As 2023 tees up historic battles involving the economy, the planet’s survival, the meaning of U.S. legal precedent, the labor market, librarians, renters, immigrants, and the right to a modicum of privacy, the overwhelming impression over the last three years often boils down to — what difference can one person even make?
Within the context of individualism vs. collectivism — especially following the 2020 lockdowns and a global health emergency — the rebellion against doing right by “we’re all in this together” has only grown louder over time.
Yet, this is where the brightest Dayton area entrepreneurs — specifically, businesses operating in the retail, restaurant, and live entertainment industries in Miami Valley — shine. From past rivalries, pandemic chaos, gun violence, and environmental disasters, a new type of teamwork model for area business emerged. What if “Dayton Strong” operates in 2023 more like a back of house restaurant staff and less like a candle vigil? What if survival mode morphed into a Dayton that thrives on community, collaboration, and celebrating other businesses’ wins?
The question “what difference can one person make?” has an answer: the person who makes a difference is one who knows how to operate on a team. Not just in words or by donating $5 to a GoFundMe (although both are necessary tools.) No, this team looks like flawless prep and delivery during a hot kitchen’s rush hour; like a dinner service where the oven craps out at 4:30 PM and the chef sets up an outdoor grill in frigid temps; like a local grocer who covers for the restaurant distributor who couldn’t deliver on the promised (and prepaid) palette of dry goods; like a Hail Mary social media call for electricians getting answered within an hour thanks to loyal followers; like an owner who asks for extra help to cover an emergency from anyone in the restaurant industry in order to spare the staff another consecutive 12-hour shift.
These examples are a fraction of real stories from Dayton, where survival of the fittest means looking out for your crew and neighbors.
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
The Dayton business community is made up of conscientious individuals — and that integrity translates into a business advantage. How so? During times of emergency, or uncertainty even, a business can leverage its patrons and community to support what can not be hired for. In other words, loyalty and care go farther to protecting the bottom line than just making a quota of sales. These local business owners display a neighborly approach to interactions, instead of just selling passersby a slice of the day or average retail therapy.
Some examples from the past: Individuals who own and operate restaurants, retail stores, and entertainment venues thought to hand out ice cold water to advocates for Black Justice during hot summer days. They delivered food to frontline workers in health care facilities beyond downtown, as well as showing up with creative solidarity like “Essential Worker” t-shirts made especially for other retailers throughout the Miami Valley. Dayton entrepreneurs found meaningful ways to thank the Dayton Police who mitigated horrific violence in a crowd, saving countless neighboring lives. These are old — but new examples happen every day.
So, while tech firms, auto factories, and engineering shops retain the statused patina of press conferences, official ribbon cutting ceremonies, and bragging rights to Helping the Region boost jobs, etc… It’s also true that the entrepreneurial industries hardest hit over three brutal years — the industries with arguably more to lose in every sense, and industries where profits routinely get reinvested into business operations and “starting over” will cost a lifetime — are the same ones on the leading edge of innovative business models.
By re-writing the narrative around business success from competition at any cost to incorporating collaborations, Dayton entrepreneurs build on the foundations of their vision being supported by others in the same line of work.
At the risk of sounding too Shangri-la about Midwest entrepreneurial spirit, it bears repeating that the survival of the area’s most volatile industries was possible due to their finding new ways of running a profitable business. And, to the benefit of patrons, the collaborative model has spawned entirely unique dining, shopping, and entertainment events — including hundreds of fundraisers benefiting area nonprofits.
Community-Focused Business Models Include:
- Heart Mercantile hosted Billie Gold Bubble Tea Bus and other local food trucks, and collaborates with hundreds of Ohio-based businesses, artists, and overall interesting people. Heart Mercantile is a beloved and award-winning retailer recognized for its unique gifts, sense of humor, and inviting atmosphere (which helps explain why the store has expanded 2x) and remains one of the leading area businesses advocating ways to give back, get involved, and support Dayton-centric causes and its people.
