Chris Dreifurst never imagined deciding to stop and fill up his tank with gas at Dickie Doodles one May 2007 morning would change his life, but it did.
Dreifurst was at the gas pump and figured it would only take a few minutes before he got to work at Maximus Restaurant & Sports Bar, which he and his wife, Lynette, co-owned with some others at the time. That’s when Dickie Doodles founder and operator Richard Dick James asked if he would like to buy the establishment that he built and opened back in the 1980s from him, which piqued Dreifurst’s interest.
“I said ‘let me talk to my wife,’ and we decided to do it,” he said. “We decided we wanted to try something different. Instead of being a partner of one business, we had the chance to own our own.”
So they took James up on his offer – under one condition.
“We asked for the name,” Dreifurst said, with a smile. "There’s only one. You don’t see a lot of Dickie Doddles around. And a lot of people use it as a point of reference, which is cool. I’ve seen so many people stop, get out of their cars and take pictures of the sign. It’s just neat.”
He said James had no problem including the name with it, and so on Nov. 1, 2007, the Dreifursts took over the Dickie Doodles complex that features a convenience store, gas pumps, laundromat and 10 apartments in three adjacent buildings.
The owners celebrated their 11th anniversary there with the recent completion of exterior upgrades – new signage that pops off the building thanks, in part, to a new green paint job. The exterior work was done the first week of November, though Dreifurst said it would have come sooner if not for Mother Nature. A freak hail storm back in August 2017, he said, whipped the classic Dickie Doodles sign off the building.
“It broke all of my letters off,” Dreifurst recalled. “And then the letters we needed were discontinued and the new ones were a lot smaller. I couldn’t put those up.”
Then winter hit, he said, which slowed things down. At that point, Dreifurst said he and his wife committed to a specific paint job for the building’s outside to keep its commitment that comes with being a Sinclair gas station. It wouldn’t have looked good to have the new letters up without the new paint, he noted. That also caused delays as they had people back out of the job twice before his brother got it done earlier this month.
“It shouldn’t have taken that long, but we had to do everything the right way. We had to repaint the right way, not just spot it,” he said. “But it has been Dickie Doodles. Dickie Doodles has been here since day one.”
With a new, white Dickie Doodles logo once again displayed prominently on the building, courtesy of Columbus’ Schieffer Signs, and the other upgrades, Dreifurst is back at ease. He and Lynette are in the store daily, helping customers and their several employees, but mostly, just enjoying themselves.
Dreifurst, who arrives at the store at 5:30 a.m. each day, was busy Wednesday morning going over the books and later helping customers at the register. He greeted every person he knew by name and had a small chat with them, also introducing himself to those he hadn’t met yet.
“I try to know everyone’s name that comes in, ask how they’re doing. I try to know a little bit about them. I love it,” he said. “We care about the customer here.”
That’s a characteristic the Dreifursts learned along the way while co-owning and working at Maximus for more than 20 years – something Dreifurst said James picked up on.
“He said he saw us down at lunch at Maximus all the time – he saw us serving,” Dreifurst said. “I guess he saw something he liked.”
Employees like Stephanie Stevens have also picked up on that approach, as she noted being at Dickie Doodles – whether as a customer or employee – is always a good experience.
“It’s hometown here,” she said. “Some businesses are corporate places and some are hometown places, but this is hometown. Everybody knows everybody here; the owners are just awesome.”
That friendly atmosphere remains constant; however, the Dreifursts have made some changes since taking over. The most significant was expanding the menu.
“That’s where the money is, and we knew that from the restaurant business,” Dreifurst said.
With a fryer in the back, Dickie Doodles is able to offer chicken wings, tater tots, poppers and more. It also boasts hot dogs, Polish dogs and various deli sandwiches. But it’s most popular item undoubtedly is its cheeseburger.
“We sold 42,000 of them last year,” Dreifurst said. “We sell a lot.”
More specifically, Dickie Doodles’ signature “Sunrise burger” – a cheeseburger with a fried egg on top – is the go-to item. Employees start making them first thing every morning to the request of customers. Dreifurst said the business sells 40-50 of them almost every morning.
The couple has no plans to step away or close down the business, but Dreifurst said their son, Marshall, has his eyes set on being involved in the future. He’s currently a junior at the University of Nebraska Omaha studying business, and Dreifurst said his son desires to graduate and eventually take over.
“I’m sure I’ll still be coming in at 5:30 every morning when that day comes, and he said (Lynette) could still do the books if she wanted – I asked (my son) what he exactly would be doing,” Dreifurst said, with a laugh. “He’ll probably manage it for a while, learn the ropes and eventually take it over.”
Regardless, Dreifurst said his priority is making sure everyone who comes in is treated well, has a good time and good bite to eat. That’s part of a living tribute to the man who founded the business – Richard "Dick" “Doodle” James, who passed away in 2017 and was said to have named the store because he was nicknamed Doodle on account of his love for doodling frequently. The other part of the tribute is the shop’s cat, a stray Marshall found years ago and was appropriately named Doodle by the family.
“Dick would call me every Nov. 1. He said he would call every Nov. 1 until the day he died to say ‘happy anniversary’ and he did. That was always kind of cool; I really liked him,” Dreifurst said, noting James checked in frequently with him and offered advice, especially when they first took over. “He was a great guy. He went over and above for us; he was patient and helpful. He was just a nice guy.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.