The Dixie, iconic Petersburg restaurant, celebrates 100 years during pandemic

Posted at 2:20 PM, Jan 01, 2021

PETERSBURG, Va. -- The Dixie, an iconic restaurant in Old Towne Petersburg, Virginia, has been serving made to order hot food for 100 years.

The Dixie opened its doors in Petersburg when the Spanish flu pandemic was winding down in March of 1920. Just as the eatery was about to celebrate its centennial celebration, COVID-19 forced it to shutter in March of 2020.

"The restaurant business just kind of took a nosedive," Frannie Rawlings, co-owner of The Dixie, recalled.

As 2020 winds down, the yearlong 100th anniversary celebration never came to fruition.

"It just disappeared. It had to go to the wayside," Frannie Rawlings said. "I mean, you certainly can't, in my opinion, you can't have a celebration where you're inviting their customers to come in and and celebrate that milestone. We just couldn't do that."

Back in March business was looking good as the Rawlings were in their ninth year as owners and they said the eatery had "never not made a profit."

But nine months later, things are much different.

"I mean, we've had to cut back on employees, our hours, a lot of things to help kind of keep things flowing," Frannie Rawlings said. "We're paying our bills, but that's that's about it at this point."

But through the years and in 2020, loyal customers like Philip Murray kept coming back every morning for breakfast.

"We'd be here on Sunday if they were open," Murray joked.

But for Murray, The Dixie is not just about the food, but the atmosphere.

"It's the fellowship and the family feeling. The food is good. But that's not the main reason we come," Murray explained. "We mainly come to see them, and talk to them, and talk to the people here. It's like 'Cheers.' You know, everybody knows your name."

"We're extremely fortunate that we have a customer base like that," Frannie Rawlings acknowledges. "Our older clientele they have a lot of memories associated with coming here as kids."

In fact, one patron recalled his father dropping him off at the restaurant with a quarter to buy five hot dogs.

The Dixie moved into its current location in 1939. And when Charlie and Frannie Rawlings bought the business in June of 2011, their first task was hiring back some of the old employees.

"The lady, Mary Damon, who cooked for Miss Ramsey, came back to work for us," Charlie Rawlings said.

Armed with the original recipes, including the secret to the 1930s hot cog chili, The Dixie continued to flourish, even now at half capacity.

"It's the exact opposite of what a hospitality-type business typically does," Frannie Rawlings said.

Customers remain loyal and the food remains a time-honored tradition.

The current pandemic will fade like the one 100 years ago.

"I mean it was always been an icon in Petersburg because it was known as a family restaurant," Charlie Rawlings.

The Dixieis famous for its hot dogs, its breakfast and its specials. But like devoted customers say, it is really the atmosphere and the people that have kept the restaurant going for a century -- and will keep it going for decades to come.

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