Asst. Arts & Entertainment Editor
The Pine Club has been a Brown Street staple since the 40s. Cover photo of its iconic steak courtesy of David Hulme
When former President George H.W. Bush and former first lady Barbara came to Dayton, they were told to dine at the Pine Club on Brown Street. Instead of getting special treatment in a private dining room, they waited for a table… for 30 minutes.
The Pine Club owner, David Hulme, shares this story with customers and community members, aware that upholding a strict “no reservations” policy for a U.S. president created a local myth. His justification, however, matches the character of the infamous local steakhouse.
“Do you want to sacrifice that hard-earned credibility for a picture?” Hulme asked. “If you think that’s most valuable, then that’s what you do. But if you don’t, I think you stick to your guns, do what you think is right, and it seemed to work out. Here we are still talking about it.”
For over 70 years, the Pine Club has consistently served comfort and hospitality alongside steak and stewed tomatoes. In 1947, the restaurant began as Lonnie’s Bar on Brown Street, with the name switching in 1954 to what customers recognize today. Hulme bought the Pine Club in 1979 and has simultaneously promoted and preserved the brand ever since.
An old photo of the restaurant hangs in the ladies room. According to Hulme, guests would not notice a difference between the past and the present. The same bar stools are still in use, and although updates were made to the interior of the bar, the exterior looks identical to what it looked like over 70 years ago.
The menu is also virtually the same with the exception of a few entrees and the wine list. Tables are set with paper placemats and essential utensils allowing for more seatings each night.
In another effort to rotate more customers through the doors, dessert has never been on the menu. Instead, Hulme strongly encourages guests to visit a neighboring establishment.
“That’s the reason I put Ben & Jerry’s over there. That’s our building,” Hulme said.
The consistency and efficiency of the brand does not stop at the product. A number of employees have worked at the Pine Club for decades.
Karen Watson, general manager, has worked at the restaurant for over 40 years. According to Hulme, she has been involved in every part of the business over the span of her career— from the kitchen to the office.
Watson described the relationships with her colleagues saying, “Sometimes it’s like siblings.”
Waitress Michele Lossner also discussed the familial atmosphere of the restaurant.
“Everybody there, it’s just kind of like family. It’s just very different from anywhere I’ve ever worked,” Lossner said. “Hulme is like my dad.”
The positive dynamics amongst the staff members translate to customers.
“The normal customers that come in on the regular, they’re like some of my best pals ever,” Lossner said. “We run to work to get away from whatever else is going on. So, that’s completely different than calling off work all the time. We don’t. None of us do.”
While Hulme has been conscientious of upholding the integrity and timelessness of the brand, the business has evolved in other ways. With the necessary addition of a website, customers can learn more about the restaurant’s history, view recent accolades and order favorite products. A variety of Pine Club staples are available for purchase including steaks, sauces and the business’s largest source of revenue, salad dressing.
“People used to come into the restaurant and say ‘I really like your salad dressing. I’ll buy some and take it home.’ So we’d put it in a mason jar, and I’d sell it to them,” Hulme said.
Now, the Pine Club’s House Dressing can be found online or in local grocery stores, still packaged in jars.
Because of the location, it may not come as a surprise that the University of Dayton has a close relationship with the Pine Club. Hulme has been impressed with recent collaborative efforts between UD and the city of Dayton.
The entire Pine Club family looks forward to connecting with UD students, parents and relatives that frequent the restaurant.
“When everybody came back to school, you know at the beginning of the year, that’s a really really important time for us,” Hulme said. “It’s an opportunity for us to introduce ourself, and produce, perform for brand new customers who we’re going to know for four year, at least.”
Hulme knows that a one-time visit can lead to generations of loyal customers because that has been the trend. Every guest can expect the same quality, kindness and overall experience that generations before them have come to know and love.
“The restaurant has become a part of the fabric of the community,” Hulme said. “And to be part of that is a real thrill.”