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Southern Bistro Bringing Passion for Chicken to Dayton

Rick Zumwalde is a restaurant guy. He’s been a chef at one place, a solo owner at another and a partner in a third, and now he’s ready for a new chapter in Dayton.

The Purple Poulet will be what he calls a southern bourbon bistro in a storefront on the main drag on Sixth Street, expected to open some time in late September. Most recently the building was used as a daycare, but perhaps is was most famously remembered as White’s Grocery.

“I came back to Northern Kentucky about seven years ago and I had been working for other people in that time. It’s kind of got that thing where I really wanted to go back and work for myself,” he said.

The Purple Poulet will have a small bar with a good assortment of bourbons but the business is first and foremost a place to eat rather than a place to drink, Zumwalde said. “We don’t want to be a bar that serves food. We’re going to be a restaurant that has a bar to support it."  

There will be chandeliers and table cloths and an electric fireplace inside to create an inviting vibe for the business. As for the food, Zumwalde said that he intends to create the menu based on his previous cooking experience in all his stops along the way.

“I’ve done a lot of restaurants over the years by myself or working for other people,” he said. “The place in Indiana I owned, the main thing was fried chicken and I added a few other things to the menu, but we’re still going to take the fried chicken from there and do it here. Overall, the whole restaurant is going to be southern themed. We wanted to give it that French name to kind of show that we’re not just a KFC chicken joint, but we are a little bit more of a casual, upscale restaurant. Not super casual like a sports bar, but not too upscale to where we’re snobbish, somewhere in between. We will have tablecloths on the table and be that kind of atmosphere.”

It will be southern food with French and Creole influences. He describes the mix as a cross between Kentucky, Charleston, and New Orleans. 

“Take those three areas and put the food between those three areas together, that’s what you’re going to see on this menu. That’s what I like to cook, that’s what I like to eat, and this is what I like to do. You’ll see my version of a hot brown on the menu. There will be catfish, a stuffed trout, chicken is going to be the biggest thing on the menu. I’m also going to do other stuff than just friend chicken. There will be chicken and waffles with a bourbon syrup and pecan butter, that kind of stuff.

“There is a traditional French chicken item called Coq au Vin, which is in a red-wine sauce with mushrooms, but I’m going to call it Kentucky Coq au Vin and add a little Kentucky flair in it, get that bacon simmered in there real good to give it that flavor and that southern taste to it."

There will be a variety of bourbons at the bar and some local craft beers, but no draft beers to begin with. He also intends to feature a list of local wines that he hopes will grow over time. 

In fact, local food sources will be a major focus of the restaurant. The farm-to-table concept has built plenty of momentum, but Zumwalde said that when he worked at a Cincinnati restaurant called The Elms in the 1980’s, they began that practice then.

“We might have been too far ahead of our time then,” he said. “Anything local I can feature, I want to do that. Whether it be alcohol-related or food-related. Whatever local sources we can find of stuff, we will be doing that. The whole farm-to-table concept is real big right now.”

He will also feature fresh seafood, beef, and pork dishes to incorporate the barbecue style of cooking he picked up in another stop on his list of cooking venues.

“I want to take some bits and pieces from my past. The farm-to-table concept, the barbecue thing, the fried chicken when I was in Indiana and put it all together and have a southern menu which is what I like and what I want to do.”

There will be a heavy focus on appetizers as well. Zumwalde said that he likes to order a couple of apps when he tries a new restaurant because it allows him to taste more a variety of the offerings. For his place, he wants one section to be a knife-and-fork selection of appetizers, and the other section to be a variety designed to share with the whole table.

The seating capacity is expected to be around 60-65.

“I’ve got a pretty good idea about how the seating will be mapped out. I’ve actually got about 90 percent of my tables and chairs already,” Zumwalde said.

To start out, the Purple Poulet will only offer dinner, but if business goes as well as he hopes, the bistro could offer lunches soon. Entrees are expected to be somewhere in the $14-25 range, depending on the dish. There will be some sandwiches and burgers to go along with the larger chicken dishes.

As for the color chosen to highlight the place, Zumwalde said that it came about due to an antique chandelier that his wife picked out years ago.

“We were walking around somewhere and she saw this purple chandelier that she really liked. She wanted to get it for the home but it just didn’t fit it in anywhere. So she said we should keep it for when someday I get my restaurant going, we can put that purple chandelier in there,” he said. “So when we started thinking about names for the place, we knew we wanted to focus on chicken, and we knew we wanted to do a bistro with a southern theme to it, so we can up with Poulet. The purple just kind of followed that thinking because it has a nice ring to it, but it all started with that purple chandelier. Of course once we got in here and got the space, we determined that the chandelier wasn’t going to work in here. We axed the chandelier but kept the purple theme.”

Purple will be an accent color that will tie in to both the exterior and interior of the building, which will bring more color, more chicken, and hopefully more satisfied eaters to Dayton.  

Story & photo by Bryan Burke, associate editor