January 18, 2013

Little Dipper closing after 10-year run

Rachel Brown
rachelbrown@daltoncitizen.com

— For years, Tuesdays have been special for long-time friends Lois Hamilton and Arlene Varner, and they always involved at least one very important element — chocolate cobbler at the Little Dipper on Hamilton Street in downtown Dalton.

Varner would go to her women’s group at Dalton United Methodist Church, cut out just before lunch and go pick up Hamilton at the Royal Oaks retirement community. Then the two would head for lunch at the Little Dipper where they had a table waiting for them in the back.

“Tuesday was our day at the Little Dipper, and chocolate cobbler was the main course,” Varner said. “We would have our sandwich, our soup (or) whatever, but to us chocolate cobbler was the main course.”

This past Tuesday was bittersweet for the two as it marked the final hurrah for their weekly tradition. The family-owned restaurant known for its soups, sandwiches and desserts is closing its doors for the last time today.

Steve Powell, who owns and runs the restaurant along with in-laws Larry and Evelyn DeFoor as well as long-time employee Allison Forrester and other help, said another restaurant by another owner will take its place soon — he didn’t want to announce details — but for now, he’s taking some time off to re-evaluate what he wants to do while the DeFoors enjoy some retirement time.

The restaurant opened about 10 years ago. Asked about the decision to close, Powell said it was just time to move on. The Little Dipper has been his only restaurant, but he’s had several different kinds of jobs over the years, including owning a landscape company and working in warehousing and manufacturing.

“It’s not the end of the story,” Powell said. “It’s just a chapter, and God is continuing to write that for our lives.”

The lunch crowd on Thursday, the day before the final closure, was busier than usual as some customers came to eat one last sandwich or have one more dessert.

There’s no special meaning behind the name “Little Dipper,” Powell said, but the restaurant did at one time serve ice cream by the scoop. Powell said the family tried to honor the fact the little cafe was in the historic district by hanging old newspaper fronts and pictures of older buildings for customers to view over lunch.

Customers talk about the friendly service, how employees went out of their way to show special attention to everyone, and how good the food has been.

“They made friendly service a priority,” said Diane Neuls, who has been eating at the Little Dipper for years. “Customers found it a place where they were warmly greeted and treated like family.”

Powell said he has many people to thank for their support over the years in addition to his customers. There are landlords Charles and Randall Merritt who he said have been “very supportive,” the Carpet Capital Rotary Club which frequented the restaurant for several years, Dalton and Whitfield County government officials who provided services, and the “church families” of Powell and the DeFoors at Fellowship Baptist Church in Rocky Face and Tunnel Hill Methodist Church.

Powell said he’s enjoyed his customers over the years, seeing the young ones try their first ice cream, watching the older ones celebrate birthdays, and interacting with everybody in between.

Hamilton said she’ll try the new restaurant when it opens, but she’ll miss the Little Dipper and its friendly employees.

“It was a place where we could sit and relax and visit and enjoy the food,” she said. “I like the people that own the place. I like the quality of the food, and it just got to be a regular habit.”