Dorothea Wilson might not be the best-known name on downtown Baltimore's Charles Street, but for nearly 36 years, she was the cook at the Woman's Industrial Exchange. Hers were the hands behind the homemade rolls, chicken salad, tomato aspic and lemon chiffon pie that imparted much of the venerable Baltimore atmosphere to the fondly recalled tearoom.
In 2002, the nonprofit Exchange board sought other avenues of revenue. The tearoom closed, and Wilson lost her job as the 19th-century building underwent a total renovation. When the building reopened, two other restaurateurs tried to make a go of it. Both failed.
Dorothea Wilson was not ready to give up on cooking. After all, she began work as a cook in 1966, when she was 15 years old.
"I walked across the street and got another job," said Wilson, who now fires the ovens at 5:30 a.m. weekdays at David and Dad's Cafe, a business that is on the west side of Charles Street. She knew the owner from her days at the Exchange - when she ran out of eggs, she knew where to borrow some.
Each day she makes baking-powder biscuits and cinnamon buns. She also has a hand in the homemade lasagna, chicken pot pies, chicken and tuna salads, and the banana pudding.
She no longer makes the individual lemon tarts and buckwheat cakes - treats like cookie platters are now popular. Nor do her customers break for a leisurely 70-minute luncheon, as they often did at the Exchange.
"We do a lot of work in catering for business lunches," said the cafe's owner, David Cangialosi, who opened his business 15 years ago. "We do a lot of office catering. Breakfasts are a big thing for us too because not so many places still serve a real breakfast."
"Dorothea is an extremely hard worker," he said. "You have to force her to take a break. She does the work of two people."