Little Pine Cafe transforms with the times
Story and photo by Jody Foss
Dajuana Dodd wasn’t planning to close Little Pine Cafe in Mitchell. She had a reputation for making amazing burgers and fries as well as Southern recipes she brought with her from her native state of Alabama.
But in late 2019, Dajuana learned two new food carts were going to open in Mitchell. She decided to change direction and open a gift shop in the cafe space on the street level and continue to offer lodging on the upper floor of the historic Little Pine building.
She hung up her apron for good.
Little Pine has always been a favorite of motorcycle groups that meander through Mitchell. Local musician Arizona Kennedy often entertains on the sidewalk in front of the building, playing Western favorites for people walking around town.
The cafe counter was often shoulder to shoulder with locals trading stories, talking about the weather or potential jobs to be had. The tables were packed with satisfied diners.
“I had the cafe for 14 years,” Dajuana says. “I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything in the world. The gift shop idea was strictly a business decision. I decided to let the two new food establishments enjoy filling the need for food.”
In January 2020, Dajuana began transforming the cafe space to a souvenir gift shop. With the COVID-19 lockdown that followed in March 2020, the food carts did not open, and existing food establishments struggled to stay open. Dajuana says she is happy with her decision to change.
Born in Alexander City, Alabama, Dajuana grew up on Lake Martin, one of the largest manmade lakes in the United States. She attended the University of South Alabama in Mobile her freshman year, finishing her bachelor’s degree at Eastern Oregon University in 2013.
Dajuana married Mickey Dodd in 1991.
Mickey was raised in Mobile and worked in his family’s wholesale plant nursery. He served 23 years in the Army, including one tour in Iraq and three tours at the demilitarized zone in Korea.
After he retired from the Army, he says he fell in love with the wide-open spaces of Eastern Oregon and wanted to move.
“It didn’t bother me,” Dajuana says. “I go where he goes.”
They settled in Prineville in 2001. After a year and a half, the couple moved back to Mobile to be near Mickey’s father, who was ill.
Dajuana and Mickey returned to Oregon in 2005 after Mickey’s father died. This time they relocated to Mitchell.
Mickey was searching for land when he found the Little Pine Cafe for sale.
“He called me in Alabama and asked me how I would feel about owning my own restaurant,” Dajuana says. “That is mostly what I did anyway, working in restaurants. So I said, ‘Sure, that sounds good.’”
The building has a 1,650-square-foot second floor with three bedrooms.
“We moved upstairs above Little Pine Cafe for a couple of years before we finally found 40 acres,” Dajuana says.
They now support an active menagerie of dogs, chickens, and cats on their land.
Dajuana always carried a few souvenirs and gift items in Little Pine Cafe, but says since closing the cafe it is easier to stock T-shirts and books without worrying about the greasy aromas of French fries permeating the air and landing on items.
She sells Painted Hills and Mitchell T-shirts, hoodies, hats, and shot glasses. Coffee mugs and other small items serve as souvenirs of a trip to the Painted Hills and the surrounding area. Thirty-four consignors sell products in her gift shop. Many handcraft their wares, including jewelry, candles, and soap.
“I call them needful things,” Dajuana says. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. There is no classification of what we sell here. You just have to kind of look. There is something for everybody.”
Dajuana always has a pot of coffee on for locals when they come by during the day to visit. She also sells water, canned drinks and single beers to go.
“People come from all over the United States and the world to see the geology here and enjoy the great outdoors,” Dajuana says. “Mitchell is just a small-town venture, but people come from everywhere to see the Painted Hills.”
Dajuana has upgraded the upstairs lodge where she and Mickey first lived when they came to town. Little Pine Lodge is listed on Airbnb, and the space is booked often.
“It features a small kitchen, three bedrooms, a large bathroom, washer and dryer, wood stove, and an outside deck for watching the Main Street activities and the sunsets,” she says. “It’s great during the festivals because people can walk out the door, enjoy it all and have a comfortable place to come home to.”
Dajuana’s friend Terry Quant Riley helps her in the shop.
“Terry knows rocks, and that’s very helpful since we have a rock shop,” Dajuana says. “We have many rockhounds that come to Mitchell. Terry grew up in and around Mitchell and the Ochocos, and is a great resource for local Mitchell and Wheeler County history and most of Oregon.”
Dajuana says she misses Alabama and the South from time to time.
“The humidity is a challenge, but I grew up with that,” she says. “With the humidity, everything grows and is very lush. You can have a garden year-round, and there’s shade trees and ivy and kudzu growing everywhere.
“The people down South are really laid back. We like to sit on our porches. Family, Southern hospitality, and good food are a large part of our culture. That is the way it is everywhere in Alabama.”
Dajuana brings a little bit of that Southern hospitality to Mitchell.
“It’s great,” she says. “We have a lot of fun. I am happy with it.”
Little Pine Cafe & Lodge is at 100 E. Main St., Mitchell. Go to The Little Pine Lodge website for more information.
The Little Pine Cafe & Lodge building was built in 1889. Two decades earlier, John W. Waterman came to Eastern Oregon with cattle and an interest in the mercantile business in 1864. In 1895, he turned his business interests over to his sons. His sons moved the business to Mitchell.
John retired and moved to The Dalles. His son Hanley, and Hanley’s wife, Rena, owned and operated H.A. Waterman and Co. General Merchandise in the building now known as Little Pine Lodge & Souvenir Shop.
In March 1914, Hanley sold the building to Mitchell Lodge No. 141 Independent Order of Odd Fellows. There have been many owners since then, including local cowboy singer Arizona Kennedy and his wife, Cam.
Dajuana Dodd has owned the building for almost 16 years.