- Toxic Brewery consistently hosts high-quality food trucks, phenomenal pop-up dining events, live musicians, live comedians, hosts trivia, selects and celebrates local artists, hires local muralists, and has collaborated with area restaurants and breweries — i.e., competitors! — to create limited edition tasty brews. Toxic is a local leader in business and continues to thrive in the arguably competitive Dayton brewery market.
- Square One Salon & Spa takes generosity, live entertainment, community service, and client care to new levels (full disclosure: the author is a happy client) due to the vision, talent, and leadership of Square One’s celebrated owners. Combining monthly cause marketing fundraisers, product donations to benefit area nonprofit fundraisers, performing as Rubi Girls at gala fundraising events, caring for their staff and clients during inclement weather, and overall obsessing over quality, Square One Salon elevates philanthropy, live entertainment, and personal services.
- Warped Wing Brewery hosts numerous fundraisers year round with its program, “Share a Pint, Make a Difference” program that selects a nonprofit each month and donates a percentage of its taproom sales during high-traffic times, as well as collecting in-kind donations for various humanitarian causes, and hosting in-person happy hour nonprofit fundraising events. In addition to active participation in fundraising, Warped Wing highlights the love of local Esther Price Candies in its highly anticipated limited release brew. Warped Wing and Toxic Brew teamed up to create a limited release brew, and the Warped Wing was instrumental as a gathering place for the community over the last three years.
- Sueño, with 4x James Beard Foundation and nationally-recognized Chef Jorge Guzman, hosted a series of dinners with area acclaimed chefs where the combined skills and expertise of both chefs were on display. The series, called Deeply Rooted, in addition to giving diners a behind-the-scenes fine dining experience that shared the spotlight with another chef (and their place of business) also benefited area nonprofits.
- Many more — Dayton, share your favorites in the comments.
Doing Well While Doing Good
An evolutionary benefit to these business collaborations is building consumer trust in the brand — both for the hosting business and for the more mobile, or pop-up, entrepreneur. As a patron, seeing businesses share the spotlight and good vibes with collaborators is a breath of fresh air. Plus, it serves as a two-in-one experience. Within the environment of creative teamwork, there will always be rising stars — like the food truck standouts throughout Dayton, the niche retailers and service professionals, and hybrid restaurants that host delis, full menus, and even fresh produce and corner-store essentials under the same roof. More recently in July, one chef whose remarkable year has not slowed down at the midpoint of 2023, is an example of the breadth of community that is possible through business.
The celebrity aspect of Chef Dane’s work risks diminishing the years of his work booking pop-ups, individual and business catered events, individually sourcing ingredients, meticulous menus, cooking large-scale entertainment events, and much more. The creative range and fierce loyalty that Chef Dane expresses through his work also comes through in every location he set up shop prior to opening his own restaurant, Culture, that opened this past July weekend. From his work at Toxic Brewery, to co-hosted ticketed events with Phat & Rich Food Truck, to The City of Dayton block parties, to catering area business lunches and celebratory staff dinners, and more — Culture grew from the same ecosystem of teamwork that helped build Chef’s Dane client base. Even in the initial days of service, Chef Dane shares that Culture’s menu is sourced from local farms and area bakeries — recognizing the area’s quality work, business ties, and current collaborations. And as one of Dayton’s more recognizable entrepreneurs, it is worth noting that in July we celebrate Dayton’s Black Business Owners and Black Business Month — and, well-deserved congratulations for Chef Dane, with congratulations going to his business supporters and the Culture staff and crew who join him.
If “booked and busy” were encapsulated as an individual, nobody would argue that Chef Dane both defines and defies the image. In fact, few would argue that all Downtown Dayton entrepreneurs embody that phrase. Turns out, behind the gratis and for-profit collaborations, the high-profile events, and the community-minded business owners, there are endless project management tasks, last minute changes to goods and services, an extreme attention to detail, and the ruthless delivery on personal integrity on a daily basis.
Congratulations to every entrepreneur thriving in 2023, but especially to the individuals and teams working throughout Dayton.