Lily's Bistro has been a chic fixture in the Oregon District since 2013.
Photo: Sarah Franks
Photo: Sarah Franks

Who is Lily? The real story behind the name of one of Dayton’s favorite restaurants

At Dayton.com, we take pride in highlighting Dayton’s food scene like it’s our job. And well, it is. We are dang proud of just how lucky our city is to have dozens of delicious, quality restaurants and bars that keep our bellies happy and spirits high. 

There are so many to love. And so much to know and love about each and every one.

We are going to go beyond the menu, past the brews and cocktails, and find out the story behind the names of some of Dayton’s most beloved establishments in a new series What’s in a Name?

First up: Lily’s Bistro in the Oregon District

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Emily Mendenhall, co-owner of Lily’s Bistro at 329 E. 5th St., said restaurants often have a “sister-restaurant.” Her restaurant, however, literally has a “brother-restaurant” right across the street. Emily’s brother, Nate Mendenhall, co-owns Blind Bob’s, along with Emily and their parents.

Summon all of your courage for a terrifyingly delicious five-course meal as Lily’s Bistro host The Frightful Feast on Thursday, October 25. CONTRIBUTED

So who is Lily?

An assumption customers often make about the Bistro is that it’s named after some beloved person named Lily. Customers have even slyly attempted  to pull a fast one past Mendenhall, claiming to know Lily personally when attempting to get special treatment at the restaurant, Mendenhall said.

Lily’s Bistro actually gets its name from a combination of two names: Emily’s name and her mother’s name, Lisa. 

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Emily and Lisa are both avid gardeners and wanted to offer a more chic, farm-to-table appeal than her brother’s establishment, Blind Bob’s. Lily’s Bistro has three outdoor dining spaces, including a courtyard patio in the back that feels like sitting in someone’s garden in the summer. 

Lily s Bistro owner Emily Mendenhall (far right) and bar manager Amber Brady at Lily s Bistro s Garden Party in September. /CONTRIBUTED
Photo: ALEXIS LARSEN

“Bob’s is more of beer and shots, but they don’t have much by way of a wine list,” Mendenhall said. “My mother is a more of wine drinker, kept asking my brother to stock some wines and he, like a lot of the Mendenhalls, is a little bit stubborn and he said ‘no.’ Then he said, ‘You know what you could do Mom, Boulevard Hause had closed, you should go check it out because it has a beautiful backyard court patio, and it would be an awesome place to open a restaurant where you could have a nice bottle of wine and cheese plates and seasonal food.”

In a life moment of not knowing what was next for her, Mendenhall moved home to Dayton from New Orleans six years ago and shortly after opened Lily’s Bistro. Lily’s celebrated its 5-year anniversary in summer 2018, right as Blind Bob’s celebrated its 10-year anniversary. 

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“We like to say, Blind Bob’s gives folks the hangover and then we cure them with brunch in the morning,” Mendenhall said. “We actually have a menu item called Hangover Cure. But I don’t want to discount that we also have an awesome bar program here and can give a good hangover here, too.”

In celebration of the many Victorian homes that will be on display for the Oregon District annual Candlelight Home Tour, Lily’s Bistro is offering a special limited time Victorian holiday prix fixe menu Monday, December 3, Tuesday, December 4, and Wednesday, December 5. CONTRIBUTED

Lily’s Bistro has lived up to its garden-fresh vibe, including traces of New Orleans influence from Mendenhall’s time spent living there. The menu rotates daily, pulling ingredients and inspiration from whatever produce is in season. Lily’s also uses exclusively locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. 

“When I came back from NOLA, I joked that there was Carnival Season and Tourist Season— just not four real seasons like there are in Dayton,” Mendenhall said. “I thought that was special ... to use food that will taste best in that season. Why have carrots in the winter when they can taste incredible in the fall.” 

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