Before Tim Roberts, who co-owns 2 Dog Restaurant in Gainesville with his wife Tina, dove into the food industry, he embraced the nomadic life.
During the winters he worked as a “ski bum,” and when the weather warmed up, he transformed into a rafting guide. Between those jobs, Tim Roberts said he’d bounce from local kitchen to kitchen, picking up culinary skills and applying his experience to life in the wilderness.
“I was on Monarch Pass, the highest mountain pass in Colorado, with a crew,” Tim Roberts recounted. “I was cooking porkchops at 15 below zero. It was so flipping cold we put beer under the exhaust to keep it from freezing.”
Time after time, Tim Roberts said he would cook a delicious meal with what he had, no matter his surroundings.
“I learned how to make pasta off the back of the tailgate of a truck in the middle of woods with no electric,” he said. “I’ve made pesto with a wine bottle and bowl as mortar and pestle. I have done a lot of things in a lot of environments that are not kitchens, but I have eaten very well.”
At 2 Dog — which recently received one of two Small Businesses of the Year awards from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce — Tim Roberts said he harnesses his knowledge gained from cooking in the outdoors and applies it to the business.
Tim and Tina Roberts partner with two local farms, It Began with a Seed Farm in Lula and the Roberts Family Blueberry Farm in Clermont, which source all the restaurants’ produce. Depending on the season and crop yield, Tina Roberts said they must adapt 2 Dogs’ menu.
Those who have visited 2 Dog know the menu changes regularly. On one weekend, Tim Roberts said the dishes may be heavier on pork, and on another, they may focus on beef. No matter where the current takes them, the Roberts adjust and move with it.
“I’ve tried to put Tim in a cookie cutter scenario and become more consistent for customers, but I gave up on that fast,” Tina Roberts said. “It doesn’t work with my husband. When you put restrictions on him, his creativity dies. As it turns out, mine does too.”
Although they embrace a rotating menu, Tina Roberts said they do have two few popular dishes people have requested for years — the chicken avocado quesadilla and the Rosa, a round slab or bread topped with tomatoes, herbs and balsamic vinaigrette.
Tim Roberts said the farm-to-table approach at 2 Dog stems from his desire to keep the product “as close to the building as possible” and cook “real food.” In addition to the produce, the Roberts source their meat from local farmers.
“We’re not trying to do anything outlandish,” he said. “We’re hopefully taking real food and doing something interesting with it. That's always been the essence of 2 Dog.”
It started with a bakery
Those who remember 2 Dog’s beginnings 23 years ago, know that the restaurant didn’t start as a restaurant, but instead a bakery that sold bread, coffee and pastries.
Tim Roberts briefly co-owned the bakery with his friend Chris Romberg. He said the business’s name pays tribute to the two dogs they had at the time, which they kept with them 24/7.
When opening 2 Dog, Tim Roberts wasn’t yet married to his wife and operated the bakery on the square where Avocados Restaurant now resides. Within the first six months of running 2 Dog and making little profit, Tim Roberts said he decided to turn it into a restaurant.
Tim Roberts married his wife shortly after, and she joined as co-owner of the business. He said they outgrew their space on the square and relocated to 2 Dog’s current spot at 317 Spring St. SE in Gainesville.
In 2006, with double the staff and double the space, Tina Roberts said their restaurant began to boom. Unfortunately, the Great Recession hit shortly after, throwing water on their flame. She said the restaurant dropped to less than 40% of its normal profit.
“It was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to go through,” Tina Roberts said. “We had to take on this giant mortgage, and there was so much I didn’t understand about jumping from a small to a large location. Paying electric, gas, water, everything was so much bigger than I expected.”
Like they do with their menu, the Roberts had to adapt and change with the environment. Tina Roberts said they ended up shifting toward catering, which ultimately saved their business.
Slowly but surely, she said 2 Dog started to regain its rhythm.
“Just when we thought we were digging out, COVID hit,” Tina Roberts said.
During the beginning of the pandemic, she said 2 Dog moved from having 5% of its sales come from takeout to 100%. Right now, Tina Roberts said the restaurant sells 60% of its meals in-house and 40% to-go.
“Business is getting better, but it’s still not great,” she said. “The difference for me is that in 2008 we were paddling along with no government help, and we felt very alone. This time, I can look next to me and see other people going through the same thing and the government stepping in to help.”
A partnership to the end
Tim and Tina Roberts run their business as a family operation, along with their 12-year-old son, Ames, and 14-year-old daughter, Nobi.
When asked what it’s like working with her husband for over two decades, Tina Roberts replied, “That’s my biggest badge of honor. I survived it.”
Joking aside, the couple said they’ve found a balance between their two roles — Tina Roberts takes care of the finances, public relations and catering, while Tim Roberts oversees the kitchen and works as head cook.
“He has a different style of dealing with employees,” Tina Roberts said, laughing. “He’s a screamer and yeller. Me, I’ll not scream and yell, but I’ll hold it to the day I die. But I really respect the way he runs things, and I think he feels the same about me.”
Reflecting on her time at 2 Dog, Tina Roberts said she has witnessed many milestones, none of which have been monetary.
“I am proud as a peach for what we’ve done for our community and what Tim has brought to Gainesville when he first moved here,” she said. “It wasn’t our dream to live in Gainesville this long, but here we are, and I am proud of what we’ve don’t along the way.”