Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Brown Derby

brown-derbyDid you ever go on a date to the Brown Derby restaurant? It was one of those places where you went for a nice evening out. At one time, you had uniformed waiters, white table clothes, good steaks, decent house wines, a quiet atmosphere, and it wasn’t an absolute budget-breaker.

It’s a place that has special memories for me. That’s where I asked my wife to marry me, back in the spring of 1977, between dinner and dessert. She said “yes” and never was a dessert so good. We had many chances to re-live those memories because it was also one of my parent’s favorite places to which we took them for many birthday and anniversary celebrations. My mom always loved a good steak.

The Brown Derby Restaurant (later Roadhouse) at 2537 South Avenue was not a local family restaurant, but part of a chain started by Gus Girves in Akron in 1941. It is no longer in business but the restaurant chain still operates five restaurants in the Cleveland area. According to Classic Restaurants of Youngstown the restaurant opened in the 1950s on Market Street and later relocated to South Avenue.

We lived in Cleveland in the 1980’s and went to several Brown Derbys, one in North Randall, near where we lived and one in Hudson, a bit more upscale. They had great salad bars that were quite inexpensive at lunch.  We still talk about one visit when our son was just a toddler and we attempted to celebrate our anniversary with him rather than get a sitter. He thoroughly enjoyed his dinner. At his age utensils, unfortunately were optional and by the time we left it looked like we all had been in a food fight!

We moved to Columbus in 1990. Brown Derby used to have restaurants here, and we ate at one once or twice before they closed. Back in Youngstown, the restaurant on South Avenue as well as the one on 422 in Niles became Roadhouses, more casual in style. Eventually we started taking the parents out to one of the steakhouses in Boardman on our visits home.

The restaurant in Niles closed in the fall of 2013. I could not find out when the South Avenue restaurant closed but suspect it was some time earlier. While the Brown Derby was not a Youngstown original, in the 1960’s and ’70’s, it was a great, affordable place for a nice dinner out on a date night and a great place for family gatherings. It’s another one of those places that seemed to weave in and out of the fabric of our lives.

What are your memories of the Brown Derby?


10 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Brown Derby

  1. My mother worker in the building on South Ave when it was the Chateau Briand before it became the Derby. I have many found memories of bringing dates there in high school. It seemed elegant while you could afford it on your minimum wage job.

  2. My first “grown-up” dinner date was at the Brown Derby on South Ave. I was 18 and a senior at Wilson. She was 17 and a Junior at Cheney (I think you knew her, Bob). Trying to be oh-so-sophisticated, I asked for Roquefort dressing on my salad. Never had it before but I loved it. The steaks came in two sizes. I had the Napoleon and she the Juliette. It was the first of many lovely dinners. No, we didn’t marry but stayed in touch. In 1994, we had an opportunity to do some business together. Our travels have taken us to dinners in New York, Boston, Chicago, Nashville, LA, San Francisco, San Juan and many more but we still talk fondly of that first dinner date at the Brown Derby.

  3. Worked at Brown Derby for 20 years. Met loads of people and made lots of friends over the years. Not the best company to work for but oh the memories!!

  4. Just came across a Mural Room menu in a box of my parents things. Great memories there. Remember Joe the blind organist and his seeing eye dog, German Shepherd?

  5. Lots of fond memories of the Brown Derby. A great place for dinner and reasonable prices, too!! Had dinner there so many times with my parents and also many dinner dates and happy hours with my husband in the 70’s I remember one year the had a special Christmas Drink, the Mistletoe Mist where you got to keep the glass and I had service for 8!!

  6. when i worked at the YO brown derby the summer of 1969 just before my senior year in college, when someone had a bday, we would bring out a small cake topped with a piece of aluminum foil and a lit sparkler! well, i couldn’t find any aluminum foil, so i used wax paper…..that was quite a bday surprise when the paper caught on fire!

    i learned alot about fancy cocktails when a man asked for a golden cadillac and(thinking he was trying to hit on me), I replied, “yeah buddy, there’s one out in the parking lot waiting for you!”

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