Route 66 in the News
Historic Uranium Cafe ReOpens as Nana's
GRANTS, N. Mex. - Customers were greeted with a carved wooden sign on the wall which read: “Uranium Café: The food will blow your 'mine'.” The décor was devoted to the mining industry, complete with artifacts.
The concrete block building on the south side of Santa Fe Avenue has housed a number of enterprises in its half-century. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Randy Hoffman, Grants MainStreet Project manager.
Wilber Thigpen recalled constructing the West Santa Fe Avenue building in the 1950s and leased it to Woo and family. “We named it for the mining industry which was the main business in the area after the lumbering ended,” he said, “Eugene Woo and I were good friends. The Uranium was a kind of meeting place to go and have coffee.”
Two generations of the Woo family operated the cafe until it was sold. The new place was called the Golden Fifties but the Uranium sign remained out front. Thigpen said he believes the atomic-age neon sign is original to the business.
In 1929 his father W.A. Thigpen bought real estate in Grants and moved the family from Bluewater. The south side of the property had a house, which became the family home. The land was bisected by a two-lane dirt road that later turned into Route 66. After settling into their new place Wilbur's father built a grocery store, installed pumps for gasoline plus offered tourist cabin rentals across the street. Presentl,y the New Mexico Mining Museum and chamber of commerce are located on that site.
Wilbur's daughter Cecilia Methvin recalled her family lived in the West Santa Fe house until she was seven and then moved “up on the hill.” During her childhood her grandparents lived at the back of the store and ran the grocery and tourist cabins. She remembered playing in the front yard as a youngster.
Cecelia spoke about her grandfather who had constructed a hardware store near the family's home, across from the grocery and tourist cabins. Today that building is occupied by two separate businesses: the Cibola Beacon newspaper and Grants MainStreet Project offices.
Kelly Donahue, Beacon copy editor, was new to the area in the 1970s. “The Uranium's menu featured a 'yellow-cake breakfast special'. It was a big stack of fluffy pancakes. The food was always good at the Uranium,” according to Donahue.
The Golden Fifties new owners specialized in pizza. They utilized travelers' interest in Route 66 and developed a “theme” restaurant. The eatery catered to the public's perception of the Mother Road and the mystique of the open highway. A specially made salad bar was installed which had been manufactured from fiberglass and replicated the back of a 1955 Chevrolet. Later the “backseat” was converted into a booth for customers. Donahue remembered the pizza place operated successfully for several years.
When asked about the Uranium Café local author and historian Abe Peña recalled in the 1940s the building was the Grants' post office. He said the postmaster was Henry Gallegos and later the post office moved to north Third Street where Compassion Mortuary is today. The Uranium Café opened in the old post office building, according to Peña's recollections.
He referred to the Golden Fifties and remembered the owners “even had a replica of a half-car” customer booth to attract people interested in the fabled Route 66 highway. To him the Uranium has always been a part of Grants. Speaking of the uranium-mining boom he said, “At one time Grants was flying high and the Uranium Café was a hot spot in town.”
The accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear generating plant had a very negative impact on this region. Peña stated, “It (the accident) almost put Grants in the ghost town category.” He believes the advent of I-40 gave the city new life but it was hard on local food establishments because newly built restaurants and motels were designed with direct freeway access.
The one-time eatery and post office has been resurrected. Nana's Café, which opened on May 14, is operated by Allison Ramirez and extended family.
~Roseanne Boyett, Cibola Beacon