For 45 years, Mary Miller has greeted tens of thousands of diners at some of the Dayton area’s most well-respected restaurants.
She wasn’t a hostess. She was the owner — and she still is.
Miller founded The Barnsider in North Main Street in Harrison Twp. in 1975, and the restaurant flourished, especially in its first three decades, as a go-to destination for special family occasions. In 1998, Miller and her brother, assisted by one of Mary’s daughters, opened their second Dayton-area restaurant, The Wellington Grille in Beavercreek. In 2004, the family opened its third Dayton-area restaurant in Bellbrook, The Blue Berry Café. And the following year, Miller and her family, along with a business partner, opened up its fourth local restaurant, Harrison’s in Tipp City.
The Barnsider closed its doors in 2016, after more than four decades in business. The three other restaurants are open and operating even as the coronavirus pandemic pummels restaurants' bottom lines.
Miller, who still works every day at 79 years old, is our Dayton.com Daytonian of the Week.
She was born in Canton, China in 1941, moved to Hong Kong as a child, then emigrated with her family to Canada when she was 13. She got married and moved to Dayton in 1967. Soon thereafter, she started working at a Cincinnati-area Asian restaurant, The Dragon Inn, where she learned how to perform every job in a restaurant, to make sure the restaurant business was for her.
Miller was poised to open a restaurant in Needmore Road north of Dayton when a partner — who was also going to be the chef — bailed out at the last minute. A series of events then led her to lease the space that would become her first restaurant, For many years, she was the smiling face at the front door greeting guests and seating them.
Mary Miller tells the rest of her story with the help of her daughter, Kelley Andary.,
What’s a typical day for you now?
Wake up by 7 a.m. Enjoy a cup of tea and watch the news. Go to the bank, and then several of the grocery stores, as in ALL OF THEM! She looks for the best produce and at the best price. She hand-picks and purchases 75% of the produce for The Wellington Grille. If she doesn’t have any appointments, she will go home to sit down for a few minutes before she heads to work at 3pm. Two of her grandkids live just minutes from her and a few times a week they eat late dinners together.
What are some of the keys to success for operating a restaurant for the long term, as you have done?
Willingness to work hard. Patience. Make sure your price is competitive. But most importantly, hold high standards for the product that you offer. She puts herself in her customer’s shoes; she says if it’s good enough for me, then it’s good enough for my customers. Finally, her employees are like family to her. A lot of them have worked for and with her for many years.
What advice would you give a restaurateur who was just starting?
They should work in a restaurant first. ALL positions. Then, be committed to the business and to your job. Be prepared to work ALL the time and always try to be fair as you possibly can.
What are your favorite places to eat in the Dayton area?
She loves Chinese food and if she doesn’t feel like cooking, she will go to Linh’s Bistro, Tsao’s Cuisine, or Sky Asian Cuisine.
At The Wellington, she loves to make her own salads (which is what she does now…makes all the salads for the guests), she will also occasionally share a Ribeye Steak with her granddaughter.
She loves the wings at Harrison’s and she will always bring some home when she is up there visiting or attending a meeting.
Her favorite place to go for breakfast is The Blue Berry Café, probably because they make this omelet for her that she loves. She also likes to go to the Original Pancake House – she says their pancakes are pretty good!
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Pre-Covid, Mary was traveling – she really enjoys cruising, with family or even on her own. She’s been all over the world.
What inspires you most about the Dayton area?
Dayton is a great small city to raise a family. She is thankful that she came to Dayton and was very welcomed. She has made many long-lasting friendships and has very loyal patrons. They supported her business for all these years. She has seen former employees come back as parents, doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses and many other occupations. She has also seen the crying babies that she held so the first time parents could enjoy their meals. Those “babies” later come to visit her with THEIR babies. That’s her favorite thing — to see those guests.
Lastly, she would like to extend her appreciation to all those who have helped her and worked alongside her all of these years. Most notably, her brother, Ray, her family and all of the employees she has been blessed to work with. She wants to thank Dayton for being so supportive to all local restaurants. It is because of our customers that we are surviving in the hardest of times.