Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Food and family motivate new downtown burger spot


Retro red booths and white subway tile meet the hustle and bustle of downtown Tuscaloosa in a new restaurant hotspot called Dotson’s – a family-owned burger and shake shop.

It’s not all typical cheeseburgers and fries, however, as Dotson’s owner, Justin Holt, hopes to mix up more than strawberry shakes. 

“It’s a little bit different because the space we have downtown has no walk-in cooler and no walk-in freezer,” Holt said. “As a result, all of our burger blends come in fresh that very day. We’ve concentrated on everything being fresh and day-of, so we’re working with a butcher straight out of Birmingham.”

Holt, who also opened Southern Ale House just three and a half years ago, snagged the property downtown to provide growth within the family business and try something a bit more fun within the diner-styled layout.

“We had an opportunity to take a space downtown and try something different and have some company growth both for ourselves and our employees, some of which have been with us since we opened Southern Ale House years ago,” Holt said. “Downtown you have a much stronger student presence, and all around, you can just have a lot more fun with it.”

Visitors won’t only walk in on white walls decked out in old-school Pepsi signs, vintage booths and a concrete bar. In keeping with a good family-run business, family photos line the walls as well. 

“There’s old photos of my family, including my great grandmother who truly had a major impact on my life and what we do as a family-run business.” Holt said. 

Inspired by his great grandmother, Holt quickly developed the name “Dotson’s” in a reflection of her influence and in representation of the diner’s mission as a whole. 

“My great grandmother owned a service station in Franklin, Tennessee during the Great Depression, and she impressively ran it well into the 80s,” Holt said. “My great grandfather wasn’t around, so she did it all by herself in a time when many women did not own businesses, but she did, and she was successful.”

It was the neighboring business, however, where Holt’s grandmother further supported surrounding female-run businesses, a place where she could develop the recipes served both then and now, in a shop named Dotson’s.

“The neighboring business was another female-owned business named Dotson’s, and they lived side by side for 50 years,” Holt said. “It was here my great grandmother helped out with a lot of the cooking that helped make the place so successful for somewhere around 70 years.”

The neighborly support of the female-run business spurred a fine spread of southern cooking. Though the original location in Tennessee is no longer running, the recipes can now be found at Tuscaloosa’s Dotson’s. 

“We serve the pies that they served at the original Dotson’s,” Holt said. “I mean, they were my great grandmother’s recipes, from chocolate meringue to pecan and chess pies, they’re 50-something-year-old recipes.” 

Dotson’s wants to welcome all students as they also provide an exclusive discount to all of those looking for a lunch break that won’t break the bank.

“We’re doing a 10 percent off all food and soda discount for all students who simply bring their action card along,” Holt said. “Students are on a budget, it’s tight, we get that, and we want to cater to that need.”

As a result, students have taken note of the courtesy and look forward to many burgers and shakes to come.

“This is definitely a great place to bring people together over quality food for more than reasonable prices,” said Zach Van Fossen, a freshman majoring in mathematics. “When I think of an original burger and shake place in Tuscaloosa, no other place really comes to mind, so it’s nice to know they’ll be downtown while I’m here at UA.”

Alongside a self-constructed menu of just 16 items and an original set of meat grinders, Holt hopes to bring his experience to the forefront in the second restaurant he has opened in the Tuscaloosa area. 

“I just have a passion for the restaurant business, seeing as I’ve been doing this since I was 17,” Holt said. “It’s one of those things I’ve always had a knack for, and after all, my family has been here for 40 years and we’re all Alabama alum, so we love welcoming in the Tuscaloosa community as our own family, and can’t wait to see where things go from here.”

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