Dayton’s Salt Block Biscuit Company owner has small town roots

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Originally from a small farming community in Shelby County, Justin Mohler, the owner and baker at Salt Block Biscuit Company, puts a European twist on elevated, comfort food in Dayton’s Fire Blocks District.

Small town roots

Mohler was raised on a farm in Houston, Ohio where they had beef and cattle and grew corn, soybeans and wheat. His family owned a meat store in Piqua called Triple M Meats that closed in the early 1990s.

“They were really just ahead of their time,” Mohler said. “My uncle was running it and they were doing gift baskets and trying to get some European stuff on the shelves.”

Credit: Natalie Jones

Credit: Natalie Jones

His family’s involvement in the meat and farming industry sparked his interest in food. During his junior and senior years of high school he went to a joint vocational school where he studied culinary. He attended Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky and studied baking and pastry arts. He returned to the Dayton area in 2001 where he got a job as a pastry chef at Blue Moon, a former restaurant in the Oregon District.

Mohler’s love for baking and pastry stems from an urge to be creative. He said some of his favorite classes in school involved chocolate sculptures and sugar art. He also enjoys working by himself. As a pastry chef or baker, you typically work before the restaurant opens.

After about five years working as a pastry chef, Mohler returned to his family’s farm and had a farmers market stand that sold produce, herbs and fresh-cut flowers. When he returned to the food industry, he worked at Christopher’s Restaurant and Olive Urban Dive.

The beginning of Salt Block Biscuit Company

Salt Block Biscuit Company, a restaurant and bakery, opened at 115 E. Third St. in Sept. 2020.

The first part of the establishment’s name stems from Mohler getting in trouble for licking a salt block that was in a cow trough when he was four. The second part of the name pays homage to Mohler’s time at Olive Urban Dive where he and another chef created a brunch menu with open-faced biscuit style sandwiches.

When customers walk into the 950-square-foot space they should expect an aroma of fresh baked goods. Immediately to their left, will be a collage of Mohler’s family photos. The decorations make you feel like you’re walking into someone’s home. If you’re sitting at the bar area, you will see a collection of Pyrex Kitchenware. Mohler admitted he does not collect it, but displays it there to make customers feel like they are at home.

“What I didn’t expect with that is people sit here and share their memories,” Mohler said. “That is the vibe in here. It was something that was not expected, but I love it.”

Another unique aspect are the postcards on the fridge highlighting different places in Dayton.

The menu

The restaurant’s menu has a European twist with influence from Mohler’s travels. He recalled a trip to Italy in 2018 where he couldn’t find fried potatoes, bacon and fried eggs for breakfast. Instead, there were tomato basil sandwiches with hard boiled eggs on top.

Salt Block’s menu has a variety of open-faced biscuit sandwiches. The two most popular sandwiches include:

  • The Early Bright (everything biscuit with bacon, hard boiled egg, sharp cheddar, herb aioli, greens and tomato)
  • The Sow (everything biscuit with pimento cheese, bacon, bread and butter pickles and hot sauce if desired)

Credit: Natalie Jones

Credit: Natalie Jones

The restaurant also has tinned seafood planks which Mohler described as American and European seafood served charcuterie board style with mini biscuits. As far as he knows, they are the only restaurant featuring this concept in Dayton.

“I was trying to think of creative ways to eat biscuits verses how we think with gravy or butter and jam,” Mohler said.

Salt Block also has weekly specials featuring items like chowders and meat pies made with puff pastries. The weekly specials are created with help from Sous Chef Marishah Paddock.

Other popular items include cobbler, blueberry cinnamon sugar cornbread and a toasted coconut cream cake known as “the crack cake of Dayton.” The cake is the same as the wedding cake that was served at Olive Urban Dive, but has toasted coconut added to it.

Credit: Natalie Jones

Credit: Natalie Jones

If you’re looking for biscuits and gravy, Salt Block only offers it on Saturdays.

What’s next?

Since opening almost four years ago, Mohler said they have outgrown the space. He is planning to expand to a new space in the future.

Catering makes up 65 to 70 percent of business at Salt Block and is slowly getting bigger with private dinners, cocktail parties and other events ranging from eight to 200 people. Last March, they didn’t have any catering jobs. This March they have 10.

When Mohler isn’t at Salt Block, he enjoys gardening and working in his flower beds. Him and his husband enjoy entertaining friends or going out to eat at Coco’s Bistro or a local supper club like The Oakwood Club or Treasure Island Supper Club. He said the supper clubs remind him of being a kid and going out to eat with his grandparents.

“I love downtown. I love supporting downtown,” Mohler said. “Watching it expand over the years has been exciting.”

Salt Block is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The space is available to rent in the evenings or on Sundays. The restaurant does offer a full catering service. For more information, visit the restaurant’s Instagram or Facebook pages.


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