Front of house manager, co-owner
The day Tsalika Drown graduated from the University of Iowa, she and her aunt opened the doors of Café Dodici in Washington.
She and her aunt, Lorraine Williams, co-own the Italian restaurant in the small town 45 minutes south of Iowa City. When they started the business, they were considered outsiders in the town about 7,000. The restaurant quickly became a popular spot for people from out-of-town and over time, they won over the locals, as well.
“We’ve been here for about nine years and it’s been slow receiving the full community’s support,” she said. “Although originally from this town, my mother’s family, we were still the outsiders and we brought this fine dining, expensive Italian restaurant to a town that just had a McDonald’s,” Ms. Drown said. “So we weren’t received with complete open arms, although we did build an amazing following of patrons who have become friends, as well. Nine years later, it feels like we completely belong and it feels like they’ve seen our staying power and how much we’ve reinvested into the community, personally and monetarily.”
Now, Ms. Drown serves on two committees for the Washington Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the local Rotary. The business, along with Ms. Williams’ adjacent coffee shop and bed and breakfast, has played an important role in revitalizing the town square. For example, the restaurant hosts a Sunday night book club, which Ms. Drown helped start. The business also supports a number of community groups, from the Washington State Theater to the Lake Darling Recreation Center.
“Tsalika Drown draws people to her restaurant by showing an interest and concern for everyone,” Karen Gorham, a Kirkwood Community College Board of Trustees member, stated in Ms. Drown’s nomination. “She truly cares about the quality of your food and your dining experience. Her infectious smile sets a tone that is relaxing and calming.”
Ms. Drown grew up in Turin and Florence, Italy. She moved to attend the UI. Part way through college, she returned to Italy.
“And I never wanted to go back to Iowa,” she said. “I was struggling, dealing with my Mom’s death and I really missed Italy and thought that’s where I wanted to be. By the end of the year, I missed Iowa terribly and I wanted to come back.”
Now, as a single woman living in Washington, she spends a lot of time with family and traveling the Corridor with friends. Ms. Dodici earned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology and Italian from the UI.