Dotty Manns has tried to leave the restaurant business before. Just like the countless omelettes and pancakes she's served loyal customers for 15 years, it didn't stick.
This time it's for good, she said.
"I wish I could stay forever," Manns said Friday, as she prepared one last food order to stock up for a final weekend at Dotty's Cafe.
"My mind tells me I could just stay forever, but my body says, 'I guess you better not.'"
Manns, now 74, does nearly everything at the Hartsburg fixture just off the Katy Trail that's beloved by locals as well as bicyclists from all over who stop by for breakfast or lunch.
"This is no easy feat to make a restaurant successful in a little town. You've got to just give it your whole self, so I did," Manns said. "And I love it. And I wouldn't go now except that I'm old."
After a final shift from 7 a.m.-noon today, she'll close the diner-style eatery on Hartsburg's Main Street with its classic red barstools and wall of Elvis Presley memorabilia for the last time.
She's sold the business to a couple who plan to open a new restaurant there later this fall.
Manns entered the food industry in the 1980s, managing a Denny's and a hotel restaurant in Columbia.
"Then I just wanted my own restaurant," she said.
She and her husband, Jerry Manns, opened their first restaurant in 1995 just around the corner from the current Dotty's Cafe.
"We were so swamped. After the first night I said, 'I don't want a restaurant anymore.' My husband said, 'Well, it's a little late.'"
They kept at it until 1999, when they accepted an offer to sell the inaugural cafe.
They returned in 2004 to lease the same building, later deciding to buy the current lot on Main Street. Except for a short break toward the end of 2014, they've been there for 14 and a half years straight.
"That was a hard 15 years, I'll tell you," she laughed Friday.
It was a good 15 years, too.
Manns remembers in great detail who lived in the houses surrounding Dotty's Cafe and who helped her set up shop. She can name the high school students who have worked at the restaurant over the years, who now have children of their own. She's well aware of which locals she can expect to see on certain days.
"Some of them I already have their food made before they even hardly get sat down if I'm not busy because I know what they're going to have," she said.
Even with a boost in traffic from Katy Trail bicyclists passing through, Dotty's has never lost its small-town feel. When older regulars don't show up, she calls to make sure they're OK. If they can't drive in during the winter, the Manns family or another customer will pick them up.
Manns isn't from Hartsburg — although her husband grew up in Ashland — but she's as close to a native as she can be and finally bought a home there in 2016, two streets from the cafe.
"I didn't want to be in a big town when I did the restaurant because I'd been in a big town," she said. " It turned out to be a big restaurant."
Admittedly reluctant to retire, she's looking forward to spending time with her 8-month-old great-granddaughter and working on the new house she's barely had time for.
"I've worked so long; I don't even know what I'll do," she laughed.
She also plans to frequent the new restaurant that will replace Dotty's Cafe.
"It will be nice to have a place to go eat where I won't have to cook."
For this weekend, she's focused on seeing one last round of beloved customers and friends, many of whom have made a point to stop by.
"We came back in with a bang, and we're going back out with a bang," Manns said. " A lot of people didn't think a restaurant could make it down here. But if you work hard and stay with it, that's the key. Look at me."
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