If you asked a school-age Dain Phelan what he wanted to be when he grew up, the dream he described would have sounded a lot like Dain’s Place. That’s because he always knew he’d open a restaurant, one with “the best food and dancing around.” He dropped the dancing part when he opened Dain’s in January of 2007, but great food is still a big part of the vision, as are great decorations, some of which Dain made all the way back in elementary school. Dain’s father has also helped to create some of the bar’s quirky appeal, creating a huge pinwheel made of matchbox cars and a Fisher Price boat decked out with action figures, including Lisa Simpson and ET. The ceiling is graced with a row of palm frond fans and the beer coolers sport sayings by such legendary historical figures as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Homer J. Simpson, both touting the virtues of beer.
Dain, who grew up watching Cheers with his parents, went to college for restaurant management at Purdue. He knew pretty early on that a desk job wouldn’t make him happy. Instead, he wanted a job like his hero Sam Malone’s - a job that kept him on his feet while also allowing for plenty of social interaction. In fact, regulars at Dain’s wouldn’t hesitate to compare it to that legendary bar - it’s a place where locals come to relax and see friends and also a comfortable place where people from all walks of life feel welcome. Before opening Dain’s and putting his degree to proper use, though, Dain learned the business on the job - working in every restaurant position he could find, from management to dish washing. His first real restaurant job was at Kelly’s Restaurant and Tavern in the Outer Banks, where he lived during his college summers. At Kelly’s, Dain started out bussing tables, then worked as a bar back and finally as a waiter. Learning all aspects of the restaurant business has been instrumental in helping Dain to run a successful establishment, one where customers and employees alike feel appreciated.
Most of Dain’s employees - there are about fifteen - have worked with him for years and he has great things to say about all of them. “It feels like a family,” he says of his staff. Chef Gloria in the kitchen has been with Dain since the bar’s opening and he worked with her at a restaurant even before Dain’s opened. The other thing Dain loves about running his bar is the clientele. Last year, on the tenth anniversary of the bar’s opening, Dain designated three “Customers of the Decade,” regulars who have been coming to Dain’s for each of its ten years. These lucky customers each received a handmade wooden box (crafted of wood taken from the floors at Dain’s) which holds a personalized beer mug. Other Dain’s customers include locals from the Old West Durham and Trinity Park areas, graduate students, and a solid group of Philadelphia Eagles fans who just about lost their minds at Dain’s last year when the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Dain’s is also pretty popular with families. With its laid back atmosphere and kid-pleasing desserts (Oreos and milk, anyone?), that’s no surprise! The handmade mozzarella cheese triangles are also a hit with the kiddos. Dain has enjoyed personalizing his menu over the years. As a Pennsylvania native, he grew up eating a lot of perogies. His favorites were at a Yocco’s in Allentown. Now, he special orders those exact same perogies so that he can have them on the menu at Dain’s.
The motto at Dain’s Place is “Make Dain’s Place Your Place,” and many of the bar’s regulars do just that. This is a place where people feel at home. Remember when you were in high school and you threw a party in your basement while your parents were out of town for the weekend? That’s the feel of Dain’s place - fun, full of friendly people, and not-too-fancy. And if you never had the chance to throw a party in your basement while your folks were out of town, head on over to Dain’s to finally experience what that might have been like. Bring your friends!
When Dain’s not at the restaurant working as “an overqualified busboy” (his words!), he’s probably…
Traveling to the Outer Banks or the North Carolina mountains with his wife and their two young sons, Walter and Arthur.
Gardening on the couple of acres in Hillsborough where he lives with his family, a few goats, and some chickens.
Rooting for his Philly teams, the Eagles or the 76ers.
Merchant profiles are written by Kate Van Dis of Kate Van Dis Creative Content