In the wake of the economic crash of 2008, small-business owners like Karen Henry-Garrett found themselves struggling to survive as customers turned cautious opening their wallets to purchase things like their morning coffee and the sandwiches for lunch.
In May of that year, Karen Henry-Garrett opened her new establishment, Dot2Dot Café, at 1739 Dorchester Ave. just a block south of St. Mark’s Church. Henry-Garrett, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, had left her catering business in England more than three years earlier and moved to the neighborhood.
Since the opening, Henry-Garrett says, business has been slow as she has continued her efforts to engage the community.
“Hopefully this year will be the year it turns over,” she said on a recent morning after delivering freshly cooked breakfast meals to a table full of patrons. Her hope is that Dot2Dot will be seen more and more as a place where community members can meet and enjoy good, low-cost food.
As for the name: “It’s a play on the local vernacular,” Henry-Garrett said, one example being the café’s location on the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, universally known as “Dot Ave.”
Because she heads up a small operation, Henry-Garrett is able to change her lunch menu daily and her dinner menu weekly. Dinner is offered from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, and the menu varies from Indian to Trinidadian foods. She places her pride in serving good, healthy food at prices her neighbors can afford. “The point of coming here is that you hopefully notice that all the food is all made here,” she said. Even though baking her own bread and pastries might not be the most cost-efficient way to run the business, Henry-Garrett thinks that the freshly made food is what keeps her core clientele coming back.
Dena D., a Dorchester native who asked for last-name anonymity, visits Dot2Dot every Sunday morning for breakfast. She said the prices and the café’s location in the community are what keeps her coming back every week.
“You get to slow down and really smell the roses and enjoy food for what it really is,” she said.
Along the walls inside Dot2Dot are framed photographs for sale by local artists. The photos range from ones of everyday objects to others of familiar images of the Boston skyline. Henry-Garrett hosts events that bring the artists into the café, where they talk to residents and customers about their works and what inspires them.
CeSea Saunders comes to the café every Sunday morning with Dena D. The attractive combination of freshly cooked food, location, low prices, the environment and the culture keeps Saunders coming back as does the opportunity to sit with Dena and talk about their upcoming week.
“When you’re here, you get to slow down and really think about your week; you can have those conversations with other people that you haven’t seen [regularly],” Dena said.
The movable furniture inside Dot2Dot allows for flexibility and adaptability when there are community events. In addition to the artists’ appearances, Henry-Garrett has brought to her café wine-tasting events, book club meetings, where, she says, women enjoy a laid-back atmosphere, a good meal and a bottle of wine, musicians’ showcases, and events supporting local students at Brook Farm Business and Service Career Academy, a part of the West Roxbury Education Complex. Dena herself was introduced to Dot2Dot at an artist event with local students who were showcasing their work.
Henry-Garrett wants members of the Dorchester community to realize that she opened Dot2Dot on Dorchester Avenue for them, and that she needs their support to succeed.
“I think it’s important that we have something else to offer on the avenue other than fast food,” she added. Dean seconds the motion, saying she would rather give back to her community and to a small business that she can walk to from her house than go somewhere else in the city.
Sarah Leahy is an undergraduate student in the Northeastern University Department of Communication Studies.