John Forman started earning restaurant paychecks in the mid-1980s as a 16-year-old Belmont High School student, delivering pizza for Lavello’s on Wayne Avenue in Dayton. He worked at Cassano’s Pizza King for three years and then for Pizza Hut for eight years before launching a corporate career at NCR and Reynolds + Reynolds.
Only one problem with that career change: “I hated the cubicle life,” Forman said.
So in 2006, the University of Dayton graduate bought Bullwinkle’s Top Hat Bistro, a Miamisburg restaurant and pub that already had 20 years under its belt at 19 N. Main St. in Miamisburg.
A decade of success later — “this will be our fifth straight year with double digit sales growth,” Forman said — the 250-seat restaurant is poised to celebrate its 30th anniversary this Saturday, Oct. 22. Plans call for “a tent party,” Forman said, that will include a buffet, specials on the restaurant’s signature barbecue ribs, live music and more, with part of the proceeds benefiting the Miamisburg Vikings Boosters’ Association.
“Customers from the past, present and future are invited,” Forman said.
Forman ticked off several keys to the success of Bullwinkle’s, saying the restaurant:
• keeps staff turnover low, with 18 of its 40 employees having five or more years of experience, including two employees who have been with the business for more than 20 years.
• keeps prices reasonable while serving quality food in generous portions;
• keeps the menu fresh by adding and deleting five to 10 major items each year and developing a varied menu that extends beyond Bullwinkle’s signature Bar-B-Que Baby Back Ribs to include steaks, pasta, seafood, gourmet burgers, and specialty sandwiches;
• responds to changing customer tastes, including boosting the number of craft beer taps to 20;
• offers daily specials, including $2 burgers on Mondays to the all-you-can-eat ribs on Wednesday nights; and
Forman has seen a budding renaissance of downtown Miamisburg in recent years, including the development of a downtown riverfront park, and the opening of Plaza Theater and many other businesses, including a jazz club/restaurant and two breweries.
The Bullwinkle’s owner is looking to the future. He’s planning on building out a back patio that would face the Great Miami River that would include a full bar and would seat about 80. “That’s a year or two down the road,” Forman said.