For more than a decade, Cafe Dodici has made downtown Washington a destination for foodies across Eastern Iowa.
The Italian restaurant has gained a reputation for delectable cuisine in a posh yet relaxed environment since opening on December 31, 2004.
“That was a magical evening,” said owner Lorraine Williams. “The ambience was beautiful, the restaurant was full, and it was a dream come true.”
Williams, who grew up in Washington, moved away when she was 19 and spent 30 years living in Italy, often dreaming about the untapped potential in her hometown.
“We have Disneyland architecture,” she said of downtown Washington.
When she found herself unexpectedly moving back to Iowa in the early 2000s, she figured it was time to put her ideas into motion.
“I came up with the idea of a restaurant because people will travel for one,” she said. “I thought if you have the right ambience and great food, it will work.”
Williams purchased a building that had almost been torn down in 1980.
“Luckily they didn’t, but it was structurally needy,” she said. “So we made it structurally solid to last another 100 years.”
She said the community’s dedication and spirit helped make her dream possible.
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“What I love about this whole thing is that I didn’t have to do the whole thing by myself,” she said. “This community has invested over $20 million in its downtown. There are new streets, sidewalks, signage, a bandstand, a library. Those weren’t here when I began, and they make the difference. It’s been a dream come true.”
She filled her restaurant with décor from her world travels and set about creating a menu to fuel mind, body and spirit.
“I believe that food should nourish your body,” she said. “In Italy we sit down and talk to each other and have a glass of wine for lunch and dinner. They take the time for that and they never compromise on the quality of their food. I feel passionate about food and sitting down and enjoying it together.”
Today, Café Dodici serves up fine Italian dishes for lunch and dinner as well as offering a raved-about brunch.
“The food is always the best quality and best presentation we can manage,” Williams said. “It’s a very beautiful ambience that should make you feel good about yourself, but you don’t have to be dressed a certain way to eat here. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere.”
Williams didn’t stop dreaming after opening Café Dodici. A few years after opening the restaurant, she decided to buy the building next door and opened a coffee shop, Dodici Shop.
And upstairs from the restaurant are the Dodici Suites, four unique, well-appointed overnight guest suites to accommodate travelers to Washington.
“What’s nice about these suites is their originality and their amenities,” said Williams. “It’s a great place to get away from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids without having to drive hours and hours. Being able to just come down to Washington after work, have a great meal and some wine and then just head upstairs to relax is a great getaway.”
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The four suites — two of which are full apartments — were restored through Mainstreet grants and historic tax credits and feature original woodwork and tin ceilings.
“People come from all over to eat and stay here. I love my guests and celebrating their special occasions with them,” Williams added.
“Our goal is to give them a moment to restore themselves, give them nourishing food and let them feel pampered. And it’s a joy to see customers return again.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Cafe Dodici
WHERE: 122 S. Iowa Ave.
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday
DETAILS: (319) 653-4012, cafedodici.com