27 September 2016
Dogwood serves community for 16 years
The Dogwood Restaurant is continuing its long tradition of helping members of the community.
This summer after attacks on police officers across the country, Mike Hartling, co-owner with Dana Strang, decided to provide lunch and dinner for police officers. Close to 30 deputies and state troopers took advantage of the offer, he said.
The Dogwood also supports several Fluvanna organizations, Hartling said, such as the new Fluvanna High School fishing team and local swim teams. The restaurant provides discounted breakfast buffets for veterans the last Saturday of each month and gives 20 percent of sales the second Monday each month to such nonprofits as Caring for Creatures, Peaceful Passings and the Fluvanna SPCA.
The Dogwood is also an avid financial supporter of Fluvanna High School athletics, said Strang, and provided lunches to teachers at Carysbrook Elementary for teacher appreciation.
On Oct. 15 the Dogwood will hold its annual “Battle of the Bands.” Up to five different bands will play throughout the day. Proceeds will benefit the Fluvanna food bank.
According to a 2007 article in Bloomberg Businessweek three out of five restaurants close in the first five years. But Hartling said one way the Dogwood has avoided being one of those statistics is by remembering who’s in charge.
“Part of the success is recognizing who the boss is – and it’s not me; it’s the customers,” he said. “Focus on that and everything else falls into place.”
Hartling and Strang are from Charlottesville and both have years of experience working in the Ruby Tuesday chain. Neither liked the impersonal corporate structure. When they decided to open their own eatery, they were determined it to be a part of the community in which they lived. Both moved to Lake Monticello in 1998.
They employ 32 locals. Hartling said the average length of stay for an employee is five years, though Strang added that some employees have been with the Dogwood for almost as long as the restaurant has been in business.
When it comes to the menu, Hartling said it changes about every two years and is based largely on what customers want.
“We have up to five specials for both lunch and dinner every day,” Hartling said. “Often that’s where we’ll introduce new things. When people really like something, we’ll add it to the [regular] menu. Customers dictate the menu.”
That’s how Hartling decided to add a new tap system to deliver 12 draft beers. It’s becoming more popular for people to want specialty beers, and to sample different kinds, rather than drink four or five servings of their favorite.
“We realize the focus is not so much on the amount but the quality of the beer,” Hartling said.
Employee Julie Freda said she likes the new tap system. “We used to have big kegs sitting here,” she said. “There is so much more room [for us to operate] now.”
Hartling said the Dogwood has become a part of the Fluvanna community.
“It’s not just food, it’s family – a family of people who work together,” said Hartling. “We take care of each other. We take care of the community. The community takes care of us. It’s like coming into our house. We know people on a first name basis. It’s what we love about the business.”