Dayton chefs prep for big food, dining year

Plans include new restaurants and menus.

Nearly a year ago, we introduced you to nine local chefs who were bound to make a mark on the restaurant scene in the Dayton region.

Despite worldwide supply chain shortages, staffing shortages, rising costs and more, these local chefs continued to elevate Dayton’s dining scene.

Here’s another look at these chefs, what they’ve done in the last year and what we can expect from them in 2023.

If you know of a chef in Dayton that has big plans for 2023, email with details.

Chef Isiah Davis



Isiah Davis, owner of The Cookieologist, was working on taking over the fresh-baked cookie market in his hometown when he was added to our list.

The Cookieologist had a big year in 2022. He opened in a Kettering ghost kitchen at 1122 E. Dorothy Lane with Chicken Head’s (a wings and tenders chef), added specialty focaccia bread pizzas to his menu and announced plans to open another ghost kitchen location in Englewood with Slide Thru (a food truck offering sliders).

Ghost kitchens allow restaurants to use an existing kitchen space — sometimes shared with another business — to operate on a carryout and delivery-only basis without the expenses that come with an official brick and mortar operation.

Davis has plans to continue this momentum.

This year “will be the start of us going nationwide with our milk alternatives, take and bake focaccia pizzas and our gourmet cookies,” Davis said.

Chef James Burton



A pizza connoisseur would be hard-pressed to find pies more ambitious or original than those created by Pizza Bandit’s head chef, James Burton. That’s why he was added to our chefs to watch list.

“One of my favorite things that I get to do at Pizza Bandit is be creative,” Burton said. “I continuously get to challenge myself with creating fun, new and tasty pizzas for everyone each week. Usually two or more every week.”

Burton said the Pizza Bandit is close to opening a brick-and-mortar space inside the Yellow Cab Tavern at 700 E. Fourth St. in Dayton. The Pizza Bandit is currently operating out of a food truck on the property.

“I can’t really explain how excited I am to get into that space and start working,” Burton said. “With new equipment and space there will be so many new opportunities for menu expansion and quantity of product.” .

As Burton keeps the pies flying out of the food truck, he continues to work on his craft soda business Rock, Paper, Soda Co., which launched in 2021. Burton said they started test trials on new syrups in January. Once they get a couple of recipes down, he said they will be ready to start production and distribution.

Chef Zackary Weiner and Chef Brendon Miller



Chef Zackary Weiner and Executive Chef Brendon Miller, the culinary leadership team behind Jollity in Dayton’s Fire Block’s District was added to our list for making the restaurant’s menu a hot commodity.

The two are very proud of collaborating with their friends and peers to host dinners at each other’s restaurants. They said they plan to continue to collaborate through guest chef dinners and guest bartenders.

“We want to make this year very collaborative,” Weiner said. “We want to continue to grow our community in the industry and learn from and lean on each other.”

Last year, Jollity, located at 127 E. Third Street, held several lunch pop-ups for Koji Burger, a special project that was tested and developed during one of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Weeks. The owners are working towards opening a brick-and-mortar featuring that concept.

“We have our eyes and ears on the economy in 2023 (like everyone else) before we make any final decisions. In a perfect world we’d have the brick-and-mortar open by summer,” Weiner said.

Chef Maria Walusis

Executive Chef and Owner Maria Walusis of Watermark and Backwater Voodoo has prevailed through the challenges COVID-19 and the economy has presented over the past two years with her husband, Eric.

“So many of our fellow restaurants were forced to close over the past two years, and all of us still standing have had to battle rising costs, staffing shortages, a struggling economy, as well as an increasingly exasperated public, who just “want things to be normal,” Walusis said. “There were ups and downs, and we implemented strategies designed to help us endure, so making it to New Year’s seemed like more of a significant feat than perhaps it did in years past.”

She said last year they were able to make significant improvements to their outdoor patio space and continued to expand their warm-weather business. Watermark is located at 20 S. First Street in Miamisburg and Backwater Voodoo is located at 103 S. Second Street in Miamisburg.

The couple is looking forward to continuing to grow their businesses and expand special events. Walusis said they are planning to represent the Dayton-area at the annual “Hukilau” Tiki Cocktail conference in Ft. Lauderdale this June.

Chef Dane Shipp



Dane Shipp’s reputation for creating delicious Dayton grub has been steadily growing since 2017 and it’s no where close to stopping.

The former executive chef at Lock 27 now does private dinners, caterings and pop-up events. He recently completed a collaboration dinner with Chef Jorge Guzman at Sueño and has done several pop-up events at Tender Mercy.

“In 2023, I plan on accomplishing being a better chef, and just working on my craft, so that I can give people a great experience when they eat my food,” Shipp said.

He was added to our list because plans were in the works for him to open his own space inside a market. Shipp said those plans are still in the works.

Chef Elizabeth (Liz) Valenti



Chef Elizabeth (Liz) Valenti, who is the co-owner of Wheat Penny Oven and Bar and Meadowlark, is excited to continue to elevate her restaurants.

“I feel like all of these lessons we learned during COVID and the strength we developed as a team between Meadowlark and Wheat Penny, I think is an incredible footing for us to start 2023 on,” Valenti said.

She explained they are working on recipe testing and implementing the idea of wine dinners at Wheat Penny, located at 515 Wayne Avenue.

Looking back at 2022, Valenti said she is really proud of herself and the other chefs in the community that came together under “Dayton Chefs United” to create a seven course dinner experience raising funds for a Miami Valley restaurant professional who, because of sudden and long-term physical health issues, needed financial help. Valenti said she is excited to make that an annual event.

Meadowlark is located at 5531 Far Hills Avenue.

Chef Gerald Richardson



Chef Gerald Richardson launched Rich Taste Catering in 2015 with his wife and business partner Clarece Richardson and the business has continued to pick-up steam.

“The thing I was most proud to accomplish in 2022 was hiring several talented people that are allowing me the opportunity to document my recipes and leaning into new skills and challenging dishes that are requested by new customers,” Richardson said.

He said in 2023, he is looking forward to hiring a new executive chef and meeting the demand of large event catering in Dayton.

Richardson added that he is excited for the Rich Taste team to branch out into more non-traditional catering opportunities with RFFG, their food service solutions division, as well as providing cooking classes for adults and children.

Chef Erica Roby

Credit: Submitted Photo

Credit: Submitted Photo

Dayton’s Erica Roby became a chef to watch after she was crowned “Master of ‘Cue” when she won the second season of “BBQ Crawl” on the Food Network in August 2021.

After the finale and as the reigning Master of ‘Cue, Roby filmed a digital series for Food Network from her home in Yellow Springs. The series had wrapped, but Roby stayed busy filming her own YouTube series, “Blue Smoke Blaire’s BBQ.”

In 2022, Roby competed in the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis, Tennessee. She competed under the team name Blue Smoke Blaire. Roby said she ended up with a perfect brisket score and tied for first place, but a coin flip put her at fourth overall in the competition. For ribs, which was one of the three overall championship pork categories, she came in fourth place out of 104 teams. She was also featured on Food Network’s “BBQ USA” finale.

Roby described 2022 as crazy for her. “I went out on the road, TV, and the BBQ circuit bringing back championships (from) across the country,” she said.

Roby said she has moved to a ranch outside of Houston and plans to start a BBQ school.

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