Entrepreneurial Spirit: Dean Bach

Entrepreneurial Spirit: Dean Bach

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Ferndale 115 News, May 1, 2012ed)

When Dean Bach was in high school, the hours would drag by as he daydreamed of the job he loved – moving up the ladder at Eastside Charley’s.  His mother had been a hard-working waitress with years of experience in the Muir family of restaurants, and Bach took the opportunity seriously.

“My mom got me the job, so I wasn’t going to screw it up,” he said.

Now, many years later, Bach is the owner of Dino’s Lounge at 22740 Woodward.  The “upscale but not uptight” restaurant/bar has been a Ferndale favorite since 2002, and Bach is well-known for his involvement in the community and for the events he takes part in.

His path seems almost destiny, with his mother’s flair for food and hospitality and his father’s business sense as the owner of an auto body shop setting the groundwork.  The job at Charley’s was a crucial first taste.  “It made school tough,” Bach said.  “I always wanted to be at work.  I learned a lot there.  From 15-18 I washed dishes, then I was the prep cook.  Then I was a pantry person, helping with salads and deserts, then I moved up to the cooks’ line.”

When he graduated from Seaholm High School he felt like he lacked discipline and was unsure what to do with his life.  “I was not a big fan of school and I didn’t see myself as a good college student.  I wasn’t a bad kid, but I was a smartass.  So I joined the Marines.”

Two years into what would have been a six year run, Bach was injured and they gave him the option of being discharged and going to college.  The opportunity sounded like a good one, and Bach went to work at East Side Charley’s while studying economics and business at Macomb Community College.

He worked his way up to bartending, which he said is where the money is.  Through that job he met the owners of a “tiny, busy place” called Mamma’s Pastas in Grosse Pointe.

“I was 21 and the Marines hadn’t cured me, I was still the smart ass comedian type. There was this guitar player there and while he took breaks I would go up and do jokes.  The best was my Rodney Dangerfield impression – spot on,” he said.

Soon after hiring Bach, it was clear they wouldn’t be keeping the business open, so he took a job at a new TGI Fridays that was being built at Hall and Schoenner.

While not a fan of the big chain atmosphere, Bach said it was a fun group of people to work with and he took advantage of the TGI Friday’s Master Bartender Program.  He got bored with business classes at MCC and went on to study culinary arts at Oakland Community College instead.  Soon after that he was fired from TGI Fridays.

“The manager locked me out in the cold,” Bach said.  “They were all laughing at me through the window, so I mooned them.  The next day when I came in they told me I was fired.”

From there he got a job at the Old Woodward Grill in Birmingham.  “The first night I kept my section rolling like a party.  he was instantly bumped up to bar tender and in 1991 he won the Best Bartender Award in the Metro Times.  Coincidentally that same year his sister Keri won for Best Waitress.

“When you’re in the restaurant business, everybody says they’re going to have their own place someday.  I was one of those people.  I always said I would open my own place someday, and I did,” Bach said.  He took every opportunity that came his way to meet new people in the business and improve his skills.  He was hired to be the bartender for the Indy Car circuit, serving famous drivers like Mario Andretti, and he worked at the hottest club in Birmingham, full of the big rollers.  He made buddies with people in the real estate business and he learned all he could from them about running a business and getting money from the banks.

In December 1999, Royal Oak was the hot spot and the buzz was all about Hamtramck emerging as its successor.  But Bach knew Ferndale through cousins growing up here, and he had a sense that it was going to make a comeback. After a bummer of a breakup with a gal he liked, Bach put his attention towards business.  With a good buddy and investor at his side, he went to a meeting in Hamtramck to look at some places, and decided to take Woodward home instead.

“We were stopped at the light there at Nine Mile and I saw the old Rialto Café. I was intrigued.  I thought,’ there’s no way that is available.’  I had him stop and we had lunch at Como’s.  I called the number on the sign and the real estate agent came right out,” he said.

Bach knew it had been empty for a while by the August 1997 calendar on the wall.  “The place was a disaster but I was in love with the location.  It seemed very reasonable, but why was no one buying it?”

He learned that there was a dispute over the liquor license and it was being fought over in court.  To him, it was worth the wait.  They set up the sale contingent on the license, and he had to wait two more years before he was able to start up Dino’s Lounge.  In those two years, Ferndale saw property values go up and vibrancy growing in the community.

