dishwasher to opening restaurants

His journey in the restaurant industry started at 16 years old as a dishwasher for a Little Caesars restaurant in Toledo that offered a pizza buffet and bar — where he eventually worked his way to the line.

Cooking wasn’t an unusual concept for O’Neill to learn.

“I had learned to cook early and my dad was a cook, so I never had the stigma back then that guys couldn’t cook,” O’Neill said. “My parents got divorced when I was young, so I started cooking family dinner in like 4th or 5th grade.”

He had worked in restaurants throughout high school and knew at 19 years old that the restaurant industry was for him. He said he didn’t love school, but loved the fast-paced environment created at restaurants.

“There’s nothing like it,” O’Neill said. “It gets in your blood. It either wears you down and beats you up and you get out of it running and screaming or it becomes part of who you are.”

For him, it became a part of who he is. He did go to college for one year at the University of Cincinnati, where he met his wife of almost 30 years. She is originally from Dayton and they moved back to her hometown in the early 90s.

“Where I really got probably an introduction into real cooking was when I moved to Dayton,” O’Neill said.

He recalled getting a job at Boston’s Sport Page in downtown Dayton as a very young cook and after that worked at TGI Fridays in Beavercreek. O’Neill said he was trained in all aspects of cooking at TGI Fridays from learning how to prep and follow recipes to learning the proper way to cut, sauté and par-bake

“I really honed my skills doing very high volume from $80,000 to $100,000 a week, $20,000 days,” O’Neill said. “I really got my chops with Fridays,”

He was with the company for eight years and opened one store as an employee, five stores including one in Moscow, Russia as a trainer and another as a kitchen manager.

Creating culinary programs

From there, he opened the Dug Out Deli with his sister in 2003 at 209 E. First St. in Dayton. O’Neill said times were very different in downtown Dayton and they closed the deli in 2009 during the recession.

When they owned the deli, he also took over running the Flying Dog food stand in Riverscape. These two businesses allowed him his first opportunity to be creative and come up with his own menu.

About a decade went by before he had another opportunity to create a menu. O’Neill joined the Warped Wing Brewery team in 2019 and introduced a new menu with made-from-scratch, elevated bar food. He went on to open the Warped Wing kitchens in Springboro, Mason and Huber Heights — highlighting his love for smoked food.

He said he will always have love and support for the team at Warped Wing, but it was time for him to do something different and see if he could do it all again when the opportunity with On Par Entertainment came along.

On Par Entertainment offers elevated bar food

When he launched the culinary program at On Par Entertainment, he wanted a menu that was simple and fast because he was unsure of what the flow of orders would look like. On Par Entertainment can fit up to 12,000 people in the venue — meaning that everyone could place an order at the same time because all you have to do is scan a QR code and order from your phone.

Six months after opening, O’Neill is ready to change things up. He said customers can expect lots of specials from red beans and rice, jambalaya and bodega chopped cheese sandwiches to chicken bacon ranch salads, Philly cheesesteak egg rolls and Cuban sandwiches, the possibilities on endless.

In May, he will be adding gourmet hot dogs to the menu. He said he takes an all beef angus hot dog, butterflies it, cross hatches it and cooks it on a flat top until it’s caramelized. He then flips it over and steams it. Since he is from Toledo, customers can expect a Tony Packo’s inspired hot dog.

O’Neill also plans to introduce fresh pasta, additional grilled items and BBQ in the upcoming months.

A mind for unique creations

He has a love for southern-style food and cooking Cajun or Creole. In addition, he has fun fusing different culinary traditions together to make a unique dish. For example, he plans to do a gourmet hot dog with chorizo and pork belly that’s topped with pico de gallo and deep fried pork rinds.

The most popular burger on On Par Entertainment’s menu is the Spicy Elvis featuring habanero bacon jam, peanut butter and fried plantains. When asked how he comes up with these unique combinations like the Spicy Elvis, he said he was making the habanero bacon jam for a different recipe and decided to try it on a burger. With that, he thought to add plantains instead of bananas and next thing he had was an Elvis-inspired burger.

His determination to continue learning is another factor that goes into his cooking.

“My wife is first generation Italian, so all her sisters live within a couple miles. My mom lived within a couple miles, so I would every Sunday have 15 to 20 people over at our house for years,” O’Neill said.

He used this as an opportunity to learn how to cook something new.

He also mentioned that he watches a lot of shows on Food Network like Guy’s Grocery Games or Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives where he looks for techniques and thinks about how he would put his own twist on the dishes presented.

When O’Neill is off work on Mondays he tries restaurants throughout the Dayton area. His favorites include Taqueria El Paisa in Moraine, Massaman Thai Cuisine in Dayton, Kung Fu Noodle in Kettering and Blind Dogs in Dayton.

“Dayton has a ton of little small places if you’re just willing to find them,” O’Neill said.

Huge passion for cooking

People often think that O’Neill is intimidating because of his tone and appearance, but on the inside he’s a dad and husband with a huge passion for cooking.

“Cooking is family. Cooking is love,” O’Neill said.

He’s looking forward to the upcoming menu changes at On Part Entertainment and can’t wait to watch people try his new offerings.

“We’re not just making food to get by. We’re making food to blow peoples’ minds,” O’Neill said. “I feel like I have this open landscape and I want to just set the culinary world in Dayton on fire.”

For more information about the food program at On Par Entertainment, located at 4464 Indian Ripple Road, visit onparbar.com/dining or visit the establishment’s Facebook (@onparbar) or Instagram pages (@theonparbar). O’Neill’s culinary journey can be followed on Instagram (@execchefdad).

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