Oregon Express: New owners bring back live music



When Laura and Brandon Zeller purchased the Oregon Express in late 2023, bringing live music back was a priority for the Beavercreek-based couple. The pizza tavern on Fifth Street in Oregon District was a longtime venue for local acts, but the previous owners never returned to the practice after reopening from the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.

“Doing live music is really the reason we bought the place,” Laura said. “We’re huge music fans. My dream was to have a venue in downtown Dayton. If I had a wish list it would be a small venue to have bands with a bar, a simple menu and a rooftop patio. Even though it was a dream in my head, I honestly didn’t think I was actually going to find anything.

“We were looking for business in general just to see what was out there,” she continued. “When I saw the O.E. for sale, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, my dream business is for sale.’ It just felt like the right opportunity.”

Miami Valley connection

Oregon Express, which opened in 1976, was purchased in September 1983 by Terry Adkins and Joe Bavaro, who ran the business with his wife, Susan. The Zellers took over the bar from them in October. The couple, which has three children, are getting acclimated to running a bar while maintaining their day jobs. Laura works for CareSource and Brandon is a contractor at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“We’re Daytonians,” Laura said. “We grew up in Troy, so I went to shows in Dayton my whole life. We’ve lived in Beavercreek for the last 14 years so we’re both very rooted in Dayton. Being downtown and being part of the community is important to us.

“The plan is to do music every weekend,” she continued. “We’ll do a mix of cover and no cover for different acts. We’re still trying to figure out what works for us, but I want it to be automatic for people to know the O.E. will have music every Friday and Saturday.”



Back in action

The first live show under the new ownership was Rugrat on Dec. 7. Recent acts include Potter-Stevens-Phelps on January 19, Arianna Holiday on January 26, Colin Richards on Jan. 27 and Jah Soul on February 2. Up next at Oregon Express is a night of jazz, funk and soul from Strange Ranger on Friday, Feb. 9. Tickets are $9 in advance, $12 day of show. There is no cover charge on Sat., Feb. 10 for An Evening with Eleanor Dakota and Frank Calzada.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Brandon said. “I’ve always wanted to do something like this, but I never thought it was possible. I’ve always loved going to concerts. I played in some bands when I was younger. I still play drums at home a little bit, so bringing live music back to the O.E. has been awesome. I love seeing the bands come in and the people enjoying it. It’s great to be able to provide a space for that.”

While the Zellers aren’t changing the food menu or the O.E.’s décor, they have made some strategic updates.

“We worked on the stage some and made it a little bigger,” Brandon said. “We extended the lower part in front. Brad Denson helped us put in the sound system. We put in a new PA, monitors and speakers. We’ve been doing some work on that so we can handle whatever band comes in and they’ll sound great.”

Looking ahead

Upcoming shows at O.E. include indie rock bands No Balance and Scary Hotel on Feb. 16, local rap duo Safe Money on February 17 and modern soul act Heather Redman & the Reputation with Knotts on March 1.

“I’ve never booked shows before this so we’re learning,” Laura said. “We’ve been focusing a lot on the business side since we took over the O.E., so it’s been hard to get to the music side. We’re doing some of our own bookings but we’re working with a few other people too. Brad Denson, who is a friend, is helping us book. He’s like family to me and was a big help with the new sound system and getting the room ready.

“We’re also working with Brian Johnson and Brian Hoeflich with Level Up Productions,” she continued. “It’s been nice to have that help. We want to support local musicians, but we really just want to find good music. We’ll do local stuff, but we also want to bring in some national acts and introduce them to people in town.”

The first national act under the Zellers’ ownership is the Local Honeys from Lexington, Ky., performing with locals Sam King & the Suspects on March 23. In addition to live music, Oregon Express is currently hosting karaoke on Tuesdays and live trivia on Wednesdays.

“We know we’re taking over a legacy,” Laura said. “We understand the importance of what it means to the Dayton community but it’s going well. Everybody has just been awesome to us, the businesses and everyone who works in the neighborhood. The whole community has been very welcoming. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or donthrasher100@gmail.com.

How to go

Who: Strange Ranger

Where: Oregon Express, 336 E. Fifth St., Dayton

When: 9 p.m. today, Feb. 9

Cost: $9 in advance, $12 day of show

More info: 937-223-9205 or www.new.oregonexpressdayton.com

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