Annarino’s Hometown Taste Lives On
By Jim Bucher
What conjures up memories? A song, maybe a friend you haven’t seen in a while, going though pictures? For me it’s all the above, plus—I’m thinking of some local one-of-a-kind eateries that are no more.
From the Goody-Goody’s hamburgers and secret sauce to The Brown Derby’s LIVE Maine lobster and even The Key Hole’s famous Broasted Chicken … I can almost smell the aroma of those days gone by.
Well, while grocery shopping recently in the pasta sauce section I stumbled across a name from the past that brought back a flood of food memories.
Yep, the family owned and operated restaurant on North Dixie Drive that was right across the Keowee Street Bridge for decades. Many great meals and wonderful evenings were spent there in what seems now to be a simpler time.
So, I grabbed a jar or three and began a taste bud trip down memory lane.
Turns out—unlike some labels out there, which were sold off to no-name companies—the Annarino family is still 100 percent behind this bit of heaven on earth.
“In 1951 my great grandparents decided to go into the restaurant business and Annarino’s Supper Club was born,” says Jon Annarino, the third-generation grandson continuing the family legacy. “They had live bands on the weekends plus a bar attached that some pretty famous people came to eat every time they were in Dayton.”
The restaurant business can be a killer, some say you don’t own it, it owns you.
“I enjoyed the restaurant as a kid but knew that wasn’t for me. Planned on going to culinary arts school, until my father talked me out of it. He worked from 8 a.m. until close each night sometimes not getting home until 2 a.m. just to wake back up and do it over again six days a week,” Annarino says.
But alas, all good things eventually come to an end.
“My father decided to close the restaurant in 1991 due to location and people didn’t go out like they used to. That change in people’s habits didn’t just affect us, as many of the other mainstay restaurants in Dayton are gone now as well,” he says.
Even though the eatery was no more, the sauce—oh, the sauce—lived on.
“Dad kept it going by still making it every day with my grandma and my uncle producing in the back building just the way it had always been done. In 1995 we sold the restaurant building and built a new building that was better equipped to grow with us,” Annarino says.
The sauce was just for family and friends. Soon everyone began asking, “Hey, can you make me some sauce, too?”
“As time progressed people were asking to take home our pasta sauce and they started canning it in the back storage building. As time went on we started getting the sauce into the local grocery stores one by one. We were actually one of the first to get jars of pasta sauce on the shelves,” Annarino says.
The Annarinos were on to something. Soon other restaurants in the area asked if they could do the same.
“They turned to my father for help. He was able to guide them through the process and help them get into the stores just the way we were. As the business grew so did the customers that were coming to us for private labeling from all over the state. Most that he started with over 20 years ago are still in business today with us still manufacturing their products,” he says.
Today the Annarinos manufacture more than 250 different products.
“A lot of our success has been due to the fact we are family owned and operated, and my sister or I are always at the facility during production. We treat our customers’ products like they are our own. In 10 years from now we will still be manufacturing the same way we do now, with quality and attention to details that set us apart from other producers,” Annarino says.
So, where can you get that one-of-a-kind Annarino taste?
“We are in all the independent grocery stores in the area, and in the Cincinnati/Dayton area Kroger’s locations. We have our marinara and meat sauce and make two other sauces under our label, meatless and mushroom, plus our Italian salad dressing that you can find in the independents like Dorothy Lane Markets,” he says.
You know how this writer feels about the sauce, don’t get me started on the salad dressing. My mouth is watering on my tablet.
So, what’s next for this Dayton Italian family?
“We are moving into a new facility not far from where it all started. It is eight times larger than what we currently have and will allow us to serve our customers more efficiently as well as we take on new business to continue to grow,” Annarino says.
He sums up his life’s passion with two words. Yes, it’s the “sauce,” but most importantly it’s “family.”
“I love that my name is on the company and know that I am carrying on the tradition. My father built the sauce business from really nothing to what it was when my sister and I took over the company. It really gives you a sense of pride to know that you are responsible for carrying on what your great grandparents started almost 70 years ago.”
And my spaghetti boiling on the stove is better off for it.