Kids at Work: Toledo Restaurants Run Family Businesses

For many restaurants, food is the family business. And when the family includes young children, creative parents find ways to include the kids in the day-to-day operations. The children learn practical, hands-on lessons in math, reading, and spelling, and the parents find ways to involve the kids in daily tasks. Kitchen Impossible? Not at all!

We spoke with local restaurant families to see how they manage the work-life balance.

Benchmark Restaurant

6130 Levis Commons, Perrysburg

Parents: Jeff Dinnebeil, Vice President of Operations at BRG
Megan Dinnebeil, Sales and Marketing at BRG 

Children: Evelyn “E.V.,: age 9
Theodore “Theo,” age 5 

The Dinnebeils are co-owners with Ed Harmon of NAI Harmon. Benchmark Restaurant Group includes Benchmark Restaurant, Claude’s Prime Seafood, and Harbor Town Tavern. 

How do your children help at the restaurant? 

E.V. does everything from working at the host stand and greeting and seating guests to running food to tables and prepping. Chopping, breaking down tenderloins, cracking eggs, cleaning king crab…I mean everything! She has worked at Zoo to Do and many offsites with us. This kid takes after her chef father, loves all food and loves to cook. Theo, being 5, doesn’t get to hold a knife yet! But he is learning. Right now, Jeff has him counting down drawers, and he helps out with some special events.

What has your experience been when bringing kids to work? 

It’s good when it’s good, and when it’s bad… 

No, all jokes aside. It’s difficult to keep kids entertained in any setting, but we are lucky that our team is more like a family. Everyone has seen E.V. and Theo grow up. They are always engaging with them, asking them how school was and trying to get them to help. 

Why is it important to include them in the family business? 

It is beyond important to include E.V. and Theo in the restaurants. It is our passion and a large part of our lives. Growing up in restaurants will make our kids better people. We can share our vision of true hospitality, caring for others, and a hard work ethic. 

Evelyn’s Experience 

What do you like about helping at the restaurant? It’s just fun! I get to see all these people that are older than me working. I like to help so that someday I can be just like them. 

What is your favorite job there? All of it! I like bringing food to people so that I can meet them. Cooking pasta and cracking eggs is so much fun. 

What do you hope to do when you grow up? When I grow up, I want to do what Mom and Dad do. I want to work in a restaurant and make people happy.

Sebastiano’s Italiano Restaurant

4448 Heatherdowns Blvd.

Parents: Jonathon Sagaser, Owner and Chef
Sarah Sagaser, Owner, Front of the House Manager 

Margaret “Maggie,” age 10
Loretta “Retta,” age 8
Joseph “Joey,” age 6 

Sebastiano’s is a family-owned business that enjoys being part of the South Toledo community. They focus on a kitchen-driven setup that emphasizes quality over quantity to better connect with their guests.

How do your children help out at the restaurant? The girls help host or serve when they are feeling it, or when we are in a pinch and they can tell they are truly needed. Joey is the master schmoozer. He charms and entertains everyone he interacts with — a total restaurant kid!

We hear you have a playroom set up for them at the restaurant! Tell us about it. When Jon and I purchased from Sebastiano and Helane, they had already raised their own two girls in the restaurant. The back storage room was already set up where half was a living room/playroom, so we have kept that going. 

A wonderful staffer gave it a makeover when we were on a vacation last year, and we’ve acquired some cheap or free furniture and carpet remnants to make it more than comfy for homework and hangout times. It sees a lot of creative use of our emptied boxes and office and restaurant supplies, and frequently bears the clutter of three busy and imaginative minds. 

What has your experience been when bringing kids to work? They use a lot of Scotch tape. Ok, kidding! I mean, they do, but ultimately I absolutely love that our family can be “together” while we keep the place going. Many customers have seen our children grow these last 9+ years and are just as invested in what’s going on in their lives as our own family. 

We’ve been fortunate to hire staff over the years that don’t just put up with them, but adore them as they would nieces or nephews or younger siblings. They stick around at the end of the night for the Sagaser Kids Revue on the corner stage, and they come to puppet shows in the back between tables. Many a staffer or regular customer has helped with homework! Even when our musicians play, they will learn and feature the kids’ favorites! 

Why is it important to include the kids in the family business? Jon and I each grew up with a parent/parents who owned small businesses. We knew it meant missing some things and gaining others. I remember when school was virtual during the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020. I would get them involved in as much as possible and send pics to their teachers asking how many subjects they could get extra credit for. Just helping at the register covers math, technology, reading, spelling, and social studies. 

When they were smaller, they had important jobs like blowing out the candles at the end of the night. Now that they are older, they can help with stocking and putting orders in. They know the table numbers and can run food or water/soft drinks. We are trusting them more and more as they show responsibility and how they are invested in seeing the restaurant succeed. I always joke that they move around the restaurant like they own the place! 


The Sagaser Children’s Experience

What do you like about helping at the restaurant? 

Maggie: Just helping. It’s fun. 

Retta: Money. I get moolah. 

Joey: That I, at least, get to carry some stuff. 

What is your favorite job there? 

Maggie: I guess I’d say host. I get to make all the calls. 

Retta: Host, because it’s really hard. 

Joey: Waiter. I mean, I mean, I mean the one who gets the orders. 

What do you hope to do when you grow up? 

Maggie: I have no idea whatsoever, but a singer sounds kind of fun. 

Retta: Be a teacher. 

Joey: Be an astronaut. 

Element 112 Restaurant

5735 N. Main St., Sylvania

Parents: Chris Nixon, Owner and Chef
Madeline Nixon, wife and mother 

Chef Nixon’s restaurant serves French bistro-style classics made with farm-fresh seasonal ingredients in a comfortable ambience in downtown Sylvania. 

Ludovic, age 5
Lorenzo, age 3
Luciano, age 7 months 

How do your children help at the restaurant? Define “help.” I would say they more or less just add to the environment and try the food! 

What has your experience been when bringing kids to work? 

The staff is very understanding. The kids add to the family feel of the business. We have learned to hide the chocolate croissants. 

Why is it important to include the kids in the family business? It shows them how the family functions on a day-to-day basis, and lets them learn about finances and hard work.