Culinary Ladies of the Eighties: Dot Hewitt
Comfort food queen fed thousands every week
By Virginia B. Wood,
2:00PM, Fri. Sep. 19, 2014
By the time readers finally turned me on to the soul-satisfying home-style cooking at Dot's Place in the late Nineties, proprietor Dorothy Nell "Dot" Hewitt had already been in business nearly 20 years. Her place was well off the beaten path and far from any limelight, but it was a definite Austin success story nonetheless.
At the age of 41, Dot Hewitt had already raised one set of kids and had a career as a vocational nurse before she ever went into the food business. Neither she nor her husband James had any commercial cooking experience when they opened Dot's Place on a quiet country road north of Austin in 1980. What they did have was her lifelong dream of owning a restaurant and their shared confidence in her cooking. Hard work and good word of mouth made their endeavor successful. As their business grew, the country home they converted into a no frills, cafeteria-style eatery had to be expanded several times.
Eating at Dot's was a weekly ritual for the carpenters, plumbers, and electricians who were building the rapidly expanding Austin metro area. They would eventually be joined by high tech workers from the suburban outposts as well as Southern food lovers from all over the area. Though it never made national news, the weekday lunch line at Dot's was a legendary path to comfort food nirvana when Aaron Franklin was still just a boy
Dot's offered a robust meat and two meal at amazingly low prices, making it possible to add cold salads, ethereal yeast rolls, hearty cornbread, luscious slices of pie, and tea or coffee while still only spending about $10. Hearty meat loaf, tender beef tips over rice, cheesy Tex-Mex enchiladas, smothered pork chops, chicken fried steak, roast beef, chicken 'n' dumplings, and fried catfish were all consistently well-prepared and served in generous portions.
Mrs. Hewitt did the cooking herself and took pride in keeping prices affordable for her predominantly working class clientele by searching out bargains when she did her purchasing. Long before farm-to-table cooking became trendy, she served whole catfish from her family's catfish farm in rural Garfield. It was a glorious thing to behold in it's delicate cornmeal crust, and made the long drive to the restaurant always worth it.
Mrs. Hewitt saw her share of adversity during a 30-year career. She lost James to lung cancer not long before she took over the stewardship of two of her grandchildren. She never missed a beat, keeping the restaurant going while becoming “Grandmother of the Year” at the kid's elementary school. After the original Dot's Place burned to the ground on October of 2004, she set up shop in a trailer next to the restaurant's bare slab and served a limited menu to her loyal clientele while she planned her next move.
In September of 2006, she completed renovations on a former pizza parlor in Pflugerville and opened the second version of Dot's Place to the great rejoicing of her devoted fans. She ran that restaurant until health issues forced her retirement in 2010 and she died in November of that year at the age of 71. Dot Hewitt's life is a fine example for women who aspire to success in the restaurant business. She took pride in cooking the food she loved and sharing it with others, raised two sets of kids, and was a pillar in her church and school communities. We should all be so lucky.