"Our portions are large and you get free refills on coffee, no matter how long you stay," says Katz, who bought his first diner (6633 Airline Dr., 734-0301) near Zephyr Field six years ago. A year later he added a Dot's Diner in River Ridge (10701 Jefferson Hwy., 738-9678), followed by a third (2317 Jefferson Hwy., 831-3681) near Ochsner in 1998 and a fourth (4150 Jefferson Hwy., 833-9349) near the Elmwood industrial park two years later. The Elmwood restaurant is the only one that doesn't operate around the clock; it's open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
"We stay busy," Katz says. "Everything we cook is made with fresh ingredients and is made-to-order. The whole menu is available at all hours -- we don't have a late-night menu -- which is unusual. You'll see people early in the day having dinner kinds of food and at night eating breakfast."
The menu is very accommodating to all tastes. One of the most requested dishes is The Big Dot Breakfast, which includes two each of eggs, bacon slices, sausage patties and regular-sized pancakes, plus hash browns, grits and toast, all for $5.99. The Country Breakfast fills a small pizza-sized plate with two eggs, hash browns, two sausage patties, and sausage-gravy and biscuits. The Dotwich offers a scrambled egg, cheese and sausage patty sandwiched between grilled buttermilk biscuit halves.
The menu's not all about breakfast, however. Another big seller, the Big Dot Burger, sates the hungry with two beef patties layered with onions, cheese, pickles, lettuce and tomatoes on a grilled, sesame-seed bun. Each Dot's Diner also offers daily specials that vary from location to location because they're tailored to the taste preferences of each restaurant's neighborhood. Recent daily specials at the River Ridge diner included white beans and rice with a pork chop and vegetable, and crab-stuffed chicken with macaroni and cheese and veggies. All menu items are available for take-out.
"It's all good," says Katz, who admitted an affinity for the eatery's omelets. "We started with only six items on the menu (which now includes dozens of choices) and we're still coming up with new things. Anything you can do with eggs, meat and cheese, we'll try." A few of the omelet variations include the new Greek version with feta cheese, black olives and onion; the Irish omelet with potatoes, onions, sausage and American cheese; and another that features crawfish, mushrooms, Swiss cheese and a spicy sauce.
Customers at all four Dot's Diners come for the food, but many return often because of the value -- and the atmosphere. "Dot's Diner is like Cheers: everybody knows your name," Katz says. "It's a comfortable place to be. It's like a bar without the alcohol."
Katz, who worked in the clothing business for 20 years before buying his first diner, says he frequented diner-type restaurants and bars that cultivated regulars while he was growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, and working in Allentown, Pa., and then New Orleans, where he was a regular diner at Camellia Grill. "I took my experiences at all those places and put them together at Dot's."
The family-like camaraderie among patrons and staff was an important element of Katz's establishments and one he says customers also seek out. "It's a comfortable place for them to eat, drink coffee, read the paper and visit with each other," he says. "You don't have to feel like a regular to be comfortable, though. We try to make people here for the first time comfortable." To do that the wait staff tries to read their moods and make sure they give them just the right amount of service -- attentive but not overbearing -- to fit their preferences. "Customers honor us by coming to our restaurant," Katz says. "We try to recognize everybody's individual traits and what they like and serve them that way."
Customer service also is not dependent on the amount of the final charges. "We welcome big-ticket customers, of course, and small-ticket people, those who just want to sit here for a while; we welcome that, too."
In the end, Katz says, customers return because they get a tasty meal at a reasonable price, in a timely manner in a relaxed setting. "We're not a fast-food place," he says. "We like to give good food quick. That's my goal. We're not the fastest, but we're right up there. And I'll put what we serve against the national chains and others in the city. We hold our own and for less money."
- An oversized clock with an arrow pointing to a tempting cup of coffee at the newly renovated Dot's Diner on Jefferson Highway in River Ridge illustrates owner Larry Katz's philosophy that 'It's always the perfect time for Dot's.'