Whalen wanted to offer Butler County a dining experience more representative of what can be found in a modern downtown Cincinnati eatery. To do so, Coach House has introduced small plates and appetizers, as well as a bar menu to go with its infused bourbon and wine selections.
“It’s also important to me to use the freshest ingredients, from seafood to produce,” Whalen said. “Nearly everything we produce in the Coach House kitchen is made from scratch. In order to use the freshest and locally sourced ingredients and offer the freshest menu, we have continued and even built upon the daily specials I introduced early on.”
Whalen said what drove the design for the new menu was creating hand-crafted, seasonal fare that suits the restaurant's range of diners by incorporating classic traditions with today's trends.
“Balance is important to me in the flavors in each dish, as well as in the representation of menu options,” he said. “I kept the classic favorites that the Coach House has long been known for, like our French Onion Soup and freshly made meatloaf, but added modern dishes for more adventurous palates like the Asian Inspired Pork Tenderloin.”
Although Cincinnati is where he built his career, Whalen said there was an allure in returning to Hamilton.
“There’s so much revitalization happening in Hamilton and I really wanted to be part of it,” he said. “I made the decision to return to my hometown and invest in being part of the local community.”
Whalen said the Coach House offers “a unique dining experience” that sets it apart from other restaurants in Hamilton. He said he’s enjoyed hearing diner’s stories, as well as developing staff and building a strong culinary team.
“I have a small kitchen, but the team is incredibly talented and I am fully committed to helping them develop their careers,” he said. “I have been fortunate to have learned from many incredible mentors and believe in paying that forward. A chef is only as good as how many chefs they create. To foster a love for food and pass on the craft so that new chefs continue to build upon dishes and flavors you’ve created, that’s what cooking is all about.”
Coach House now offers one daily lunch special and typically two daily dinner specials, as well as flexibility in dishes like its flatbread and quiche-of-the-day options on the lunch menu.
“We want diners to be interested in what they are eating and this also is a great way to continue to receive feedback,” Whalen said. “I always keep in mind what people especially like as a possibility for a permanent item on the next menu. This also gives us some freedom and an outlet for culinary creativity.”
Coach House opened to the public earlier this year after 15 years as a members-only establishment, Webb said. While membership provided access to fine dining and special events throughout the year, plus the ability to reserve its Plantation Room with no rental fees, it didn’t ward off declining enrollment, she said.
“Membership-only dining isn’t a model that people are embracing today, and we wanted to be positioned to appeal to a broader range of diners,” she said. “We also knew we had been inconsistent with food quality and service due to several leadership changes through the years and membership value had waned.”
Coach House still is embracing its membership roots and is focused on adding value to make membership something people want to purchase, Webb said.
Membership benefits include special pricing for menu items, monthly specials on cocktails and exclusive food offerings, and priority seating with reservations. Other perks include premium wine pricing, invitations for exclusive events, promotions throughout the year and access to members-only wine lockers, according to Webb.