A former four-star Kettering restaurant owner is being remembered as helping transform dining in the Dayton area.
Josef Reif, who operated l’Auberge as part of a decades-long restaurant career in the Dayton area, succumbed to prostate cancer Friday, according to Hospice of Dayton. The Centerville resident was 78.
Reif and l’Auberge partner Dieter Krug transformed the restaurant after buying the Far Hills Avenue site as The Inn in the late 1970s, according to Dayton Daily News archives. The two had previously worked at the upscale King Cole together in Dayton.
“He was a very fine gentlemen,” said Connie Zavakos, who worked with Reif for 30 years and was an office manager.
“Dieter and Josef changed dining in Dayton with their restaurant,” she added. “And Josef was so well-educated in fine dining and service. There was nothing he didn’t know.”
“Josef also expected excellence from the time you entered the door,” according to Zavakos. “Everything from answering the phones, serving, and how to address his guests. He was a perfectionist at service and expected you to treat the guests as he did.”
Once the most highly credentialed restaurant in Ohio, l’Auberge held a four-star rating from the Mobil Travel Guide for 19 years. The Maisonette in Cincinnati held a five-star rating, but closed in 2005.
l’Auberge opened in 1979 and closed in 2012, Zavakos said, and the building later was demolished to make way for a bank.
Reif “was the best,” said Dominique Fortin, who said he was a l’Auberge executive chief for three years. “It was a pleasure to work for him.”
L’Auberge earned Mobile’s four-star rating the first year it was eligible for consideration — a rare accomplishment.
It held that coveted rating through at least 2002, three years after Krug retired and Reif would become sole owner of the only four-star restaurant in the state.
No restaurant in Cleveland or Columbus held a four- or five-star rating at the time.
“Josef was an amazing man and mentor to me,” according to Eddie Nickell, who said he worked at l’Auberge from 1990 to 1995.
Reif “taught me about how to stand. How to talk to guests,” Nickell wrote in a Facebook tribute. “How to answer the phone, you pointed out the who’s who of Dayton and beyond. How to polish fine crystal, how to decorate a table and a whole restaurant. You taught me the science of fine dining.”
In 1995, when the Bosnian peace talks produced the Dayton Peace Accords at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the French delegation arranged for dinner at l’Auberge for all of the principals in the negotiations.
The restaurant hosted 24 dignitaries, including the presidents of Serbia and Bosnia, the foreign minister of Croatia and U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke.
Reif did not have any family in the area, Zavakos said. Services are pending, she added.
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