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At Dot's Place, the end of the (long) line

After 30 years of homestyle cooking, 70-year-old will stop dishing it up Friday.

Patrick Beach

Dorothy "Dot" Hewitt went to her restaurant here around 6 Wednesday morning, as usual, and by 10, most of the home-cookin' meats and sides were ready on the serving line, the steam fogging the front door glass. And Hewitt herself was literally up to her elbows in flour, punching out dozens of rounds of dough for her famous yeast rolls.

And by noon Wednesday, if you decided your life wouldn't be complete without a chicken-fried steak from Dot's Place, your life wouldn't be complete for about 50 minutes. That's how long the wait was, from the end of the line outside to Isela Fanely at the cash register, who stood near a bucket catching snow melt through the dropped ceiling.

Waits are a part of the Dot's experience, but this week they've been longer than usual because after lunch Friday, Hewitt — 70 years old and ailing — is retiring, closing Dot's for good.

After that, area cardiologists might be relieved, and some folks' pants might fit a little looser, but for fans of Hewitt's catfish and enchiladas, her buttered potatoes and okra, those dishes and more will become things they can only remember, places they can't visit anymore.

And so this week they're coming to eat and remember. They're taking pictures of their beef tips with their camera phones, bringing Miss Dot flowers, begging her and her niece, Chastity Washington, not to close up.

On Wednesday they were black, white and other, white-collar, blue-collar and currently-in-search-of-a-collar. And if you asked any of them if they were enjoying their lunch, the answer was something along the lines of, "I guess you've never eaten here, have you?"

Hewitt feels the love and reciprocates in her labor, but she's got to move on. The short list of what's ailing her includes emphysema (though she never smoked), a bad back and another knee that needs replacing.

An even shorter one is this: "Sweetie, I'm 70 years old, almost 71."

In business since 1980 except for a fire that chased her out of her old place in 2004, Hewitt has continually cooked with only recipes in her head and watched as fans followed her from one location to another.

One such loyalist was Round Rock landscaper Ron Lucas, who had a plate of beef tips, potatoes and green beans before getting an order of catfish for his mother to go.

"They sell food here you can't get anywhere else," Lucas said. "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."

Ken Rather of Directed Manufacturing Inc. was the one who took a snapshot of his lunch. He patted his stomach and said he carried 10 extra pounds thanks to Hewitt's cooking.

"She always hooks me up with a little something extra," said Rather, a loyalist since about 1994. "I got the beef tips, but I got it with meatloaf gravy, so I got a good hunk of meatloaf right here, too."

Rather's friend Alex Fima won the eyes-larger-than-stomach contest, ordering both chicken-fried steak and enchiladas. His defense: "I'm just sampling here, guys."

The flowers came from Dorothy Simpson, who drove from Manor with her husband, David.

"We wanted to enjoy it one more time," Simpson said. "It's just good food."

Her husband gently disagreed.

"It ain't the food," David Simpson said. "It's the lady that made it."

pbeach@statesman.com; 445-3603