The Golden Lamb
Lebanon's historic inn and restaurant is Ohio’s longest continuously running business
The last Thanksgiving Sue Branson celebrated with her father, four generations sat around the Shaker-style table at the Golden Lamb.
They supped on traditional holiday fare, visited the gift shop and even bought the signature celery seed dressing.
“The Golden Lamb was one of my father’s favorites. He loved taking me when I was a young girl -- and then over the years his grandchildren and even great-granddaughter -- for special occasions,” Branson of Springboro recalled. “I hope it’s a tradition that is carried on for generations to come.”
Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday in 1870 -- 67 years after the Golden Lamb opened for business. The historic restaurant has housed travelers and served Thanksgiving dinner to guests like Branson and her family every Thanksgiving our nation has celebrated.
"So, many folks that visit us look for a comforting, warm and happy place to share good times with family and friends,” said Bill Kilimnik, general manager at the Golden Lamb. From the newspaper archives
“Many say the Golden Lamb is the heartbeat of our community and the region. People from across the region have fond memories of the Golden Lamb that recall some of the best times of their lives. So, many folks that visit us look for a comforting, warm and happy place to share good times with family and friends,” said Bill Kilimnik, general manager at the Golden Lamb. “We’re also a place where folks can get great food and drink sourced from regional purveyors or a casual meal in the Tavern.”
Founded in 1803 as a stage coach inn by Jonas Seaman in downtown Lebanon, the Golden Lamb is Ohio’s longest continuously running business. In 2015, the Golden Lamb celebrated its bicentennial since becoming a hotel in 1815.
The Golden Lamb has hosted 12 U.S. presidents -- from John Quincy Adams to George W. Bush. Other political figures like Barbara Bush, Mitt Romney and Henry Clay and American heroes like Neil Armstrong and Annie Oakley all spent time there, as well. Literary greats -- Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Alex Haley, James Whitcomb Riley, Louis Bromfield and Samuel Clemens -- and show business performers like actor Charles Laughton and pop singer Kesha have all visited the Golden Lamb.
A billboard advertising the Golden Lamb greeted travelers around 1939. Photo courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society
“Our ownership and management team have worked, just like previous generations, to keep the spirit of warm and welcoming hospitality for families and friends,” Kilimnik said. “We owe our early prominence to being located between the river city of Cincinnati and the National Road near Dayton, but we’ve kept that spirit of hospitality alive over the last two centuries.”
The secret to operating Ohio’s oldest business is honoring its rich heritage while embracing modern advantages.
“While we honor traditions that have lasted generations, we’re also current in food and spirit. Our culinary team, led by Executive Chef Josh House, does a great job sourcing the best ingredients from the region to create some really great special menus. People are looking for dishes that they’ve known for generations, but they’re also interested in dishes that feature what’s local, what’s in season and what’s new, and I think our menus do a good job of striking that balance,” Kilimnik explained.
The Black Horse Tavern, adjacent to the Golden Lamb restaurant, features a pub menu. Contributed photo
Chef House prepares signature dishes -- like fried chicken, roasted turkey and lamb meatloaf -- with menus that highlight each season. The restaurant uses high-quality, fresh ingredients sourced from local farms and providers whenever possible.
The Golden Lamb is introducing a brand new Fit for Life menu in 2016. Chef House and his team will serve a healthy three-course dinner menu that features lean proteins, in-season produce and will be almost completely gluten-free.
The Black Horse Tavern, adjacent to the Golden Lamb restaurant, features a pub menu, weekly food and drink specials, and live acoustic music on the weekends. Guests can enjoy chef specials like craft beer and burger combinations in a more relaxed, casual atmosphere.
Shaker artifacts decorate the restaurant throughout 3 dining rooms and 11 private dining rooms. Contributed photo
The Golden Lamb stays true to its humble Shaker roots, featuring simple tables and chairs, with Shaker artifacts decorating the restaurant throughout three dining rooms and 11 private dining rooms. Located on the top three floors, each one of the 18 historic overnight rooms blends antique furnishings with contemporary conveniences like Tempur-Pedic mattresses, television and air conditioning. Each room is named after a famous guest.
Guests can choose to stay in the room where President John Quincy Adams stayed in 1843. Photo by Vivienne Machi
“We’ve also worked hard to maintain the historic charm throughout the entire property by continuing to use the wonderful antiques that have furnished the building for 100 years or more, but upgrading hotel rooms to each have a private bath, luxurious mattresses and bedding, and complimentary Wi-Fi,” Kilimnik said.
Another component to successfully running a more than 200-year-old business is a strong marketing plan.
“Many people associate the Golden Lamb with fond memories from the past, but are delighted to learn that we’ve got a number of new tricks up our sleeve that give them new reasons to visit with us -- like new menu items, or special wine or beer dinners that constantly change throughout the year,” said Krystan Krailler, media director at the Golden Lamb.
“In other words, while we’re a part of their heritage, we’re also a vibrant inn, restaurant and tavern. We’re familiar and a place to celebrate the special occasions that mark our lives, but we’re also a weeknight, neighborhood spot that has a casual sophistication that’s hard to find anywhere else in the region.”
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (left) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney appeared at a rally in downtown Lebanon, in front of The Golden Lamb, in the fall of 2012. Photo by Nick Daggy
Krailler doesn’t simply rely on the Golden Lamb’s longstanding reputation. She also uses modern approaches -- technology Jonas Seaman never could have imagined -- to keep that legacy alive.
“We are fortunate enough to be able to draw from the rich history the Golden Lamb has to offer and to make it relevant to today’s guest. That’s exactly why we love social media -- we do our best to have conversations with our guests, because the entire team loves to hear stories about guests’ past memories of the Golden Lamb, as well as their current ones,” she said. “We also make sure that every time we interact with a guest, it is consistent -- whether a guest is looking at our website, Facebook page, a menu in the restaurant or a shampoo bottle in their room, they’re getting a consistent look and feel that works together to tell our story.”
Kilimnik believes the Golden Lamb will continue to make its mark on the region for another two centuries or more.
The Lebanon Hotel (now the Golden Lamb) is at the left of this photograph taken in the 1920s. The restaurant advertises "spring chicken" on the sign.
Photo courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society
“Our team is dedicated to ensuring the Golden Lamb is still a landmark destination for the next 200 years,” he said. “We’re continually searching for ways to shop locally to benefit the regional economy, and we’re fortunate to be in a great agricultural area where many farmers and growers are producing high-quality seasonal ingredients, meats and other foods. We’re always working to find and build relationships with those people to ensure our guests are well taken care of.”
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