Norman Dotch had his cooking career launched for him by his mother when he was only 7 years old – cooking the main meal at lunch time for his brothers and sisters.
Now the Manteca lunch crowd has chosen his “fish and chips” as their favorite made with a crust of cornflakes mixed with seasoning that eliminates the usual grease often found in the entrée. It is like nothing you have ever tasted, Dotch said.
The “Po Boys” restaurant is located in a strip of shops south of In N Out Burger on East Yosemite Avenue. Dotch urges his customers to order ahead online for their lunch so it will be ready for them when they walk through his front door. The menu runs the gamut from chicken wing and oysters as well as shrimp to burgers and sandwiches.
In the military, he served as a supply specialist in South Korea and Japan. He later worked in the food industry supply chain for some 17 years with a history as a soccer player in high school and college.
Growing up in Panama, he worked hard to help his single mother take care of his two brothers and two sisters, he recalled. Their school day was split with his siblings going to school in the morning and Norman walking to his classes in the afternoon hours.
With that schedule they all ate their main meal together at noon with young Norman being assigned the cooking duties with his mom as his chief mentor in the kitchen.
“It’s the root of who I am when it comes to cooking,” he quipped.
He said he found a change in taste when he had overcooked some food. With a hotter temperature, it tasted even better, Dotch said.
His mother continues to be a strong woman today, he noted, having been a seamstress for General McCaffreys in the Army. She now lives in Florida and visits California occasionally.
Speaking about his mother, he said that she still helps people who she sees having a rough time in life.
Dotch said a friend, Roberto Herrera, whom is living in Mobile, Alabama, makes a special effort to bring him cases of Panamanian seasoning to use in his entrees.
And he gives Coach Bob Gray a great deal of credit for being a major supporter after seeing the Spanish speaking soccer player perform in Alabama. Gray was with Marshal University in Huntington, West Virginia, and wanted him on his team.
Having returned with his Panamanian team from Spain, Gray had offered Dotch a scholarship wanting him to play for him. The only problem was that he had to clear the hurdle of learning to read and write English. The Manteca chef remembers the head of the English Department there telling the coach that he would never graduate – creating one of the greatest challenges of his life.
Dotch set his mind’s goal that he would prove her wrong and with the help of a tutor provided by the coach he made it through English with a “C” and graduated from the college four years later – having conquered the proficiency testing.
Played soccer for one of nation’s best college teams
His outlook had changed about education earlier while he was flying home to Panama on Continental Airlines when he pulled out a magazine to read. It was Forbes that had a story on the top 10 CEOs in the United States. Dotch said he noted that 80 percent of them had a military background.
“That’s when I realized you could make money with an education,” he said. “I called Coach Gray that Saturday. I played for four years for the number one team in the country and we hosted the national championships twice. We were called the best college team ever not to win a championship.”
Dotch and his wife Veronica have one six-year-old daughter Victoria and he has three step-children, Edgard, 17, Kaylee, 15 and Veronica 13. His wife is a personal banker with Wells Fargo.
He chuckled when he recalled meeting his wife on a vacation in Nicaragua. He was with a buddy and she was with her two older sisters. Being drawn to talk with her he offered her a drink – a bottle of water. It was something that caused him to be chided by his friend for being cheap, but it was the beginning of a serious relationship, he said.
Dotch has played center forward for a mostly Mexican team – Independiente– for the past four years. The adult soccer players won a recent tournament and the Martin Luther King Cup for their age group in 2010 and he was the only non-Mexican in the group.
He trumpets the quality of food as being of utmost importance for people who want to try something special. He has upgraded his shrimp sandwiches with more shrimp. The oyster sandwiches now have larger oysters than when he first opened his doors.
“It’s all about the customers’ choice,” he said. “We’ve even changed the breads we offered to a milk roll.”
He said his restaurant is making a great effort to provide high quality food at low cost and give the best customer service. Po Boys is not a fast food restaurant but it does offer speedy service with advance phone and online orders.
“I would like to promote my restaurant as the best both in quality and prices for the type of menu that I have – I challenge anyone to come and try it,” he said.