Dots Back Inn
Bigger Car, Bigger Engine
by Charles McGuigan
Dot’s Back Inn is going to bring the outdoors in. Possibly as early as mid-April.
Yet another improvement along MacArthur Avenue, outdoor dining at Dot’s Back Inn on the wide concrete slab in front of the restaurant will handle the ever-burgeoning crowds who, whether they live in the neighborhood or not, have come to make this dining destination their neighborhood cantina.
Owner Jimmy Tsamouras is the consummate restaurateur, Falstafian in his conviviality. He sits across a booth from me and beings explaining what Dot’s patio will be like.
“What you have to think about is a wooden deck out front that’s going to be about eight inches short of the sidewalk,” he says. “And then put a roof on top of that with the sides almost completely open. It will give us an additional twenty seats and allow people to dine outdoors.”
When the weather gets too cold, clear vinyl shades will be lowered and heaters fired up, so it will be in use even during the most inclement weather.
City Council held a public hearing for Jimmy’s request back in February and subsequently approved it. A trolley load of about thirty people rode down to City Hall the evening of the public hearing and every one of them spoke in favor of the proposed outdoor café. “I just really would like to thank the neighborhood for supporting us,” says Jimmy. “No one was down there who opposed it.”
Jimmy’s been working on this plan for quite some time and it will ultimately do more than simply expand Dot’s dining capacity.
“You know this is something a lot of people have asked about and it’s a project that I’ve been working on for close to four years—outdoor dining,” he says. “It’s about fixing up MacArthur Avenue and making the whole strip look nicer. We have this huge concrete slab in front of our restaurant so why not utilize it.”
From the get go the neighborhood rallied round the idea. And that support encouraged Jimmy to pursue this dream even when the road got rough.
“I really put my head down and I just started driving and was just trying to make it happen,” Jimmy remembers. “At a point I had kind of given up on it and it was the neighborhood and our customers who really kept me going and pushing me to get it done. The neighbors wanted to get it done and so I felt once I had started this trip that we had to go all the way.”
Not long after Jimmy purchased the restaurant from Cookie Gianini (who still works there two days a week), Dot’s Back Inn was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. “That let the world know about us,” says Jimmy. “Dot’s has become more of a Richmond name rather than just a North Side name. Dot’s Back Inn is a little treasure hidden in the middle of a great neighborhood and the people here cherish it. They love to have their own little unique places that they can go to. And Dot’s Back Inn is one of those neighborhood places.”
Within throwing distance of the front door here, there are seven other food venues to choose from—the Mill on MacArthur, Tastebuds American Bistro, Zorba’s, Northside Grille and others. “Before these places opened up there wasn’t a whole lot out here,” says Jimmy.
Despite the rocky economy of the past eight years or so, Dot’s Back Inn has held its own and seen a steady increase in traffic.
“We’ve been very, very fortunate these past few years,” Jimmy says. “I really feel to have a successful restaurant you have to give something to someone. Something they want at a good price. People want a value. We keep our prices inexpensive because we want you to come back. We have a six dollar burger and a seven dollar burger. Most burgers anywhere else are eight to twelve dollars. We want to keep you coming back. We like to see your smart shining faces. At any given time you know half the people in here.”
Which is true. One of the reasons people keep coming back, aside from the prices, is the consistency and quality of the food and a staff—from the back of the house to the front of the house—that is universally hospitable.
When Jimmy took over the restaurant he made very few menu changes—why fix something if it’s not broken? Along with tweaking the menu he increased the turn around on every order, made the kitchen a more efficient machine.
To accommodate the expected growth that will come with the addition of outdoor dining, Jimmy is also planning to enclose a large section in the rear of the restaurant, bordering the alley.
“Well basically right now the building of Dot’s Back Inn stops and we have outdoor storage and walk-ins outside the restaurant,” says Jimmy. “What we’d like to do is cover them up. It will give us more of a prep area too. We’re going to be expanding the rear of the building.“
Jimmy looks around the restaurant, which is steadily filling with the lunch crowd: There’s only one booth left and two stools at the bar.
“What we’re doing,” he says “Is we’re making the car bigger by adding the patio. And the kitchen is our engine so we can only make the car so big for the engine to handle. When we close in the back that will give us more power for the engine so we’ll be able to accommodate the extra seats.”
Jimmy possesses a wealth of restaurant knowledge that came from years of education and lifelong experience.
“My family used to own the College Deli in Williamsburg,” he says. “I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Hyde Park/Poughkeepsie in 1992. I lived in Hawaii. I lived in Scottsdale Arizona, New York, came back to Virginia, worked at CCV for about two years and then moved down to Hilton Head, South Carolina. Then back to Richmond.”
His brother, who now owns the College Deli as well as the Yorktown Pub, is Jimmy’s business partner. “We just bought Southwind Café in Matthews County in December,” Jimmy says. “My brother and I work together as a team. I design the menus and help create the kitchens. When you take over an existing restaurant, you just improve on things, speed things up and add your own personal touches.”
Jimmy believes in taking care of everyone, from his employees to each customer. “You take care of your employees, your employees in return will take care of you,” he says. “And that’s the way I also feel about business in general. You take care of your customers, they’re going to come back and take care of you.”
And if customers are not completely satisfied, Jimmy listens carefully to all complaints. “I’m not going to say we’re perfect,” he says. “We’ll make mistakes. And when we make mistakes we like to apologize and correct them as soon as we can.”
That may be the wisest advice for any business owner, and it’s certainly made Dot’s Back Inn one of Richmond’s most successful restaurants.
Dot’s Back Inn
4030 MacArthur Avenue