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The six amazing women behind some of Dayton’s best food 

Luckily for our bellies, the place for these women is in the kitchen. 

A well-known fact is that some of the Dayton area’s best restaurants are owned or co-owned by women, and some of our very best chefs are  women.

>> RELATED: The 12 best restaurants in Dayton

Here are six you really ought to know about.

1.) ELIZABETH WILEY 

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Elizabeth Wiley, founder of Meadowlark and Wheat Penny restaurants. SUBMITTED (Staff Writer)

“Wiley,” as she is known, first made a name for herself on the local food scene  at The Winds Cafe in Yellow Springs. 

>> Beloved local chef wins prestigious James Beard fellowship

She opened Meadowlark on Miamisburg-Centerville Road in Washington Twp. in 2004 and seven years later, moved the popular restaurant to Far Hills Avenue in Washington Twp. 

>> What Elizabeth Wiley loves about Dayton

She wasn’t done. Wiley open Wheat Penny Oven & Bar on Wayne Avenue in Dayton’s Oregon District in 2013.

Most recently, she became co-founder of SageCraft Catering and Events.

Wheat Penny has become a must-visit spot for visiting celebrities like singers Lance Bass and Mavis Staples, a friend of Wiley’s. 

>> Legendary singer raves about Oregon District restaurant

2.) MARGOT BLONDET 

Margot Blondet, owner and executive chef of Salar Restaurant and Lounge in Dayton’s Oregon District. SUBMITTED

Chef Margot uses flavors of South America and classical French techniques to make Salar Restaurant and Lounge at 400 E. Fifth St. one of the most unique restaurants in the region. 

>> What you should know about chef Margot Blondet 

The graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Lima, Peru  opened the restaurant in 2013. The location is the former site of Sidebar, where Blondet served as executive chef. 

“When the building (became) vacant, I didn’t hesitate about opening my own place. I was lucky to get special help from a Dayton believer, and the project took off after nine months of planning and hard work — which is why I call the restaurant ‘my baby,’” Blondet told our food writer Mark Fisher as part of a profile. 

>> 4 pork belly dishes you have to try in Dayton

3.) ANNE KEARNEY 

Former Rue Dumaine co-owner and chef Anne Kearney. FILE (Staff Writer)

There is a reason Chef Kearney is the only Dayton-area chef EVER honored as part of the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chefs in America” competition for the Great Lakes region: her food is extraordinary. 

>> How Rue Dumaine’s Kearney scored 6th consecutive ‘best-chef’ nomination

The graduate of Greater Cincinnati Culinary Arts Academy was a sous chef at  the Peristyle in New Orleans under John Neal, its founder. 

At 27, Kearney and her husband bought Peristyle after Neal died using money borrowed from her mentor, famed chef Emeril Lagasse. She served as its executive chef. 

>> Rue Dumaine to be reborn at Meadowlark for one night 

Kearney was named a James Beard Foundation best-chef award winner in the southeastern U.S. in 2002 for her work at the restaurant, which “The Times-Picayune” recalled as one of New Orleans’ top restaurants in a recent article.

The Dayton area native and her husband sold Peristyle in 2004 and moved back to Ohio. 

She opened Rue Dumaine at 1061 Miamisburg-Centerville Road in 2007. The business changed to Bar Dumaine the last of its 10 years, then shut down permanently in July, but Kearney doesn’t show signs of stopping.

She held a pop-up dinner at Crafted & Cured, 521 Wayne Ave. in Dayton’s Oregon District in September 2017 and is planning more. 

4.) DANA DOWNS 

Dana Downs (center) is the chef and owner of Roost Modern Italian Dayton and Roost American in Kettering. She is pictured with staffers at the summer 2017 Miami Valley Restaurant Association restaurant week. (Photo: Amelia Robinson) (Photo: Amelia Robinson)

Chef Dana proves that you can work your way up in the Dayton food scene. 

She got her start in the restaurant business in 1993 as a part-time dishwasher at 

Franco’s Ristorante Italiano. 

>> How a dishwasher turned into a restaurateur

Realizing she had a knack for cooking, Downs honed her culinary skills as a student at Sinclair Community College. 

She took jobs at the former Zola near Fifth Third Field and in marketing at Country Club of the North before opening Black Rooster Catering at Second Street Market

Downs’ Roost Modern Italian opened at 2011 at 524 E. Fifth St. as Roost Italian.

She operated Leo Bistro at The Dayton Art Institute for a time, and added Park City Club, now called Roost American, in 2015. 

That restaurant recently announced a new operation schedule.

>> RELATED: Kettering restaurant next to Fraze announces changes 

5.) MARIA WALUSIS 

Maria Walusis

A former dental hygienist, Chef Maria cut her teeth in the restaurant industry as an apprentice at some of southwest Ohio’s best restaurants: Cumin Eclectic Cuisine in Cincinnati and L’Auberge restaurant in Kettering, both now closed.  

>> Maria Walusis takes home top prize in chef showdown

L’Auberge received the rare four-star rating from the Mobil Travel Guide the first year it was eligible for rating. It held the rating for nearly 20 years.

Walusis opened her catering company, Nibbles Culinary Entertainment, in 2009,  and worked for and with Dana Downs of Roost, Anne Kearney of Rue Dumaine and others before launching Nibbles as a restaurant in 2015 in Miamisburg.

The chef and her husband opened Watermark restaurant in September 2017 at 20 South First Street in Miamisburg, two doors down from the Nibbles location. 

>> Watermark now opened in Miamisburg 

The Nibbles name was retained for the catering part of the Walusises’ business. 

6.) JENN DISANTO 

Dayton area chef Jenn DiSanto (Photo: submitted)

Chef Jenn taught cooking classes overseas at the American Club of Brussels and catered events for diplomats and other guests before moving to to the Dayton area and opening  Fresco by Chef Jenn DiSanto in 2010 in Kettering’s Fountain Square Shopping Center. 

>> SageCraft Catering opens in Kettering 

One of seven daughters, she’s traced her love of cooking back to her dad, a butcher who later worked in the meat and cheese industry. 

“(My mother) never really liked cooking and to this day always says ‘I don’t know whose daughter you are but there’s no way you got my genes.’ It was my father who loved to cook and loved to eat and he was the best of the improvisers,” DiSanto told this news organization in 2013. “He also really taught me everything about meat, seafood and most importantly, people. I still think of him when I cook — especially when I don’t measure. He thought measuring was silly.” 

A breast cancer survivor known for her health conscious cuisine, DiSanto worked in restaurants through high school and college before spending about 20 years in corporate America. 

>> Cooking with good health in mind

On the side, she worked in kitchens and ran a catering business. She eventually resigned from her job and went to culinary school. 

Most recently, DiSanto partnered with Elizabeth Wiley and the other chef-owners of Meadowlark Enterprises in SageCraft Catering and Events. It is based out of  3141 Far Hills Ave., the former site of DiSanto’s Fresco Foods. 

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