Article By: Samantha Cronk
Photos By: Josh Triggs
With a staff that treats you like family and a relaxing atmosphere, you might forget that the food on your plate didn’t come from your grandma’s kitchen when you are at Mrs. Dott’s Family Buffet.
With a seemingly endless buffet of soul food to choose from, owner Mary Renfro said it’s always a compliment when guests walk out full and happy. Renfro, who said she grew up on soul food, decided to share her love of food and its ability to bring people together as a family and community by opening a restaurant downtown.
“We love for people to enjoy food. Everybody enjoys eating, and we wanted to give that home-cooked meal that just makes you feel good. It’s not fast food. We want to have people enjoy themselves in a nice, comfortable atmosphere, as if they were eating at grandma’s house,” she said.
If you think the food on your plate tastes just like grandma’s, that’s because your’re right. The restaurant uses family recipes for all of its food, passed down from Renfro’s own great grandmother – the real Mrs. Dott.
The restaurant was named in her honor and carries on Mrs. Dott’s passion for feeding her family by using her recipes to feed the community. While the restaurant makes a wide variety of food, the crowd favorite is baked macaroni and cheese, said cook Natasha Williams.
“People come from out of state just for the baked macaroni and cheese,” she said.
If the baked macaroni and cheese wasn’t enough to bring you to the restaurant, other crowd favorites include the fried chicken, collard greens, mashed potatoes, corn pudding, ribs, fried and smothered pork chops, to just tip the scale of what the restaurant offers, such as salad and dessert bars.
Although Williams has always loved to cook, she said she did not discover it was her passion until she began working at the restaurant.
“It puts a smile on my face. It makes me feel complete and gives me comfort that everyone is enjoying what I’m cooking. As a cook, when we get a crowd, I’ll come out to each group and ask them their likes and dislikes or if they don’t see something on the buffet we ask them to give us suggestions on what we can make in the future,” she said.
After deciding to share her family’s soul food recipes, Renfro said it was an easy decision to make the restaurant a buffet as the best way to ensure patrons could sample all the kitchen had to offer. For those on the go, however, the restaurant does offer to-go services so no one needs to miss out on grandma’s cooking.
The journey from deciding to open a restaurant downtown to opening the doors was a long one. Renfro said it took seven years for Mrs. Dott’s Family Buffet to become a reality, but that the journey was worth it after seeing how well the community has embraced the restaurant and enjoyed the food.
In addition to going through the licensing process and getting the right permits, Renfro and her team had the added hard task of renovating two buildings that had been vacant for several years. Rather than occupy one building, Renfro chose to purchase space in the neighboring building so the restaurant would have the ability to seat more people, hold private functions and host special events.
“I knew we would need the extension, because the one building by itself would not have been enough. Now, we can seat about 100 people. Also, we had plans to eventually host special events like jazz night or offer space for a banquet hall, so it was just the right opportunity,” she said. “I was told this (building) was a bar many, many years ago, but it was vacant for a long time before we moved in.”
“Opening a restaurant was just something we always wanted to do for a while, but the opportunity was never right. But, when we saw this spot, we knew that we wanted to do it,” Renfro said.
Since Mrs. Dott’s Family Buffet opened its doors in downtown Martinsburg more than two months ago, community reception has been positive, Renfro said. In choosing Martinsburg as the location for the restaurant, Renfro said the decision just felt right, especially since she owns two other businesses in the county and has family nearby, and that Martinsburg feels like home to her.
With the restaurant gaining a following through its delicious food and worth-of-mouth support, Renfro is looking toward its future. Eventually, she would like the restaurant will offer catering services as well as serve as a banquet hall for private events. Renfro would also like to begin hosting weekly events like a music night.
Mrs. Dott’s Family Buffet is located at 416 W. King Street in Martinsburg and can be reached at 304-260-8193. The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The restaurant can also be found on Facebook and is currently developing a website.