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Golden Dawn still glitters on the North Side

Published: Sun, April 29, 2012 @ 12:09 a.m.




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.”

TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort among the Youngstown State University journalism program, Kent State University, The University of Akron and professional media outlets including WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator, The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio (Akron).


1foxyglo(372 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago


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2GnomeMad(22 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

It's been too long since I've been to the Dawn and this story has me thinking it's time to remedy that -- and soon! Every meal I've ever had there was delicious and the service was exceptional. My favorite dish there -- and I know this isn't what they're famous for and will make most people go "ewww!" (and think I'm nuts) -- is their liver and onions.

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3city_resident(528 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Just another reason why I can't wait to move into the neighborhood. In addition to the great people, historic architecture, Wick Park, the farmers market, etc., I'll be able to walk to this establishment on a regular basis.

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4JoeFromHubbard(1776 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

@ Flick:
If you know for a fact that George McKelvey is there frequently, you must have been inside to observe.

If you so despise the place why did you go there?

I wish the Naples brothers continuing success.

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5georgejeanie(1494 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Ralph and Carmen, great to see you two finally made the big time. Caught the article on line down here in Florida. Can not wait to see you guys in May. Go Steelers.

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6thinkthentalk(310 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

I love this place. Gone there forever when im working around there. Great economical lunch, cool place for a beer after work. If im at an event with the ol lady, she likes the place too. Here and the Royal Oaks.
Utica, just shutup and go back to the hooterville you came from. Im sick of your bashing what you know nothing about.

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7Boardman120(82 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

What a great article! I would love to try this place. The owners look like wonderful gentlemen, and the authentic 40's decor looks delightful!

Thank you Vindicator for cluing me in to this charming Youngstown gem!

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8JoeFromHubbard(1776 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago


Authentic decor it is, you have to go.

It's like taking a step back in time!

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9motherof3(15 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

I have been eating at the Dawn since I was a child. Who could forget the box of bubblegum? That was my fondest memory as a child. I love sharing it with my kids. Some traditions in Youngstown are meant to live on. To those who lack the appreciation, kindly don't trample on our memories and spare us all your negativity. To the Naples... Thank you! My dad and I will visit soon with my kids! The tradition will continue.

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10debbiefrye(2 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

Many memories of the Golden Dawn from my childhood. My dad reupholstered all of the booths in the restaurant. One of my favorite Youngstown places!

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11IOM(3 comments)posted 4 years, 2 months ago

I can remember going to The Golden Dawn when I was so small my hand could pull out more then one piece of gum from the bubble gum box! (which still exists today). I live in Florida now (originally from Liberty) and I have to admit that there have been many occasions I have come home and went to The Golden Dawn before I even went to see my Mother. I've been away for 24 year but, every time I stop in, Ralph, Carmen and all the Sons remember me by name and what kind of pizza I will order (hot pepper pizza). Granted, I stop in about six times a year since I moved away but, if there was ever anything that I could say reminds me of Youngstown (home), its the hot pepper pizza and a schooner of draft at The Golden Dawn. Neighborhoods change which is sad but, behind the doors of The Golden Dawn there is always a timeless and constant true admiration of the Customer, GREAT food and even a better Family of friends to all who stop in. THANK YOU to all the Naples Family for providing my sanctuary of good times in Youngstown. May they continue forever! The photo attached to my screenname is of Ralph and Carmen sitting at the bar talking with a patron. This article makes me miss Home. . . Thank you Vindicator for providing this article on Vindi.com

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12Oldtimers(1 comment)posted 4 years, 1 month ago

The negative comments from 2 are totally bogus. This place is Youngstowns best kept secret. I got the Jumbo with fries, 5 schooners of beer, and fried mushrooms and my wife got a pizza and 2 mixed drinks and our bill was less than $17. The food was great, the beer cold in a frosted mug, and the service better than at expensive eateries. Best of all, you go back in time to the 40's 50's with the old style bar with the solid round no back stools and red booths. The Naples brothers greet you in their white shirt and black tie and 90 year old smiles. You are treated with courtesy the entire time. The food is as good or better than the Boardman expensive eateries so I skip them and eat at Golden Dawn 3 times for the price of one Boardman spot. The place is safe as there is always someone outside in the lot and we have never been bothered even at night. I hope this place never closes. Writing this got me in the mood for a Jumbo and Schooner so off we go to Golden Dawn.

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