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Rock Cafe is no longer for sale August 30, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Restaurants.
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Rock Cafe owner Dawn Welch announced on her blog Saturday she has removed the “For Sale” signs for her iconic Route 66 restaurant in Stroud, Oklahoma.

The announcement came on the 75th anniversary of the restaurant and her 21st year as owner. After almost two years of a lot of traveling while the Rock Cafe was on the market but still operating, she said she had a “change of heart.”

Several bikers who happened to be at the restaurant during her announcement helped her remove the Realtor’s sign.

She explained on a blog post titled “A Love Letter to Stroud”:

In my 21 years, I’ve reached a several phases of burn out from sheer exhaustion and frustration that would perpetuate extreme decisions to contemplate leaving a successful career for the hope of something new. During my tenure at the Cafe, I was also Assistant Manager of Tanger Outlet Mall, a licensed Oklahoma private investigator & security guard, an American Airlines Flight Attendant, studio manager in Los Angeles, and mentor for new business women in far away lands.  [...]

During my absence from Stroud and the Route 66, there was always much speculation and gossip but these careers and the people attached to them always provided tremendous growth and change.  Running a small business in a small town can be many things from rewarding to suffocating and trusting another to operate it in your leave can be vulnerable and detrimental. I’ve been blessed to have Beverly, who most wanted that damn sign down. She allows me to wander aimlessly because she knows upon return comes the tide of change. Change is something she is most afraid of but also trusts my instincts. [...]

The tide of change has once again arrived and it’s time to remove the sign. Its also the beginning of transformation and growth that Stroud can hang its hat on and tout that we believe in our city and its people. We are committed and stronger then ever.

I’ll be around…. seemingly aimlessly.

Could this be the future??? We hope so.

Welch didn’t mention it, but she also oversaw a complete and arduous rebuilding of the restaurant after a fire in 2008. The blaze destroyed everything but the rock walls and the restaurant’s original grill.

Welch initially became well-known to roadies because of her varied food offerings, which ran from Cajun to German to Oklahoma favorites such as chicken-fried steak. She gained fame when Pixar Animation Studios based her personality on the Sally Carrera character in the 2006 hit animated film “Cars,” and her already-popular restaurant became packed during the summer months.

Welch and her Rock Cafe have appeared in several television programs, including “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and she published a cookbook, “Dollars to Donuts.”

(Image from 2007 of Dawn Welch giving her “Cars” spiel from ElectraSteph; image of the Rock Cafe by Chuck Coker)

Many brick buildings in California vulnerable to quakes August 29, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Restaurants, Weather.
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After a multitude of earthquakes in California during the 1970s and ’80s, we’ve long assumed the state’s old buildings are much less susceptible to damage because of new codes.

That’s not the case. The Los Angeles Times reported this week that thousands of brick buildings in the region remain unstrengthened against earthquakes, especially in poor municipalities such as the Route 66 town of San Bernardino. And the report specifically cited one Route 66 business there as vulnerable.

As many as 8,000 remaining brick buildings are at risk of collapse, according to the data published by the state in 2006. The number probably has not changed significantly since, commission Executive Director Richard McCarthy said. [...]

San Bernardino’s mandatory retrofitting law lasted only a short time before it was rescinded in 1999. Only 15 of about 130 brick structures have been retrofitted there. [...]

Molly’s Cafe in downtown San Bernardino is in an unreinforced building on historic Route 66. Restaurant owner Antonio Canul, 51, said the brick exterior is one of its draws, and he wouldn’t want to tinker with the building.

“Lots of people know it by the way it is,” Canul said. “I’m not going to fix something that’s not broke. I’m going to leave everything the way it is.”

Part of the problem is retrofitting a building is expensive, and many business owners cannot or will not pay for it. Also, San Bernardino is bankrupt and subsequently is unwilling to enforce costly building codes.

Fortunately for Los Angeles, almost all of its brick buildings have been retrofitted. However, the Times last year reported that 1,000 concrete buildings in L.A. alone remain vulnerable, including in its historic downtown — where the western endpoint of Route 66 originally was.

In case you were wondering, last week’s strong earthquake in California’s Napa region damaged buildings, but none collapsed — mostly because they were strengthened.

(Image of Molly’s Cafe by John Hagstrom via Flickr)

Kickstarter fundraiser launched to restore sign August 22, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Restaurants, Signs.
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The new owners of Cindy’s Eagle Rock Restaurant in Los Angeles have begun a Kickstarter campaign to preserve the historic diner’s vintage sign, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Monique King and Paul Rosenbluh bought the restaurant and reopened it in April. And, so far, they seem to be good stewards:

They’ve kept the original booths, wallpaper and countertops inside, from when the diner opened in 1948, but King says the sign outside is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the mid-century landmark.

“We felt like the luckiest people in the whole universe when we got it,” King said. “It’s a beautiful sign, it’s vintage, original and there is just something so important about preserving it and taking it away from being just a big pigeon roost.”

King and Rosenbluh started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $16,250 they say is needed to restore the sign. The two are hoping to fix the rusted metal, attach a new neon “open” sign, structurally reinforce the sign and replace the sign’s letters.

King reiterated the restaurant is keeping the sign, but it simply doesn’t have the money now to do it properly. If enough people help out, the owners will hire a sign preservationist to do it up right.

