The end had come. It was 2006 and Neil’s Heritage House had closed its doors. Fifty years in the making, booming past being just a bar in 1946, even surviving the fire of the ‘60s. This venue was here in the horse and carriage days, before Kettering even existed! 24,000 square feet of tradition was coming to a close at 2323 W. Schantz Avenue in Kettering. But Serena Walther Leventhal, the granddaughter of the previous owner, couldn’t let that happen. She and her husband, Eric Leventhal, picked up and moved back to Ohio from their Californian home. “I grew up in this building,” said Serena, when I had the chance to sit down for an interview with her, “I hadn’t been back since I left at seventeen for New York.” Eric is four generations Los Angeles bred, but the duo had “nothing happening in 2006” so they packed up and moved to the Dayton area so many of us call home. Neil’s was officially restored, after what one may call a grueling process, and opened its beautiful wooden doors to the public again on November 29 of this year.
The restoration of Neil’s, though completely worth it, was “quite a process.” The building hadn’t been winterized, so basically the entire place needed to be gutted and redone. As Serena described, they didn’t change anything structurally, just mechanically. It was especially important to Serena to keep the building’s structure intact: “I’m an architect, so I love this brick building.” Unfortunately, since customers had been smoking here since 1946, all new ceiling tiles were needed, and the original bar had to come down. The result of all the blood, sweat, and tears put into these 24,000 square feet? An environmentally sound building that still has its integrity. The kitchen’s set up and space is already phenomenal as “the chef was a kid in the candy shop when he saw the kitchen.” All that needed to be done before it could be used was the resurfacing of the stoves and they were on tap. And speaking of taps, the bar was reinstated as a gorgeous marble countertop on which craft beers and hand-selected wines are served.
Once everything physically was in place and the permits were issued, that very next day Neil’s was expecting to host 300 people. The staff wasn’t even fully trained, but the day ran extremely smoothly. “Ever since then, we’ve had phone calls every day for big events,” stated Serena. “We’ve been turning the restaurant over two times during the day and two and a half at night!” To just think of what an experience these guests would have missed out on if the Leventhals hadn’t made Ohio their new home! The eating experience is “comfortable, yet there is a sense of tradition.” They cater to all ages and aim to turn tradition on its side, to provide a new spin to the old standard Neil’s Heritage held back in the day. Branching off of this idea of tradition, the restaurant, deemed with the classy title “The Tenderloin Room,” also features a lot of genuine family photography hanging on the walls that make for great conversation pieces.
Sticking to this theme of a twist on the traditional Neil’s, their new and improved menu still has some favorites from the past selection. Serena explained how she wasn’t originally going to keep anything from the old menu, but the phone kept ringing with more and more requests for the original menu. Serena and her husband decided to keep the two most signature items to keep—their Chicken Supreme, a breaded chicken breast with Supreme sauce, and the Pork Tenderloin, which is breaded, pan fried,
and topped with mushroom gravy. Their menu also offers a lot of new, unique items, even those that are on the lighter side, too. There’s a good mix of old and new, of classic and lighter. I would guess that comes from the great dynamic of this husband and wife pair—Serena is more California in her culinary taste, leaning toward lighter, newer takes on cuisine, while Eric gravitates towards a traditional meat and potatoes dish. As far as her favorite: “I switch everyday!” So as of the morning we sat down for this interview, her favorite was the Southern Burger, topped with a fried green tomato. Yum! She told me she was literally dreaming about it the other night. With the customers, the burgers and salads have been a big hit, as well as the salmon and of course, the classic Pork Tenderloin. What’s so great about their food is that it’s all fresh! They don’t even own a freezer and have never copped any ingredient from a can; every item on their menu is made from scratch each day.
It’s been less than a month, and according to Serena, it’s still a work in progress and will be for a long time. What’s still to come? Serena’s hoping to promote local artists. She has a lot of wall space, with the Tenderloin Room and three other banquet areas downstairs and 1,800 people have walked through here already! So there’s a great opportunity in the making for Dayton artists! Also to come—Serena is hoping to get a blog started soon, where customers can interact and give feedback, because for Neil’s Heritage House, customer service and satisfaction is most important. The customer is always right and Neil’s staff is attentive and more than willing to accommodate as best they can. A different take on tradition, great customer service, and a stellar menu—sounds like a unique combination that is sure to ensure Neil’s Heritage Center’s success! Neil’s really is a “Dayton institution” because everyday someone new comes in with a personal story of how Neil’s has impacted their life. So future generation, it’s our turn to get in on the fun. It’s time for us to make memories we can come back and visit after fifty years. Personally, I think after this week of final exams is over, it’s time for one of those juicy hamburgers. So what say you?
Neil’s Heritage House
Lunch: 11:00 AM-2:00 PM Tues-Fri
Dinner: 5:00 PM-10:00 PM Tues-Thurs 5:00 PM-12:00 AM Fri-Sat
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