Dot's Place owner drew loyal following with home-cooked meals
Dorothy Hewitt, 1939-2010
For three decades, people flocked to the meatloaf and chicken and dumplings cooked up from memorized recipes at Dorothy "Dot" Hewitt's restaurant Dot's Place.
On Saturday, the woman responsible for those countless full stomachs died after a battle with leukemia, her daughter Jerrie Burns said. Hewitt was 71.
The home-style cooking and warm greetings at Dot's Place, which closed in February, earned Hewitt a loyal following through the years from an eclectic crowd of patrons.
"The food, it just made them think about being back at home with their own mom and their mom cooking home-cooked food," Burns said.
Hewitt, born Dorothy Nell Washington, who never used written recipes even when teaching others to cook, grew up in Webberville, east of Austin, with seven siblings. Her parents, Clarence and Rosie Washington, owned a restaurant in Garfield called Catfish Hill.
She married James Hewitt when she was 16 and moved to Houston to raise Jerrie and her older brother, James Jr. While there, Hewitt learned to cook mostly by following instructions over the phone from her mother.
She moved to Austin in 1972 with a dream of owning her own restaurant after perfecting her dishes through years of cooking for family and friends, Burns said.
In 1980, at age 41, she and James, who died of cancer in 1995, opened Dot's Place in an old barbecue joint on Orchid Lane in North Austin.
She'd refer to her regulars as "baby" and "sweetie" before they sat down at big tables, elbow to elbow with strangers.
"Her biggest payday was not the cash register at the end of the week, but rather the smiles and the thanks she received from all the thousands of people who came her way," the Rev. Leland G. Dandridge, a frequent Dot's Place patron, said Monday.
In 2004, an electrical fire that started in the kitchen burned down the restaurant. With no insurance, Hewitt held fundraisers to rebuild.
She opened a 20-by-12-foot trailer in front of her former restaurant in February 2005.
The next year, Hewitt reopened at a new location in Pflugerville, and her fans followed her there.
But after a few years, Hewitt decided to shutter the restaurant as her health waned.
When asked by a reporter in February why she was closing, her answer was short: "Sweetie, I'm 70 years old, almost 71."
On the day Dot's place closed, Round Rock landscaper Ron Lucas, a regular, ate a plate of beef tips, potatoes and green beans before getting an order of catfish to go for his mother.
"They sell food here you can't get anywhere else," Lucas told the American-Statesman. "You taste it before you walk in the door. This reminds you of when you were a child and got a home-cooked meal, all emotional and warm and toasty. I've probably had 100 meals here and never been disappointed."
Others at the restaurant took pictures of their final plates, and some took Hewitt flowers and begged that the restaurant remain open.
Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Monday at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 2938 E. 13th St., with burial to follow at Evergreen Cemetery, 3304 E. 12th St., Burns said.