Here’s the campaign, with all the goodies detailed:

(Hat tip to Scott Piotrowski; image of the Cindy’s sign by Howard F. via Flickr)

Severe storm damages Burger Hut in Needles August 19, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Restaurants, Weather.
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A severe storm that caused up to $5 million in damage to the Needles, California, included the historic Burger Hut restaurant along Route 66.

The Needles Daily Star had a roundup about the Aug. 12 storm, including the Burger Hut:

Ana Johnson, owner of The Burger Hut, said she was glad no one was hurt. She had finished with a customer when the storm struck about 4 p.m.

Repairs will take time, she said. The restaurant is insured but to evaluate the damage and possibly make repairs will take time.

There was significant damage to the plumbing and to the electrical system, she said. There is a piece of the roof missing and water damage inside.

Reopening will be a wait and see proposition, she said. It’s unknown what the cost is and she’s unsure of what will happen.

The Los Angeles Times also reported the closed Overland Inn motel also lost its roof during the storm. At least two cars were swept off the road by floodwaters and into the Colorado River. Fortunately, the motorists were rescued.

The Star reported 2.2 inches of rain fell during the storm, which is Noah-like proportions for such a desert town. Straight-line winds, estimated at 60 mph, also knocked over more than 50 power poles and damaged other businesses.

I was in Needles days after the storm. Most of the damage had been cleaned up, but a railroad underpass near downtown still contained several feet of water and remained closed to traffic.

The Burger Hut was built in 1957 by Lee McCary. It was renamed Irene’s Burger Hut, then Irene’s Drive-In, before reverting to its original name.

A visit to the Snow Cap Drive-In August 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, People, Restaurants.
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Here’s a recent visit to the historic Snow Cap Drive-In restaurant that’s graced Route 66 in Seligman, Arizona, for more than 60 years.

Founder Juan Delgadillo died 10 years ago, but it’s apparent from this clip his family is keeping it going quite well.

For those who never met Juan, here he is in 1996, in all his irreverent glory.

(Image of the Snow Cap Drive-In by Brett Kiger via Flickr)

Springfield erects new welcome sign, Red’s Giant Hamburg replica August 9, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Events, History, Restaurants, Signs.
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On Friday, right when the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival was kicking off, the city of Springfield, Missouri, showed off its new Route 66-themed welcome sign and a replica of the long-gone Red’s Giant Hamburg restaurant sign at the newly christened Route 66 Roadside Park.

The Springfield News-Leader had some details about the park:

Plans for the Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park include incorporating memories of local Route 66 landmarks, sculptures, a filling station replica, a motor court sign replica and a history plaza. The first phase of the park includes the replica of the Red’s Giant Hamburg sign, a park driveway and parallel parking, landscaping and sidewalk improvements along College Street. [...]

The initial streetscape cost $423,000, including $112,000 for utilities, and was paid for using ¼ cent capital improvement sales tax funding. The Red’s Giant Hamburg sign was funded with donations of more than $15,000, raised through the local crowdfunding company www.Crowdit.com.

The estimated cost for the park altogether is about $1 million, according to Rognstad. However, with additional ideas popping up, that could run higher, city leaders say.

To complete the park and other improvements included in a vision plan, the city must leverage its investment in the project with private donations and other sources of funding. A larger plan to revitalize historic Route 66 through other parts of Springfield could roll out in phases, as the city gauges interest and potential funding.

The KY3 station filed this report about why Springfield is suddenly embracing Route 66 — economic opportunity.

And KY3 posted this bonus — a report from 1984 when Red’s Giant Hamburg closed when the Chaneys retired.

The man behind Waylan’s Ku-Ku August 4, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in People, Restaurants.
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The Joplin Globe published a profile on Gene Waylan, the longtime owner and grill operator of the Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger restaurant along Route 66 in Miami, Oklahoma.

What many people don’t know is the Ku-Ku is the last one of a chain that once boasted 200 restaurants across the Midwest during the 1960s. And the primary reason the restaurant has survived is Waylan himself, who’s owned it since 1973.

While other restaurants have come and gone on Miami’s two-mile long stretch of Route 66, he has continued to flourish thanks to a dedicated work ethic and community involvement that has caught the eye of major media throughout the country.

“I’ve been featured on the Food Channel. I’ve been in the New York Times and the New York Post,” Waylan said. “I’ve got a lot of people who have stopped in because they’ve seen me on television and they want to meet me. I always come out and say hi because that means a lot to me that they stopped here.” [...]

“We’re a made-to-order place and that means putting the kind of care into what people ask you for,” Waylan said. “Today, we are really busy behind here, but the other places aren’t. That’s because people want to come here because they know things are going to be done right. I’ll apologize to people when they come through when they know they have had to wait a little longer than I like, but a lot of times they are happy to wait because they know they are getting quality from me.”

Waylan closes his place only a few times for holidays. Also, when he was laid up after hip surgery a few years ago, he elected to close during that time. He’s the one behind the grill, and he wants to ensure everything is done right.

Fortunately for Route 66 tourists, he has no plans to retire. “I’m going to continue to serve here until I can’t do it anymore,” he told the Globe.

The Travel Channel produced a segment about Waylan and his restaurant:

(Nighttime image of the Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger sign by Chuck Coker via Flickr)

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