Lambert purchases Morristown landmark from Angelos family

George and Nina Angelos inside the Little Dutch, which sold this week.

For the second time in its 80-year history, the landmark Morristown restaurant the Little Dutch is changing hands.

The restaurant’s now former owners, George and Nina Angelos, announced Wednesday night that Jamie Lambert –also a longtime Morristown restaurateur - had purchased the Little Dutch.

“It is with mixed emotions that we bid farewell to our time at the Little Dutch Restaurant. After 46 years, we are moving on to retirement and a new chapter in our lives,” they said in the announcement. “We are very excited to be passing on our legacy to the new owners, Jamie Lambert and his family.”

George, along with his brother, Tommy, purchased Little Dutch in 1973.

“When we came to this town, there were Jack’s, Shoney’s and Blue Circle. McDonald’s wasn’t here,” George said earlier this year. “Today there are over 250 facilities and we are still here. We are still going strong. Not many places survive 80 years.”

Angelos said leaving the Little Dutch behind is an emotional time but they are excited to leave the business in Lambert’s capable hands. Lambert – the longtime owner and operator of Pizza Inn – brings 27 years restaurant experience to the Little Dutch.

“We are filled with many emotions as we move forward, but we are very excited to hand over the business to Jamie, as we know he will continue the traditions that started here over 80 years ago. Jamie comes to the business with prior restaurant experience, and an energetic enthusiasm to carry on the tradition of ‘good food and good service, at a reasonable price.’ We have no doubt he will do just that and more.” George said.

The origins of the Italian-Greek eatery with the Dutch name, needless to say, are intriguing.

The restaurant has actually never served Dutch food. Founded by an energetic Italian, Frank Lorino and his wife, Mattie, in 1939. The café was taken over by George and his brother, Tommy, both natives of Greece, in 1973.

The building was christened Little Dutch in part, because the Lorinos met at an East Tennessee drive-in that in later conversations Mattie referred to as the Dutch; and in part, because Frank could spot a good bargain.

He traded a lifetime of free meals for a cooking stove from successful local businessman, Jim Burke, and when it came to the sign on the front of the building, Frank made another deal.

“So the signmaker he went to told him it was too bad he wasn’t opening a Dutch restaurant, because he had a leftover sign,” George said, referring to the now famous windmill logo, a testament to Frank’s larger-than-life frugality.

Frank and Mattie kept the one-room café open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and welcomed the youth of Morristown in to wile away their free time at the business; even remaining open on holidays, until they were convinced to close one Christmas.

“They went to lock the front door and there was no lock on it,” George said. “They had to pull strings to go find one.”

After Frank died in 1970, Mattie had difficulty finding dependable people to help her run The Little Dutch; they would either suddenly quit or not pay the bills, according to George.

By the time Mattie met the future owners in Johnson City, the café had gone downhill to the point that she advised George and Tommy to change the name.

They did not take her advice on that point, but Mattie proved to be an invaluable asset in many other ways to the new business.

“She was in the front; she advised us; she let us meet people she knew; she was wonderful to us,” George said.

Eventually, George and Nina bought Tommy out, and he and his sons went on to operate restaurants in Morristown, Dandridge and Knoxville.

Meanwhile, the Little Dutch continued to serve as the epicurean center of Morristown, a place for families as well as a must-stop for movers and shakers visiting the area.

“Every governor of the state, since we’ve been open, have passed through here,” George said. “Every senator and congressman has been here at least once, sometimes more. I even met the real Sheriff Buford Pusser. A lot of professionals that hold big positions today have worked here, including Judge Herbert Bacon. We’ve seen a lot of young ones; we show them how to work, here; they learn to be successful most of the time, but not all of the time.”

For the Angelos, the restaurant has been more than a family business.

“As many of you know, this restaurant has been our second home. We have raised our family here and built long standing friendships. Most importantly, it is the place where we have realized our dreams,” he said. “We would like to thank our wonderful staff, both present and past, that have contributed to the success of our restaurant. We wouldn’t have succeeded without their commitment and dedication.

“We are grateful beyond words to the Morristown community and the many communities in the Lakeway Area for the many years of supports. Our hope is that you will continue to support the Little Dutch Restaurant, and the Lambert family in the years to come. Our last wish is to see the Little Dutch reach its 100th anniversary.”