SUTHERLIN — Seventeen winters ago, Dave Pedotti of the Umpqua Flatheads Car Club walked into a small Italian restaurant looking for a donation for club activities. He ended up with a midlife career change.
After asking for a club contribution, “the next thing that came out of my mouth was, ‘This is a cute little restaurant. Are you interested in selling?’” Pedotti recalled.
Dory and Bob Schirmer reportedly didn’t have to think too long before replying “yes.” In July 1997, Dave and his wife, Renie, took over Dory’s Ristorante Italiano. The couple kept the name for a year before switching it to Pedotti’s Family Restaurant.
The Pedottis soon became familiar with the old saying about how owning a business means choosing your own hours — pick any 23 you want every day.
Contrary to what might be expected of a new restaurateur, “I lost a lot of weight that first year,” Dave Pedotti said.
Still, for a man who had been looking for a change, owning a restaurant filled the bill.
Renie and Dave Pedotti moved to Douglas County from a small town in Sonoma County, Calif., in 1995, from a ranch that had been leased by his family for 69 years. With them were their two sons and family patriarch Alex Pedotti, then in his 90s. Dave Pedotti’s father was the son of an Italian immigrant who established a vineyard, winery and railroad ties operation in Mendocino County, Calif., in the 1870s.
That man was Mark Pedotti, who, with two half-brothers, also raised cattle and operated a hotel, bar and restaurant. He sold his interest in the winery and hotel to his half-brothers in the 1920s, but the genetic seed had been planted for his grandson to cultivate some 70 years later.
As the pace of life grew more frantic in California, Dave and Renie Pedotti decided to migrate north and bought a 200-acre ranch in Metz Hill. They brought beef cattle and the boys joined FFA and 4-H. The Pedottis ultimately leased their property to a bigger ranching operation as they became more immersed in the restaurant.
Up to that point, Dave Pedotti had earned his living not only by ranching but also, at various times, by working in the woods, driving a gravel truck, selling cars and ranching, among other pursuits.
While the Pedottis lacked experience, they had no shortage of energy in the new venture. Renie Pedotti was pulling double shifts, arriving at the restaurant after spending the day at her job in a Roseburg doctor’s office.
“One of the best things we did was we educated ourselves,” she said. She and her husband both attended small business classes at Umpqua Community College.
Through trial and error and intuition, the Pedottis found ways to save time and labor while expanding the menu “about 10 times the size” of the former bill of fare, Dave Pedotti said.
He added that several of the staff members stayed on under the Pedottis’ ownership, which was a huge help in the transition.
For about two years, the couple also operated a satellite restaurant on Northeast Stephens Street in Roseburg. Business was brisk despite a lack of adequate parking.
“Then 9/11 came along, the economy went south for a while and my wife and I were stretched ever so thin,” Pedotti said. “So in ’02 we closed her down.”
Since then, the Pedottis have been able to concentrate on the Sutherlin location and perfecting their vision for a homey Italian restaurant.
“The food is very important, but it’s (also) the feeling,” Dave Pedotti said. He described a successful dining site in Northern California as one in which “you walk in and ... the guy out front was somebody who knew everybody coming in the door.”
Until his death in 2002, that guy was often Alex Pedotti, who had a seat from which he greeted customers and chatted about the weather or crops.
His legacy lingers in the rapport the Pedottis seek to maintain with customers such as Eddie Russell III, a volunteer with the Sutherlin Area Chamber of Commerce.
Russell praises Dave Pedotti for his warmth, but reserves his highest compliments for Pedotti’s spaghetti with meat sauce and other pasta dishes.
“It’s authentic and it’s homemade,” said Russell, who describes himself as one-quarter Italian on his mother’s side of the family.
“The lasagna — oh, how good it is. The raviolis melt in your mouth,” Russell said. “Just for me once, Dave put a few extra little raviolis on the plate, and I said, ‘Grazie.’”
Now that he’s on the verge of 68 and his wife is 65, Dave Pedotti said they are ready to pull back a bit and let their excellent staff members carry on. The couple employ nine people, including manager Patti Taylor, who has been with them for six years.
Though the Pedottis look forward to slowing down somewhat, they also have no objections to pitching in on short notice as needed.
“When my wife closes, she still helps sweep and mop the kitchen,” Dave Pedotti said. “I have no problem cooking.
“Of course, I’m not as quick as I once was. But I think the staff appreciates it when the bosses take a turn.”
• You can reach Assistant City Editor Tricia Jones by email at email@example.com or by phone at 541-957-4216.