But he also got some nay-sayers.  “There was a lot of high-browing.  A lot of people said ‘you’ll never make it.”  It surprised him, but he kept moving forward with supportive people at his side, including silent business partners and a community full of positive people that did believe in him.

In September 2002, while remodeling was still in progress, he opened the door to Dino’s for a sneak preview as part of the famed Ferndale Pub Crawl.  That’s when a local man by the name of Ed Hicok came up with the slogan after Bach explained his overall vision.  Hicok summed up Bach’s grandiose description with the one-liner that is still used today “upscale but not uptight.”

Bach made his mark on Dino’s by doing the design and decorating himself.  Over the years the walls have become more cluttered with pictures, awards and other memorabilia indicative of the establishment’s activism in the community.  The walls are butterscotch and accents are in cherry and chocolate, all colors that are rich and powerful, but also delicious in both description and visualization.  The dim lighting creates an intimate mood that is appropriate for a date or for doing important business, while accent lights and other features change at times, to keep the atmosphere from feeling static.  He enjoys seeing which regulars notice changes, which are rarely very dramatic.  He worked with the city to turn the alley way into a pedestrian area with a glittery walkway, places to sit, and a safe way to cut from the parking lots to the businesses. There is also patio seating out front on Woodward, and a small stage area inside that is perfect for karaoke, local bands and community events.

This stage, and Bach’s involvement, has set the stage for many community projects.  Bach is involved in Ferndale Youth Assistance and sat on the board of MAPP – Michigan AIDS Prevention Project, now called Michigan AIDS Coalition.  He resigned in 2010 and joined the board of the Downtown Development Authority instead.  He’s also involved as Treasurer on the Board of Directors for Ace Academy Charter School in Highland Park which is a high discipline school for incarcerated individuals.  Dino’s is also part of many community events, and is especially known for hosting the Rib Burn Out contests each year at the end of the Ferndale Blues Festival.  The most recent honor for Bach is the 2012 Good Neighbor Award, presented on May 1.

In the coming years, Ferndale can expect to see even more of Bach and his business, as he is currently in the progress of buying another local business to turn into a commercial test kitchen and possibly pizza parlor.

The solid business background hasn’t dulled Bach’s fun side, which is why he’s so active in the events that make Ferndale great.  And he does, at times, mix business with pleasure.

Like that afternoon in early 2005 when a stunning blond with a beautiful voice came strutting into Dino’s to promote her band Bocco.  Denise was all about business, but Bach was instantly goo-goo-ga-ga.  “I sat at his table with my mom and my aunt Carol and I said “There’s the most beautiful woman in the world,” when she walked in.  I was shocked that she was there looking for me.  Well, for the owner, but you know… me.  I talked a big game, but I didn’t really have one. Not around a beautiful woman like her.”  Being too nervous to make a move, he spent nearly a year figuring out how to get her and the band back, regularly.  Finally he came up with the idea to showcase female musicians on Thursday nights.  In March 2006 Bocco did their first gig at Dino’s and Bach sat back by the bar just watching in awe.

“Her friend came up and asked some questions, then told me she was single.  I told her that I was single too, and I guess she relayed the information.  After the show she came up to me and we talked a bit, then we smooched ’til 5am.”

The next day she left on a 10 cruise with no phone or internet contact and the separation drove them both crazy.  The talented musician, who is also an accomplished litigation consultant, had a date with Bach immediately upon her return, and she married him nine months later.

Dino’s continues to grow, with a reputation for community service and for good food.  Their sliders are quite popular, but there are also more upscale items like steak, salmon, and pasta dishes.  Each month Dino’s has a special menu in addition to their regular favorites.  “I like to give the staff freedom, and I encourage them to try new things.  We have prizes for items that make them menu,” he said.  “Food is an art and we’re always aiming for the best.”  The restaurant also recently started serving breakfast. The breakfast menu runs the gauntlet from pancakes, bacon, eggs etc to chicken and waffles and the world-renowned king of breakfast sandwiches, the Monte Cristo.

Dino’s is located at 22740 Woodward.  Read their menu, check out upcoming events, and more at www.dinoslounge.com.


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