Executive Chef Darin Mitchell is living his dream with Stella Bleu Bistro

Executive Chef Darin Mitchell spends up to 14 hours each day at Stella Bleu Bistro. But despite the hard work and exhausting hours, opening a restaurant among his family and friends, right where he grew up, has been a dream come true.

Co-owners Mitchell and Dr. Shawn Osterholt opened the Downtown Springfield restaurant in the historic Bushnell Building at 20 N. Fountain Ave., in 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic changed the face of the industry.

But the restaurant, which bills itself as “casual, fine dining,” survived the struggle.  One reason customers continue to return, Mitchell says, is because they can see the dedication and enthusiasm that has produced what appears on their plates.

“I’m very passionate about food,” he says. “I never want to be stale.”

Mitchell calls Stella Bleu’s offerings a “little trip around the world,” incorporating multiple cuisines and flavors. The menu is changed twice each year – the next is expected around the early spring – and the recipes are concocted in-house, not from the internet or grandma’s cookbook, he says.

Bone-in ribeye and San Francisco garlic noodles are popular choices on the dinner menu that have made multiple appearances and may appear again. At lunch, the hamburger, grilled cheese and Caesar salad are fan favorites.

The restaurant can seat up to about 90 patrons, not including the patio and a 50-person event space. Aside from the food, the bistro’s artwork, lighting and colors set the restaurant’s tone.

“It’s just really nice,” he says of the ambiance. “Elegant, but you can feel comfortable with shorts and a T-shirt.”

Mitchell, 54, knows Clark County well.

Mitchell was a baby when his family moved to South Charleston, and he attended Catholic Central High School, where his father was a chemistry and physics teacher. He went to college and worked in restaurants, but it wasn’t until his late 20s that friends urged him to go to culinary school.

A friend was living in Arizona, so Mitchell packed his bags and headed to the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, where he graduated first in his class. Moving back to Ohio in the early 2000s, he held chef positions at the Urbana Country Club and Coco’s Bistro in Dayton. He and his wife, Suzi, also grew their family – they have two sons: Dallas, 15, and Griffin, 13.

Opening Stella Bleu was the culmination of a long-held dream of having his own restaurant, and it marked the first time that Mitchell, who lives outside of Springfield, worked less than 20 minutes from home.

The “honeymoon” period was tapering off when the start of the COVID-19 pandemic shut down Ohio bars and restaurants. Occurring just before St. Patrick’s Day 2020, the restaurant had already purchased beer and begun preparing food, Mitchell says.

The time that followed was a “gut punch,” and it wasn’t until just this past summer that things started to feel more like normal, he says.

“I feel extremely successful in that we’re still here,” he says.

Mitchell attributes that to the will of both he himself and all of Stella Bleu’s staff. The restaurant employs about 20 people, including sous chef Jeremy Sacksteder.

“Everyone believes in this place, everyone who works here from the top down,” says Mitchell, who spends upwards of 70 hours each week at the restaurant.

What he doesn’t want is for Stella Bleu “to be pigeon-holed as the celebratory place,” visited only for birthdays or anniversaries. Lunch crowds, he notes, have fallen as more people work from home.

He is happy to be part of Downtown’s revitalization but hopes it will go even further, making Downtown a destination with a variety of entertainment and businesses. With more visitors exploring what's offered, even more will see the care that is put into Stella Bleu.

“We put as much love, heart and soul into the food as we possibly can,” he says.  

Read more articles by Diane Erwin.