Restaurants we miss: The Key Hole treated diners for 51 years on Salem Avenue

The Key Hole restaurant opened in 1939 at 3993 Salem Ave. in Harrison Twp. It operated in that same spot for 51 years.

Recently, we featured a story on restaurants area residents miss, and we asked for your feedback. Many responded that they had fond memories of The Key Hole.

From 1954 through 1986 it was owned by Eugene and Helen Lang. After the death of Eugene Lang in 1984, Helen ran the business for two years before she sold the restaurant in 1986 to Fred Secrist, who had been the general manager for 14 years.

The restaurant was open seven days a week and specialized in steaks, fried chicken and seafood.

Daily lunch and dinner specials included an entrée, two sides and a beverage.

“We’ve got a little bit of everything but we’re best known for our home style cooking and our steaks, too,” Secrist once told the Dayton Daily News. “We’ve got the biggest variety of any place in Dayton — you just can’t list them all.”

“In 1965, when I first started coming in here, you couldn’t find a place to stand at the bar between 2:30 and 5 p.m.” said Harley Blankenship, the Key Hole’s janitor, during a 1990 Dayton Daily News interview, “Back then, there were factories all over Dayton and people would be standing here three deep during happy hour.”

A 1976 Dayton Daily News story said the interior was a “rustic wood paneling, checkered tablecloths and delightful antiques.” There were individual jukebox selectors in each both. The the restaurant which could seat 86 guests.

Each year, on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Key Hole employees gathered to put up lights, tinsel, trees and other trimmings. In 1982, it was reported that the team spent 70 employee hours filling the restaurant with decorations. The centerpiece was a village scene made entirely of ceramics done by Helen Lang, wife of owner Eugene Lang.

A 1990 road resurfacing project contributed to the closing of the Keyhole.

A few month before the closing, Secrist expressed his concern during an interview with the Dayton Daily News. “Because of the construction work, and that traffic flow mess out there, our patrons couldn’t come in our front door for over a month. They finally got three lanes open to traffic, but many of my customers have been scared off,” he said.

Business at the restaurant, where at one time diners had to wait more than an hour to be seated, was down about 60 percent.

Secrist said traffic wasn’t the only reason business was slow: “It isn’t a pleasant subject, but since the mayor’s father was murdered here, our business hasn’t been the same. Some people have stayed away because of that, and there is really nothing we can do about that. These tragedies can happen anywhere.”

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