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Xenia restaurant operates out of tent due to lengthy building repairs

Owner Jennifer Roberts serves Austin Daniels some chicken on rice with her special sauce at Bourbon Bayou Bistro on North Detroit Street in Xenia. Roberts has been offering her cajun fare under a tent for more than two years while working to bring the building formerly occupied by Stan the Donut Man up to code. RICHARD WILSON/STAFF
Owner Jennifer Roberts serves Austin Daniels some chicken on rice with her special sauce at Bourbon Bayou Bistro on North Detroit Street in Xenia. Roberts has been offering her cajun fare under a tent for more than two years while working to bring the building formerly occupied by Stan the Donut Man up to code. RICHARD WILSON/STAFF

More than two years after Jennifer Roberts launched her dream to open her own restaurant in Xenia, she’s still serving food under a tent next to an unfinished building off North Detroit Street.

“I try to stay positive. I try to just enjoy the process because this is my dream,” Roberts said on a recent windy day shortly after the lunch rush at Bourbon Bayou Bistro. “I’m just trying to keep it going because I don’t even know what to do at this point. I’m too far in to walk away from the building.”

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The building is the former location of Stan the Donut Man. After the pastry shop closed in 2017, Roberts entered a purchase agreement with the owner with plans to open her Cajun-themed eatery. She soon learned she would need to fix the building to resolve about 17 code violations before getting an occupancy permit.

The code violations included rewiring the building, installing new flooring, adding lighting, replacing light fixtures, and installing a new water heater and furnace.

The tent, where ovens and rice cookers are plugged into extension cords, was supposed to be temporary. After a series of setbacks and financial losses with contractors, Roberts continues to stand outside serving food to patrons six hours a day. The time is restricted by a city code because she’s considered a mobile food business.

“I haven’t had to get loans, and for a single mom, that’s a big deal,” she said. “Luckily I have been able to stay afloat.”

The main obstacles for Roberts to move into the building have been complying with regulations enforced by the county health and building departments, according to Ryan Baker, Xenia community development coordinator.

“Overall, it’s just a tough spot. We do feel for her. She has a lot of community support. The products she serves are good. She’s just having a lot of problems getting that building ready,” Baker said.

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Roberts recently purchased a food truck at a significantly discounted price from the One Bistro restaurant on Main Street. Once the truck gets clearance from the county health department, she plans to start operating inside the truck while continuing to work on getting the building ready for occupancy.

Roberts has some loyal customers. Wilberforce University student Austin Daniels recently stopped in to order the bourbon chicken over rice with sauce. Daniels said when he’s in town, he’ll drive by to see if Roberts is serving food.

“She says she can’t tell nobody about the special recipe, that’s how she gets her money,” Daniels said. “I’ve been coming to support her. I mean I like bourbon chicken, they make it good for you … I support anybody that’s making their own business.”

Connect with Bourbon Bayou Bistro, 607 N. Detroit St., by calling 937-372-3660 or by following them on Facebook.

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