The Lady of Lindey's
Sue Doody was an elementary teacher by trade, not a businesswoman. She was an amateur cook, not a professionally trained chef. She was a mother of four, not a swinging single with loads of time on her hands.
Yet she had a flair for food, a desire to give Columbus the upscale-but-comfy restaurant she thought it lacked, and a willingness to devote the elbow grease it would take to be successful.
Nearly 30 years after Doody opened Lindey's bistro, it remains one of the city's most notable fine-dining establishments - a place where celebrities have been brought, proposals have been made and drunken truths have been told.
And on top of that, Doody's sons have expanded the family business by opening a popular chain of more than 75 restaurants nationwide, including Italian white-tablecloth eateries Bravo and Brio. "I just knew that I wanted to work hard and liked good food," said Doody, who turns 75 this year. "I've had a wonderful life."
Doody nurtured her cooking skills for years, reading books, watching shows on TV and taking classes around the city. After she and her husband, Alton Doody, divorced, she began offering cooking classes in her Upper Arlington kitchen at the urging of friends. And when she and her oldest son, Rick, dined out, they would talk about what they would do similarly or differently in their own restaurant. (Upper East Side vibe? Yes. Plastic flowers? No.)
Longtime friend Nancy Ross, who took cooking lessons from Doody, admits she didn't take her friend's dream seriously. As they drove to morning tennis sessions, Doody would talk about opening her own bistro. "I would think, 'Oh yeah,' " Ross said, " 'oh yeah.' "
But when Rick finished college, his father - who remains friends with Doody - told the two that a great space in German Village had opened. Alton Doody invested in his ex-wife and son, and in 1981, with a whole family's renovation efforts and a load of Doody's recipes, Lindey's was born.
"I wanted it to be comfortable," Doody said. "[So that] somebody in black-tie and somebody in blue jeans could come in on the same night-one going to the symphony and another going to a rock concert."
Bankers who Doody visited for loans laughed. But despite the early-'80s recession, Doody was determined. She put in long days behind the line, cleaning toilets and greeting guests-all with her trademark sense of humor.
"I was working 17-hour days and raising kids that were still in the house!" she said, still sounding almost shocked recollecting it. "I didn't date much or go out much. I just devoted myself to making the business work."
Her son Rick Doody, now the chairman of Bravo Development Inc., said they were, at first, "sort of naive." But Columbus needed what they offered, he said, and Lindey's remains a place where people bring out-of-town guests to show off. His mother's charm is certainly part of the reason why.
"I think my mother cares more about people than anyone else I've met in my life," Rick Doody said. "It used to drive me crazy, because the restaurant would be struggling or the cook wouldn't show up or the waitress wouldn't show up or whatever-and she would just enjoy taking care of the guests."
Such concern, those who love her say, extends beyond the restaurant.
"She's remarkable about remembering your family and events or concerns," her friend Ross said. "She never forgets to ask you about somebody or something."
Ross also remains impressed with the work ethic of Doody, who not only kept her word about opening a restaurant, but also still spends most weekdays there. "I have the greatest admiration for her," Ross said. "I'm amazed at her business acumen."
Doody is proud to say that aside from serving on various boards and volunteering for several organizations, she has helped many a lawyer and doctor earn his or her way through school.
"The people who have been there a long time think of her as like a surrogate mother," Rick Doody said. "She cares about them."
She also continues mothering her own brood-which includes eight grandchildren-cooking up Sunday dinners at home for whoever wants to join her. Between spoiling her grandkids, enjoying good books, traveling often and maintaining a love for Lindey's, she is as happy as guests who enjoy her restaurant's signature dessert, the Post Mortem.
"I feel like Columbus has been good to me, and I've been good to Columbus," Doody said. "I really enjoy my life."
Why the name Lindey's?
Many of the trees in German Village are Linden trees originally flown in from Germany, because they thrive in urban areas. And at one time, the building was a restaurant called the Lindenhof.
Overheard at Lindey's
The following excerpts are from As the Tables Turn, a book authored by Sue Doody and Michael J. Rosen.
Guest: Miss, I'm afraid you've put my friend's iced tea on my bill when you separated our checks.
Server: You're friends, right? How about if your friend gives you three quarters?
A woman served a cup of decaffeinated coffee: Are you sure this is decaf?
Server: If it's not, I know where you can bowl all night for five dollars.
A couple with a squirmy three-year-old at 8 in the evening: Well, if you don't have a children's menu, what do you recommend for children?!
Server: McDonald's, Burger King, or possibly Wendy's.Kristy Eckert is the editor of Capital Style.