In 1979, when David Hulme bought The Pine Club restaurant that he had been managing for five years, Hulme and the previous owner, Lloyd Meinzer, did not immediately disclose the sale. The former owner continued to be a strong presence at the restaurant, and the two worked side-by-side for more than three years, making no changes to the traditions that Pine Club regulars had come to embrace.
Now, four decades later, history is repeating itself, although with a twist.
The Pine Club, 1926 Brown St. in Dayton, has been sold to new ownership, but that ownership has requested to remain anonymous and has indicated it wants to be “completely passive with no role in operations,” Hulme told this news outlet.
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Hulme, 72, said he decided to sell the restaurant to secure its future and to allow a new owner to focus on growth of The Pine Club’s two side businesses. One sells Pine Club salad dressings, stewed tomatoes and steak sauce to grocery stores and other retail outlets. The other sells gift boxes, including steaks, via mail order.
“My primary objective is to ensure the continued growth and success of The Pine Club, its relationships with four generations of customers, treasured longtime employees, the culture, and the brand and values that have been developed over the years,” Hulme said. “The restaurant has become a small part of the fabric of our Dayton community, and my goal is to safeguard and grow that Pine Club legacy.”
“The Pine Club and our staff have made sincere promises to our loyal customers and will forever honor our contract to keep their restaurant safe and not change our values. I am thrilled for our staff and especially thrilled for our customers.”
An initial sales agreement was reached with the new ownership in November 2017, Hulme said. The transfer of ownership has occurred in stages and is nearly complete. Three tracts of land that includes the property on which the restaurant sits changed hands from “The Pine Club Inc.” to “Pine Club Real Estate LLC” on Dec. 26, 2018, according to online Montgomery County property records.
“From the very first day of discussions, there was a mutual understanding and assurance that any new (ownership) position was to be completely passive with no role in operations,” Hulme said.
“We quickly agreed that the restaurant’s success in Dayton and national recognition suggest that changing any of the formula would be foolish and dangerous. I wanted to be able to demonstrate that there was no reason for us to make any changes in The Pine Club restaurant’s procedures, values, staff or management responsibilities, including my own role.”
“The role that I have played here for 45 years has not changed at all, and I’m delighted that I can continue in that very same capacity going forward.”
“An important factor for partnering with investors is to allow us to grow our other two businesses in addition to the restaurant,” Hulme said. “In my opinion, both of these operations have developed into great opportunities for growth.”
Hulme said he’s proud that The Pine Club “looks very much the same today as it did in 1947, with the knotty-pine walls, red leather banquettes, the very same bar stools and a bar rail that shows off scratches from 73 years of good friends’ elbows — something I wouldn’t change for anything.”
The restaurant has basked in the glow of multiple awards and accolades in recent years, both national and international in scope. Just a month ago, on the Cooking Channel program entitled “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” Cleveland chef, restaurant owner and former University of Dayton student Jonathon Sawyer singled out the Pine Club as serving a bone-in ribeye steak “so incredible, it's fit for a king.”
In June 2015, the Pine Club was included in an episode of the Food Network's "Top 5 Restaurants." The network declared the Dayton icon the #2 steakhouse in America. The piece raved specifically about the restaurant’s bone-in ribeye.
In December 2013, the Pine Club was included in a list of “10 of the World’s Greatest Old Dining Institutions” by a writer for T Magazine, the New York Times Style Magazine. Other restaurants on the list are located in Paris, London and New York City.
Six months before that, Michael Stern, co-author of “Roadfood,” identified the Pine Club as his favorite steakhouse in the country in a USA Today story.
The Pine Club has also scored shout-outs from Gourmet Magazine and Tastingtable.com, among others.
And the Dayton steakhouse swept three key categories in the most recent Dayton.com Best of Dayton 2018, capturing first place for Best Fine Dining Restaurant, Best Classic Restaurant and Best Steak. It also placed second (to Marion’s Piazza) in the “Best Place to Take an Out-of-Towner” category and scored a third-place finish for “Best Onion Rings” (behind Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and The Root Beer Stande).
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