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Dodson's Cafeteria founder dies; mourning becoming too common in local restaurant community

The Oklahoma City food industry lost one of its earliest pioneers this week when Joe Dodson passed away at the age of 91 on Tuesday.

Dodson, a former Oklahoma Restaurant Association president and National Restaurant Association board member, was founder - along with his wife of 71 years Charlotte - of Dodson's Cafeterias, which were a mainstay for family dining for decades. Dodson's also was among the local industry leaders at a time when Oklahoma City became known as the Cafeteria Capital of the World.

The local hospitality industry has lost too many friends recently. First there was Wayne Hirst, a pioneer in bringing quality wine, beer and spirits to the Oklahoma market, who died in February. The annual hospitality awards ceremony is named after Hirst.

Then Julian Jose "Pepe" Gonzalez passed away in April. The longtime El Charro operator was best known for Pepe's Mexican Restaurant in Edmond and Laredo's in Oklahoma City.

In May Marian Thibault, longtime owner of The Haunted House Restaurant, died from cancer shortly after closing the restaurant she and her late husband Art founded in 1964. Sources say that restaurant is on the verge of reopening.

A little more than a week ago, chef Robert Black, Culinary Director for A Good Egg Dining Culinary, lost his wife Jami. At her memorial service Wednesday, friends and family gathered to celebrate the ferocity with which she blanketed them with love. Jamie, an accomplished baker and mother of two, was 45.

Then came news of Dodson's passing. I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe and Charlotte Dodson in 2011 for a story about the bygone cafeteria culture. In that interview, the couple shared inspiring vitality and pride in their legacy. You can read that story Cafeteria Capital, and I encourage you to do so just for the anecdote Joe shared about a little boy whose birthday wish was to eat as many green beans from Dodson's Cafeteria as his stomach would hold and how his famous organ-playing brought them together years later.

Dodson leaves behind his wife Charlotte; son Joe Dodson, Jr. and wife Dianne, their children Kathryn and husband Patrick Campbell; son David Dodson and wife Sue, their children Dacia and husband Mike Harris and their son Jack, Danae and husband Luke Waits; Shelley and husband Ross Sauter; son Benjamin Dodson and his children Nicholas and wife Sarah Dodson and their son Hayden, Lance and wife Danielle Dodson; son Charles Dodson and wife Diane and their children Chance and wife Julie; Chelsea and husband Casey Denton.

A Celebration of Life memorial service will be held 2 p.m. Friday at Oakcrest church of Christ, 1111 SW 89 St.

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Dave Cathey

The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene. Read more ›

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