Oregon Express Bar and Restaurant co-owner Joe Bavaro says good customer service, great food and location, location, location have helped him and his partner stay in business for 30 years.
“The whole district and whole street has improved over the years,” said Bavaro, who co-owns the business with his brother-in-law Terry Adkins. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but this corner.”
The restaurant at 336 E. Fifth St. in Dayton’s Historic Oregon District is celebrating its 30th anniversary owned and operated by Bavaro and Adkins.
The pair met when Bavaro started dating Adkins’ sister Susan. Joe and Susan Bavaro went on to marry and are the parents of 24-year-old twin daughters and a 27-year-old son.
Bavaro said core values have made the family business a success. His father taught him the benefits of surrounding himself with quality people long ago.
“The biggest thing we found is to listen to our customers and the cooks we have had over the years,” he said. “It is a relaxed atmosphere, great food and great music. We have a lot of women and girls say there are a lot of places they won’t go into alone, but they do come in here (alone).”
In 1983, he and Adkins seized the opportunity to buy the Oregon Express after he was laid off from General Motors. Established in 1976 as the Oregon Express, the bar had been closed all summer long.
Adkins had a business degree and restaurant experience. Bavaro said he always wanted to own a restaurant partly due to his Italian roots.
“I never thought I was going to get called back there and needed to do something,” Bavaro said.
To his surprised, Bavaro was called back to work at General Motors, leaving Adkins to manage most day-to-day affairs at Oregon Express.
But that changed after Bavaro retired after 28 years with General Motors about seven years ago.
Adkins is now principal at Queen of Peace School in Hamilton. Joe and Susan Bavaro are now the public faces of the popular spot.
“We couldn’t have planned it out any better,” Joe Bavaro said of the transition.
Dating back to the late 1800s, the building that houses the Oregon Express once held an optical shop, a smoke shop and a butcher.
“It was probably a little bit of everything,” Bavaro said.
It has housed a bar since at least the 1940s, he noted.
The restaurant is best known for its unique signature Dayton square cut pizza. Among the most unique pies are the Reuben Pizza — thousand Island sauce, cheese topping with corned beef, sauerkraut, rye croutons and Swiss cheese — and the Hot Hawaiian — ham, pineapple, banana pepper rings and cheese.
Oregon Express pizza ranges from $11.99 for a small pizza (10 inches) to $20.99 for a jumbo (16 inches). Specialty pizzas are 25 percent off on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Bavaro said the recipes are all original.
The standard pizza sauce came from Adkins uncle in California. The recipe for the Oregon Express’ meatballs comes from Bavaro’s parents.
Bavaro said Oregon Express evolved as the Oregon District residential neighborhood evolved.
In its 40th year as a historic district, the Oregon District is among Dayton’s oldest neighborhoods. It was settled in 1829.
Dayton created what is now the Oregon District in 1972. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Most of the historic buildings and homes are in federal to Queen Anne home styles.
Raised in Dayton, Bavaro is optimistic about the future of the Oregon District and of the Dayton area as a whole.
“The Oregon District is better than ever,” the Alter High School graduate said. “I really see a swing of things getting better in the Oregon District and Dayton. I just want to tell people that if you have a dream, follow it. We are living the dream here.”
The Oregon Express is open from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Mondays through Fridays and 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Saturdays. Call (937) 223-93205 for more information.
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