Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in 2010, and has since been brought back in light of Dottie Tomlinson’s death.
It’s not just the banana splits, or the cheese steaks, or the fries, or the soft ice cream, that draws folks here.
There’s something else going on at Dottie’s, a compact walk-up snack bar that sits along Route 222 after it becomes West Fourth Street, on the outskirts of Quarryville.
It is Carol and Daryl, the sisters with the rhyming names who run the place, and took it over from their parents. Carol Martin is the chattier one who works the grill; Daryl Funk is the quieter one who keeps the taxes and the teenage employees shipshape. Both serve food, wash dishes and do whatever it takes to keep the orders coming out of the windows from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week in the summertime.
It is Dottie Tomlinson herself, now 78, who still shows up every day around 6 a.m. to help prep the subs for the snack bar she opened and that still bears her name. This lady with the gentle smile has been behind a snack bar counter of one sort or another since she was a young woman. It just feels natural, that’s all.
It is Dottie’s husband, Bill, also known as “Mr. Dottie” around these parts, who, at 82, still fries up the steak and onions every morning, setting the mechanics’ mouths to watering at the neighboring garage. And he still cleans the ice cream machines. (Once, when he was on a fishing trip to Canada, his daughters did the cleaning and wound up with an extra hose and a screw after they had put the machines back together, a dilemma their dad had to talk them through over the phone.)
It is the Little League teams that come for ice cream, the borough maintenance guys who know the exact day Dottie’s opens every season, and the guy who comes for his daily sub (extra mayo, lettuce and cheese, but hold the rest of the extra stuff, please).
It is Judy, who used to live across the street, who is married to Leonard, who lives in Hawaii, who brings a cooler for two cheese steaks, which they lug back onto the airplane to the Aloha State after their visits back home.
If you live somewhere else, you might have a summer snack bar in your own town, the opening of which signals warm weather, cool drinks and grilled food around outside picnic tables.
Here, in the southern end, for the past 42 years, that place has been Dottie’s.
Here, you might honk and wave when you see the two sisters doing their cleaning in early March, a sure sign warm weather is on its way.
You might start dreaming of the day you can walk up to the counter in your sneakers still sprouting grass clippings from your mowing, or in no shoes at all, and order a root beer float. Nobody cares how you dress at Dottie’s.
You might sidle up beside the sisters if you see them out in public, and inhale deeply.
They will say, “Oh, I stink!” but that perfume of steak and onions that the two wear from March to October? It’s purely Dottie’s, and if they could bottle it, they could call it “Eau de Dottie’s” and probably sell it at Fergie’s, the local grocery store.
In this day and age when people communicate via text messages, when you can buy stamped-out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that come frozen in a cardboard box, and when nobody seems to know anybody anymore, Dottie’s is the constant, a place that cooks its food to order, has no microwave or computer, and still used a telephone with a cord up until a few years ago, much to their customers’ amusement.
Over the years, Dottie’s has added newfangled items such as chicken cheese steaks and mozzarella sticks to its menu. But mostly, it has stuck with the tried-and-true.
Bob Frick, the Lampeter-Strasburg School District superintendent, grew up in Quarryville, graduated from Solanco High School and has been going to Dottie’s ever since it opened. He now takes his administrative staff there for lunch during an annual retreat.
“I think in a world where change comes as fast as it does, there’s a certain comfort in what you know,” he said. “I think that’s part of the character that happens there.”
Frick recently stopped at Dottie’s after playing golf.
“We had to stop,” said Frick, 65. “A couple of guys wanted cheese steaks. I got a milkshake.
“It’s a hard place to drive by.”
Dottie’s opened back in 1968, the same year Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Richard Nixon was elected, gas was 34 cents a gallon and “Hey Jude” was a hit on the radio.
Mrs. Tomlinson had worked at a snack bar at Joe Bowman’s grocery store, which used to be where the Turkey Hill convenience store now sits in Quarryville.
When Bowman’s closed, she and her husband bought the vacant snack bar up the street and turned it into Dottie’s.
It’s a walk-up snack bar, with service through windows that push open. Inside there is room for the ice cream machines, a small prep and cleanup area, a 6-foot grill and coolers, but not much else. Though the equipment is modern, the stuccoed exterior has a retro feel. Around back, “Dottie’s 1968” has been etched into the plaster by the rear door.
The couple, who have five daughters, toiled hard at the business. Tomlinson worked at the former Hamilton Technology for many years. He would stop at Dottie’s, clean the ice cream machines and go to work, while his wife worked at the stand. He would come home, shower, and then go back into Dottie’s to give his wife a break in the evenings.
All five of their daughters worked at the snack bar while growing up. Their eight kids did, too.
“It was a way of life,” Martin said. “We’re just like the farmers. They get up and milk the cows. We get up and feed the people.”
It was Martin, 57, who did hair for a time, and Funk, 59. who worked at another restaurant, who came back and eventually took over the business, though the Tomlinsons are still active in it.
The business donates to local events, such as the post-prom at Solanco High School. Dottie’s also sponsored a fast-pitch softball team for a number of years.
Weekends are busiest at the stand, when it cooks about 300 subs and cheese steaks and serves 300 ice cream cones, many to regular customers.
One, nicknamed “the cheeseburger man” by Dottie’s employees, simply holds up one or two fingers, signifying the number of cheeseburgers he wants on that particular day.
Patty Weitzel, 53, of Wakefield, began going to Dottie’s when she was a kid and still comes about once a week.
“You bump into people you haven’t seen in years, people you went to school with,” she said. “It’s always been here. I don’t remember a time when Dottie’s wasn’t here.”
Dave Brackin has been coming to Dottie’s almost every weekday for lunch for about 15 years. The warehouse manager at Fergie’s supermarket walks down the hill from the store at lunchtime for a sub.
“You go up and they know you by name,” said the 46-year-old from Quarryville.
He misses the spot when it closes over the winter, but added, deadpan, “They probably miss me, too. “
Well, as a matter of fact, they do.
Over the winter, the family members take vacations. They enjoy the holidays.
But come about February, they are getting restless and bored.
“I’m always ready to close, but I’m always ready to come back to work,” Mrs. Tomlinson said.
The sisters are talking about retiring, but that’s about as far as it goes. Nobody in the family is waiting in the wings to take it over at this point, and they aren’t ready to let it go.
A former local resident who now lives in South Carolina recently stopped at Dottie’s while home on a visit with family members.
“It was pretty neat,” Martin said. “He said, ‘If anything happens to Dottie’s, we have to make this spot a shrine.’ “
“It’s such a tradition in the southern end.”