Dodie — the man who brought breakfast burritos to Westport — died Monday.
If you’re a true Westporter, you knew Dodie. Officially he was Deodoro Perez, but — like Cher or Pele — all he needed was one name.
And one restaurant: Tacos or What?
For a couple of decades, that place — his and his wife’s place — was one of those funky spots that made Westport special.
Other towns and cities had Taco Bell. We had Tacos or What?
It wasn’t health food, that’s for sure. The Notorious B.I.Gwich was a modified chicken jamwich with refried beans. The Chimi Hendrix combined the excesses of Mexican food with the musician for whom it was punnily named.
But who cared? Tacos or What? served the best food anywhere, generations of Staples students, lawn maintenance guys and lawyers would say, and that’s why the tiny wooden shack next to the Shell station was always filled. And why everyone left with a satisfied smile, a full stomach, and a napkin wiping their lips.
The biggest smile belonged to Dodie. He acted like he had the best job in the world — probably because he thought he did.
Most people had no idea Tacos or What? was only half of his day.
He worked as hard at construction as he did at his restaurant. “He’d get there at 6 a.m. to fire up the grill,” said longtime customer, employee and friend Dan Towers. “Then he’d leave at 6:30 for a construction job. But he’d be back constantly to check. He loved whatever he did.”
Dan loved working for Dodie. “I dyed my hair pink in 1994, and my dad said no one would ever hire me,” Dan recalled. “The next day Dodie offered me a job.”
Dan worked at Tacos or What? — off and on — for many years.
“Dodie was absolutely loyal,” he said. “Everything was so positive — he always had a smile on his face. He’d do anything for you.”
Dodie enjoyed playing his guitar, writing music and singing. Giff Foster met Dodie 30 years ago, in Don Elliott’s Weston recording studio.
“He loved music and women — but his real love was Tacos or What?” Giff said.
“It was a cult classic. You’d see kids there, cops, Johnny Winter’s band — it was a magnet. And the food was great — reasonably priced, different from all the rest.”
After Tacos or What? closed, Dan Towers painted houses and did construction work with Dodie. More importantly, he hung out at Dodie and his wife Kathy’s Bridgeport home several times a week.
A couple of years ago, Dodie brought the breakfast burrito back to Christie’s on Cross Highway. Of course, he kept doing construction work too.
Recently, Giff said, Dodie was excited about the possibility of opening a new Tacos or What? just a bit down the Post Road from the old location.
“I don’t know anyone who knew Dodie who wouldn’t call him a friend,” Dan said. “He lived life like he died — young. He had a real young spirit.”
Dodie’s countless friends were stunned by his death — apparently of a heart attack.
They’ll be equally surprised to learn he was 60 years old.
Dodie seemed — no, he was — ageless.
(Dodie Perez will be buried in his native Texas, next to his father. A memorial service may be held here Saturday — watch “06880” for details.)