CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Bill and Amie Dodson are back in the kitchen, on board The Barge restaurant.
The husband-and-wife team worked together for 12 years at Blossom Deli - he managed the kitchen for owner Bill Sohovich, who also happens to be Amie's stepfather, and she managed the catering.
Three years ago, he left Blossom and accepted a teaching position at Mountwest Community College in Huntington. She went to Comfort Inn in Cross Lanes, where she managed the lounge.
Although he enjoyed teaching hospitality and culinary arts, he found trying the the daily commute from their Sissonville home, where the Dodsons live with their three sons. So when John Wolfe, owner of The Barge restaurant, called in April to ask if he was happy with his teaching position, Dodson's interest piqued.
The Barge, which Wolfe intended to operate year-round, closed in December because of lack of business. People associated its riverfront location and deck with warm weather outdoor dining, but Wolfe had extensively renovated the upstairs to be a full-service, year-round restaurant.
Wolfe wanted to sell the Barge, but Dodson had a different suggestion.
"I told him to invest in me and my wife and we'll get this place where he wants it to be," Dodson said. "Our main goal is to make the Barge a year-round, profitable investment for the Wolfe family and a desirable destination for this community."
The downstairs and deck retained the bar food menu, although Dodson updated it with healthier options like wraps and salads. The May opening coincided with Dodson's students' final exams, so he was driving to Huntington daily for classes, then hustling back to the Barge to ready it for the opening date.
"It was a really difficult 14 days," he said. "We hired and trained 40 employees, got the computers up and running, proofed and printed menus and set up vendor and business accounts."
He reconfigured the kitchen, which he describes as a submarine kitchen, to serve two very different restaurants, sandwiches and burgers downstairs and a fine casual dining room upstairs.
The Dodsons expanded the children's menu downstairs, hoping to attract families. They addressed complaints of slow service by insisting that diners be seated by a staffer. Previously, customers seated themselves, confusing servers and slowing service.
They made the May 15 opening date, then concentrated on the menu for the restaurant, upstairs, called The Barge Gourmet.
"We want to establish a quality menu with innovative touches," he said. He's preparing Mediterranean and seafood dishes similar to those he developed at Blossom, but is careful not to replicate them exactly. Blossom Deli is open for dinner again, but the emphasis of his father-in-law's new menu differs from Dodson's.