Snow melting, birds chirping and flower buds sprouting are all considered signs of spring. But most Daytonians know the truly unmistakable sign of the season is when there’s life at The Root Beer Stande at 1727 Woodman Drive.
The car-hop style restaurant has been a staple of the Dayton and Kettering area since it first opened for business in 1961.
In 2008 previous owner Alex Fabrick sold the business to then 25-year-old Emily Collins. She had a little experience working in the food industry, and zero managerial experience.
“I was straight out of college. I had my bachelors in fine arts. I came back to Dayton and there weren’t a lot of jobs for a potter,” Collins said. “I taught part-time. I worked in and liked the food business, and I always wanted to own my own business.”
“I told my mom, ‘I’m going to buy that.’ She said ‘You’re crazy,’” she remembered.
So, with business plan in hand, Collins convinced a bank to back her vision. That’s when the real work began -- working to regain the customers who no longer saw The Root Beer Stande as a place to grab a good old-fashioned American meal. Collins says she was also battling a location that had deteriorated from years of neglect. So she began fixing things as she could, piece by piece.
CUSTOMERS HAVE RETURNED
Nine years later, Collins says business has more than doubled, thanks to a number of developments. Those include updating the menu, while retaining old favorites like the hot dogs, footlongs, hamburgers, milkshakes and floats. For example, you can still get a hot dog, or you can dress it up Chicago, New York or southern style. Want ghost pepper or blue cheese on your cheeseburger? They can do that.
Collins, a graduate of Stivers School for the Arts, has also brought the cash-only business into the 21st century by enabling customers to order and pay using a smartphone app, as well as having an aggressive social media presence.
“We’ve not changed a lot. We’ve added a lot. So the people that have been coming here forever seem to be very happy with us still. We’ve also attracted the younger crowd,” Collins said.
Customers appreciate that The Root Beer Stande has maintained its 1960s American charm all these years later.
“We love the old-fashioned hot dogs and hamburgers, and of course, the root beer floats,” said Gary Leasure. He and his wife, Rose, have been loyal customers since the 1980s.
And longtime customers, who often point out the business is older than Collins herself, love to share their memories with her.
“I get a lot of that. Everybody’s got a story -- they’ve eaten here as a kid. They’re bringing their grandkids.”
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NEW LIFE FOR AN OLD FAVORITE
Collins, who has been keeping the seasonal business open from February through mid-November in recent years, says the biggest asset of The Root Beer Stande is that it is basically the same as it was 56 years ago.
“We serve them in the cold mug and the trays hang on the window. It’s carhop-only service. We’ve kept all the nostalgic, old-school (things).”