Route 66 in the News

Rock Cafe Reopens in Stroud

2009-06-04 20:14:20

STROUD, Okla. - "Never doubt Dawn Welch,” is written on the floor-to-ceiling eraser-board walls in the restrooms at the renovated and reopened Rock Cafe.

Welch, Rock Cafe owner since 1993, stood by a little more than a year ago as fire crews sifted through the wreckage of her livelihood. She swore it would not only open again but would open within the same walls originally erected during 1938 and 1939.

Despite suggestions that she bulldoze the place and start anew, her promise came true Friday.

For those who know Welch, the only surprise is that it came on May 29 rather than May 20 — the anniversary of the fire.

That’s because when Welch says she’s going to do something, it gets done.

As a young girl growing up in Yukon, she vowed to see the world. So she got a job working for the Royal Caribbean cruise line and made that dream come true.

"I arrived in Stroud via the Bahamas,” she said. "I’d seen the world, was all ready to move to Costa Rica to open a restaurant and came here to visit my mom for a few days and never left.

That was 1993 when then-owner Ed Smalley, who had his own long history with The Rock, was looking to escape the daily grind of the hospitality business.

Welch was prepared to take advantage of an incentive program in Costa Rica to open her own restaurant, but Smalley talked her into leasing the business from him, and she’s been there since.

When a team from Pixar led by John Lasseter came through town doing research for the film "Cars,” Welch told her story.

Lasseter and his writers were so inspired by Welch’s diligence and the sincerity of her story that they were inspired to create the character Sally Carrera for the film.

Not long after, she got a call from producers with the Food Network interested in featuring The Rock on "Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.”

She left a major impression on the show’s host, Guy Fieri.

"Dawn is just amazing,” he said during a visit to Oklahoma City in May. "She’s just a dynamo. It’s so tragic what happened out there, but I know if anyone can get through it, it’s Dawn.”

Fieri also said he’d recently visited with Lasseter and they discussed what had happened to Welch and the Rock Cafe and how fire stole much of the original artwork and letters from Pixar that adorned the walls.

"John told me to tell Dawn that he will provide her with whatever she wants to replace those items,” Fieri said.

The Rock has reopened, but it won’t be fully restored for six more months, Welch said. There is still scaffolding on the west side and work to be done.

On opening day, the restaurant didn’t have nachos because the cheese warmer wasn’t ready. It only had tea and water because the soda guy had yet to show.

Walls once adorned with notes, pictures and records related to celebrities sometimes among the clientele await new memories.

One wall is claimed by pictures from the fire, the hard hats of the men who fought it and a broom worn to its threads.

One wall down, three to go.

On Friday, Welch took a breather from the kitchen to deliver some fried green tomatoes, accept congratulations and keep an eye on register operations.

A little out of breath but clearly pleased with the first day’s effort, she said, "Looks like we made it.”

~Dave Cathey,


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