Pacer's Fair Booth has Grown into Successful Restaurant

PLEASANTVILLE - When Rod and Victoria Doty decided to open their own restaurant almost 30 years ago, they knew their best strategy was to start small and take baby steps.

That first step came in 1985, when the Carroll couple opened a booth called Pacer's at the Fairfield County Fairgrounds for one week during the fair. The Dotys chose to stay away from the typical fair food of elephant ears and deep fried desserts, instead serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner for those in the crowd who were craving "something different."

"It was kind of like starting up a business, running it for a week and then shutting it down," Rod Doty said.

The Dotys ran the fair circuit for seven years before they took their next baby step - opening up a carry-out pizza place in the kitchen of a late 19th-century building they bought at 111 S. Main St. in downtown Pleasantville.

"We ran that about three years while we remodeled the one side (of the building)," Doty said. "In '99, we opened up the one side with 53 seats. We debated about opening up the other side, but then went ahead and renovated it in 2004."

Today, the Dotys run a full-scale Italian restaurant and catering business called Pacer's that seats between 110 and 120 people. Open for lunch and dinner, it's the only restaurant in Pleasantville, a village that appears to be out in the middle of nowhere, but actually is in the center of everything, Rod Doty said.

"Interestingly enough, if you take a string and go out 10 miles, you'll hit Lancaster, you'll almost hit Canal (Winchester), you'll hit Millersport, you'll hit Buckeye Lake, Rushville, Thornville, you'll hit all these towns," he said. "So everybody thinks you're 40 miles out in the middle of a cornfield when, in reality, you're less than 10 miles from almost anything here."

Rod Doty said he and his wife decided right from the beginning that their restaurant was going to serve Italian food, despite the fact that neither of them are Italian.

"The reason we went Italian was because of the building codes - we could put a pizza oven back there (in the kitchen) and we didn't get into a lot of restrictions because we didn't have a lot of open flames," he said. "My wife became a master at trying to figure out Italian dishes."

The Dotys said there are several items on their menu they have become known for over time, such as their pizza calzone appetizer, lasagna, chicken parmesan, ham and bean soup, grinders and holiday salad, which is mixed greens tossed with provolone, apples, cashews, crazens, raisins and red onion. Their pork tenderloin, dipped in breading, fried to a golden brown and served on a Kaiser bun, is a favorite that dates back to the Dotys' fair days.

"People would always order the pork tenderloin," Victoria Doty said. "When we opened the restaurant, I thought about switching the name to Victoria's but then I thought, 'Nobody will know who we are.'"

The menu also boasts a T-bone steak and New York strip steak, roasted chicken, St. Louis ribs smothered in barbecue sauce and fish and chips. Desserts, which are made by the Dotys' daughter, Megan, range from cheesecake to pies to a raisin bread pudding to an Apple Brown Betty.

"We make our own (pizza) crust, we make our own sauces, we chop our own vegetables," Victoria Doty said. "Nothing is frozen or comes in a box."

About 50 percent of the Dotys' customers are regulars, some of them farmers, some of them employees from Pleasantville Elementary. They have daily customers too; for the past year, the Dotys have provided lunch and dinner to Fairfield Academy, a residential facility in Thornville for teenage boys.

"We get people from Buckeye Lake and Heath and Hebron and Somerset," Rod Doty said. "We get Pickerington. We have people from Reynoldsburg that come all the time."

Victoria Doty said one of the perks of owning her own restaurant is getting to meet the people who come in every day.

"We enjoy talking to the customers," she said.

Looking to the future, the couple said there's a lot more they want to do with their restaurant. They've preserved a lot of the building's history, such as the original hardwood floors and tin ceiling, but they'd like to do some updates with the seating and kitchen equipment.

"We're in remodeling phase - we're doing the chairs, we have some booths to get going, we have hot water tanks that we're trying to get converted from electric to gas, we've got some things in the kitchen equipment-wise we want to upgrade. We're trying to get to a computerized cash register system," Rod Doty said. "We're also trying to train a couple of people to get into more of a supervisory role. We love being here (six) days a week, but there's a limit."

In addition to those changes, the two are in the process of updating their menu to make it "more upbeat," Victoria Doty said.

"I enjoy coming up with new dishes and creating new foods," she said. "We try to put things on the menu that people aren't going to make themselves."