Route 66 in the News

Comeback Cafe

2009-11-25 10:25:23

STROUD, Okla. - Dawn Welch still has to reach for a napkin when talking about the fire that gutted the historic Rock Café.

Even though the restaurant, a landmark on Route 66, was reopened this summer, the fire is still fresh on her mind. Not a day goes by that someone doesn't ask about it.

She blinks back tears and is still defiant, still struck not only by the massive damage to the restaurant but also by the number of people who doubted she would be able to bring it back to life.

"There wasn't anybody who thought I could do it, except my two kids," she said. "People were super positive and supportive, but nobody thought it could be done."

Even that night, on May 20, 2008, as Welch and her family stood for 5 1/2 hours watching the restaurant burn, she told everyone the Rock would be back.

Welch felt so strongly about it in part because the Rock Cafe, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has always been more than just a restaurant. For both the people of Stroud and Route 66 travelers, it was a community center, a stopping point, a magical place where patty melts share a menu with beignets and cheese fries with cheese crepes.

Since it opened in 1939, it's been a Greyhound bus stop, a place where GIs kissed their families goodbye, a meeting place for truckers and the best stop for a bathroom break and a hamburger on Route 66.

The construction of the Turner Turnpike between Tulsa and Oklahoma City slowed business down considerably, and some believed the Rock would never get back to its heyday. That's before they met Dawn Welch.

Welch was 24 years old when she bought the Rock and turned it back into a seven-days-a-week breakfast, lunch and dinner café.

It was a strange turn for a girl from Yukon who grew up saying she hated Oklahoma, who at her first chance at freedom left the state to work on a cruise ship, traveling the Caribbean and Europe for four years.

"When you're young, you always want to run away from who you are," she said. "But if you're from Oklahoma, you're not going to escape it, and now I don't want to."

It's a lot like the Rock Cafe itself.

"Everything about this restaurant," Welch said, "is so 'Grapes of Wrath.' It's so survivalist and very Oklahoman to try to bring back something that a lot of people would have given up on."

~Natalie Mikles,


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