The rich aroma of spices has followed Dotti Bushnell throughout her life, from her childhood in India to her 47-plus year proprietorship of The Garlic Press in Uptown Normal.
Dotti’s parents were Presbyterian missionaries in India, where she grew up surrounded by Indian culture and attended the Woodstock School with students from over 20 countries. When World War II intervened Dotti’s family returned to the U.S., taking a long ocean voyage around the Cape of Good Hope for their safety. She returned to India to witness the nation’s independence but also the bloody partition, when the former British colony was split into two nations, Pakistan and India.
She returned stateside to attend The College of Wooster in Ohio, where she majored in art and met her husband Paul, they were married the day after their graduation. Paul studied Middle Eastern history, attended Yale Divinity School, and continued his studies at Vanderbilt’s divinity school in Nashville. Immersed in the emerging civil rights movement, Paul was a founding member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1966 they moved to Bloomington when Paul secured a teaching position at Illinois Wesleyan University.
Despite the full-time effort of raising four children, Dotti also taught Montessori school, worked as the Mennonite School of Nursing’s librarian, and as an elementary education coordinator along with Norma Ashbrook at First Presbyterian Church when Rev. Richard Watts was pastor.
Looking for another transition, a new kitchen store was for sale in downtown Normal in 1976, The Garlic Press. Dotti borrowed money from various family members to secure it, only a few years later needing to expand, Dotti moved to a new location just up the street where it is today. During this time in the early 80’s Julia Child was taking American cuisine by storm, opening new possibilities for varied menus and new methods of cooking. The Garlic Press caught this wave and continues today. Dotti joked that she became the area’s expert on Cuisinart food processors, giving demonstrations to various clubs and even at the McLean County Fair. She started a quarterly newsletter for customers on cooking classes, store news, and events in Normal. Customers enjoyed the classes, which in turn made the business grow. Classes became a social experience for customers.
The Garlic Press has always been more than kitchen equipment, including gifts of all sorts, greeting cards, toys, clothing & jewelry and unique items... “It starts with the kitchen, but we have customers who don’t cook at all,” Dotti told the Pantagraph in 1996. “I think the assortment makes us unique. ...Good design and function is what we look for.”
The Garlic Press expanded again and purchased the adjacent building to include a café and deli. It attracted a strong community of regulars from 2005-2017. The cafe was replaced a year later with a Popcorn & Candy store that attracts a wide variety of people and families. In 2001 she expanded ownership to include her daughter Sarah McManus and long-time employee Pam Locsin. Sarah “grew up in the store” and Pam is known for her distinctive displays. The unique gifts and kitchenware at the Garlic Press draws a clientele from throughout Central Illinois and out of state conferences held in the nearby hotels.