By RALPH A. LEWIS III
Traveling down Logan Avenue on the North Side of Youngstown, you might miss the small white building at 1245.
But if you ignored the nearby vacant businesses and climbed the concrete stairs and walked through the polished, wooden double doors, you’d be greeted by the scent of coffee and hot food — and a lot of history.
The Golden Dawn restaurant and tavern has been a fixture in Youngstown since 1934, moving from location to location until making its fourth, and final, move to the current site in 1946.
The business’s patrons include politicians, sports figures and singers.
“Oh man, we have had a lot of famous faces come through our doors,” said Carmen Naples, one of the owners. “Little Eddie O’Neill [‘Modern Family’], Tom Petty, Coach [Jim] Tressel, [Sen.] Joe Biden and several politicians. You name ’em, they’ve been here. I’ll never forget when NBC set up all their cameras in here for Tom Petty.”
Then, as now, the restaurant’s interior features red vinyl booths, striped wallpaper, a curved wooden bar and an abundance of sports memorabilia from Ursuline High School’s football team and other Youngstown sports teams.
All of this contributes to the homey atmosphere, but not as much as the two white-haired gentlemen who can be seen delivering plates of food to tables and pouring drinks at the bar.
Carmen, 91, and his brother, Ralph Naples, 92, often are seen wearing the classic white shirts and black ties that have been their trademark uniform for years.
“My parents started this tavern back when no one really ate out like they do today,” said Carmen. “They wanted to create an atmosphere that their friends and family can come eat and enjoy themselves.”
That atmosphere has extended its welcome to some notable diners as well.
“Well, Coach Tressel would come in after games [when he was YSU head coach, 1986-2000] and sometimes during the week. Eddie O’Neill started coming here when he was a young man, before he was big time. Vice President Biden came during the campaign tour in 2008. NBC cameras were following Tom Petty after a performance in the early ’80s when he decided to stop in for a meal.”
Even today, local notables make regular visits to the Golden Dawn.
Paul McFadden, president of the Youngstown State University Foundation, is a frequent diner. McFadden was a placekicker for the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons from 1984 to 1989. He is in the YSU Football Hall of Fame.
“I love The Golden Dawn. I love that old-fashion feel you get every time you walk in the door. And you get personalized service, making you feel wanted. Oh, yes, and the old-fashioned prices are great, too,” he said.
Andrew and Mary Naples opened the restaurant at 808 Elm St. in 1934 during the midst of the Great Depression.
Ralph said some days they’d make a total of $3. Other days the total would be as high as $20, but even that was low for the 1930s.
Despite this, the business grew and became a big part of the Naples’ family life.
“When we were teenagers, our dad got really sick, so sick that he needed our help in the tavern,” Carmen said. “Both of us really enjoyed working there and helping our dad. I still feel the same way today.”
Mary and daughter, Carmen, were in charge of most of the cooking. They served classic Italian dishes, including homemade spaghetti and pizza, along with traditional American cuisine and such comfort foods as homemade pot roast and mashed potatoes.
The business also was noted for a particular menu item: alcohol. The tavern was one of the first places in the city to get a liquor license when Prohibition ended in 1933.
That license eventually led to the Naples’ having to move the tavern after three years.
“We would make too much noise at night with people coming in and out of the tavern, and the residents complained. Back then you had to be closed by 1 a.m., and we weren’t always closed by then,” said Ralph.
The family moved the business to Phelps Street. The brothers don’t remember the exact address, but the site was somewhere between Rayen and Wood avenues.
“We didn’t like that location because we felt like we were too far away from the North Side,” said Ralph. “Most of our customers were from the North Side, and business dipped when we moved away from it.”
After six months, the business made another move — this time to 1211 Logan.
“We were glad to back on the North Side in a better location. We were just better known there,” said Ralph. “It was important that we were able to keep the [liquor] rights license in escrow and hold it there on Logan from Phelps.”
Though the location was ideal, the building wasn’t.
“People would always complain that the restaurant was cold. One day my brother and I got shovels and dug a massive hole underneath the tavern so we could have a basement and hopefully get insulation. My dad couldn’t believe it,” said Ralph.
It was a messy process.
“There was dirt everywhere,” said Carmen, “It took a quite a long time, but it made my dad happy, and we were happy helping him out.”
Once the place got warmer, the family was determined to stay put, which it did until 1946, when the family moved to the current site just down the road.
That’s when business began to boom.
“Once the vets came back from World War II, business really shot up,” said Carmen. “People started going out to eat on a regular basis. That’s something that wasn’t happening before the war.”
In 1960, Andrew gave the business to his sons.
“We really didn’t change anything from the way my parents ran the restaurant,” said Ralph. “No need to. Just wanted to maintain the good things we had.”
That’s why the brothers were determined to keep the same menu.
“My mother was a great cook. She had so many recipes there really was no need to change the food,” said Carmen. “The only thing that we changed over the years is the different drinks we carry.”
Nowadays, the food is prepared by Daisy Harris, who is originally from Hope Hull, Ala. She started working at the Golden Dawn in 1961. She is now 87.
“I love it here. They are great people and nice to be around. Just like everyone else here I work with,” said Harris.
Besides the food, the brothers were determined to adhere to their father’s policy of keeping prices low.
“We have always kept the prices affordable for our customers because it’s the right thing to do,” said Ralph. “If you treat people right, they will treat you right. I think that’s why people come here.”
Customers can expect to pay 75 cents for fresh-squeezed juices, $5 for a large pizza and $2 for a slice of old-fashioned apple pie.
Now, the family business has extended to another generation.
Carmen’s daughter, Mary Louise Naples, 60, is working behind the bar after spending 33 years in the U.S. Air Force.
“I really enjoyed my time in the Air Force. I stayed for as long as I could,” said Mary Louise. “Now that I am home I didn’t want to just sit around, so I was happy to help Dad down here.”
Even though they are in their 90s, neither brother is slowing down or ready to hand over the business.
“I still love what I do. Ralph and I still come in every day with our white-collar shirt and ties just like we did when we were teenagers,” said Carmen. “The passion we had way back then exists still today.”
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