Pioneer Crossing de-neons for down-home dining |

Pioneer Crossing de-neons for down-home dining

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Mike Benjamin paints a picture of what the Pioneer Crossing used to look like before he and his partners took over the casino last September and remodeled it.

“Purples, neons, lavenders, dolphins, under-sea scenes, rapper, disco things painted on the wall,” Benjamin said.

Today, the casino features a rustic theme, using local barn wood and recycled tin roofs for interior decor. It’s a motif that the new owners, which include Richard Wenschlag and Mike Melarkey, include in the casino’s cafe and steakhouse, The Branding Iron.

Before the $500,000 makeover of the Dayton casino, which was completed in about a month and a half late last year, Benjamin said the cafe was a cafeteria-styled eatery that was lacking personality.

Now, the restaurant has been split into a 56-seat cafe and a 34-seat steakhouse, which features a fireplace, rustic decor and landscape portraits of Northern Nevada taken by Reno photographer Vance Fox.

The idea is to give locals a “Vegas-style” meal, “but not so doggone fancy so people feel uncomfortable,” Benjamin said.

The menu features 22 wines and a variety of steak cuts and seafood meals, such as lobster Rockefeller and clam fritters. Entrees are priced in the mid-$20s.

As for the cafe, lunch specials cost $6.99 and up to $15 for dinner specials on the weekend.

“We are progressively growing, our defining moment was Valentine’s Day,” said Thom Van Ardoy, the manager of food and beverage at the casino. “We’re trying to give somebody an affordable fine dining experience.”

Benjamin said the casino has tried finding ways to cut costs, such as taking advantage of energy credits for installing efficient light bulbs and saving $4,000 per month. But the most important factor for any business, he said, is customer service.

“There’s boxes like this all over Nevada and machines just like ours all over Nevada,” he said. “The only thing that makes the difference are the people.”