How a dishwasher turned into a restaurateur

Dana Downs is now owner, exec chef at Roost Modern Italian.

Roost Modern Italian:

Location: 524 E. Fifth St., Dayton

Contact: (937) 222-3100

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m; Friday-Saturday, 4-11 p.m.

Sunday, 5-9 p.m.

Website: ww.roost

What: Modern Italian cuisine and “we sell a lot of seafood” Full bar available daily including Sundays

Prices range from $14-$29 for entrees.

Dana Downs’ life as an executive chef didn’t start in the traditional way. She started working in the restaurant business in 1993 when she was hired at Franco’s Ristorante Italiano to wash dishes part time.

She soon realized she had a knack for cooking and went to Sinclair Community College for chef’s training.

“I worked at Zola across from the Dragon’s field for about a year and then was recruited by the Country Club of the North to be a marketing director and assistant general manager,” Downs said.

After a few years, she missed the kitchen and she and her partner, Beth Hirschbach, started a catering company, which they called Black Rooster Catering and set up shop at the Second Street Market.

“We had a lot of success at 2nd Street Market, but it’s only open 15 hours a week and very weather dependent,” she said. “We wanted something bigger.”

In 2011, Downs and Hirschbach opened Roost Modern Italian in the Oregon District in Dayton. We talked to Downs about her operation:

Q: When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?

A: I was in my 20s and working at Franco’s and one evening I saw Chef (Franco) out socializing with guests and drinking wine and I told him “that’s what I want to do — not wash dishes!” He taught me the basics and I went to Sinclair and got through school pretty quickly.

Q: Where did you train and learn to cook?

A: I learned with Franco and at Sinclair but he will tell you he learned a lot from me, too!

Q: Who or what has influenced your cooking the most?

A: I think what we do now. I’ve never been a red sauce or heavy cream sauce person. I’m a protein eater. With the tremendous use of the Internet and with all my travels, I have developed my own style.

Q: What has been the highlight of your career to date?

A: Opening Roost, definitely

Q: What’s your signature or most popular dish?

A: Mushroom crustedscallops with garlic and asparagus ravioli with white truffle besciamella

Q: What is your secret ingredient? Why?

A: I use different acids like citrus and vinegars because they increase your palate. If food has good acid content, it is “palate-friendly” and if a wine doesn’t have acid in it, it is isn’t food friendly. It is amazing what acid can do to increase the “wow” factor of food.

Q: What do you like to do out of the kitchen?

A: I like to golf and play with my dogs. (T-Bone and Isaac)

Q: Famous person you’d love to see eating at Roost.

A: Thomas Keller (American chef from the Napa Valley)

Q: What is the best meal you’ve ever had?

A: Herb smoked lamb T-bone at the Boulevard Restaurant in San Francisco, prepared by owner and Chef Nancy Oakes.

Q: What are your favorite cooking gadgets?

A: pasta maker

Q: What is your favorite guilty pleasure dish or snack?

A: Pizza

Q: What is your favorite quick meal?

A: Andiamo (Let’s Go!) crab and tomato soup (recipe below)

Q: What would you want your last meal to be?

A: The same meal I had at the Boulevard Restaurant — Herb smoked lamb T —Bone served off the bone!

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for at-home, everyday cooking?

A: Don’t be afraid to stray away from familiar recipes and play with foods you like and foods you don’t know you might like. People get set on what they know their families like, but there is a whole world of foods out there that people don’t know about and won’t unless they try something new.


Andiamo (Let’s Go!) crab and tomato soup


24 oz can certified Italian San Marsano tomatoes

3 peeled whole garlic cloves

3 fresh basil leaves

3/4 tbsp red wine vinegar

4oz heavy cream

3 oz chicken or vegetarian stock

4 oz cooked fresh crab claw

1/2 tsp kosher salt

A: pinch freshly ground black pepper

Place canned tomatoes, garlic, basil and red wine vinegar in roasting pan on 350 degrees for eight to 12 minutes until garlic achieves some color and whole tomatoes start to look a little dehydrated.

Roasting will help draw the sugars and beautiful flavors from the tomatoes, garlic and basil.

Remove from oven and let cool. After cooling, add to food processor or blender to puree.

Puree thoroughly and slowly add the stock and cream.

Pour into a stock pot or sauce pan to reheat, add salt and pepper.

Place fresh crab claw meat on sheet pan into oven for 2 minutes or just to warm thoroughly.

Dish soup into shallow soup bowls.

Place a small mound of crab meat in center of soup and garnish with fresh torn basil.

From the menu of Dana Downs, Roost Modern Italian

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