The Rock Cafe in Stroud was destroyed by fire – you can see all the stories, photos and videos at www.newsok.com. But this is how I want to remember the landmark – a place where a group of Norwegians become instant friends with bikers from Hawaii. They gathered at the Rock Cafe because it reminded them of the America that’s continuing to disappear either to fires, floods, the deaths of their owners or the unabated explosion of big box retail and architecture.
I took my boys to the Jenks Acquarium during spring break and had to decide whether to take them to the Rock Cafe or another Route 66 landmark, Ollies. I chose Ollies, where they had a great time. But it’s a bittersweet decision for me now – they’re big fans of the movie “Cars” and those napkin sketches by the Pixar guys are gone forever, as is the uniqueness of the building itself.
Here’s what I wrote last summer during a tour of Route 66:
The flow of customers seems endless at Dawn Welch’s Rock Cafe in Stroud. Welch has become a celebrity, thanks to last year’s hit animated movie “Cars.” Wallis, an adviser on the Route 66 tribute movie, voiced the sheriff’s character, while the role of town booster “Sally” was inspired by Welch’s determination to make her restaurant and town standouts on the Route 66 map.
Whenever Wallis makes a stop at the Rock Cafe, he calls ahead. Beverly Thomas, the cafe‘s manager, appreciates the warning, because they always have to make an Oatmeal Pie (a “poor man’s pecan pie”) for Wallis to bring back home.
“She’s a good little business woman … Dawn really knows how to run that business and get people in there,” Wallis said. “And when I say gimmick, I don’t mean gimmicky; I don’t mean it in a negative sense. I mean it in a smart business sense”
Wallis calls Welch’s Rock Cafe an example of a classic Route 66 success story, calling her business “authentic, genuine and unpredictable.”
Notes from the road:
Every inch of the restroom in the ancient Rock Cafe is covered with graffiti. Seemingly all of it is free of any obscenities or hatred — just good natured greetings and sign-offs by travelers leaving their mark. At Waylan’s KuKu in Miami, one sees the last surviving restaurant of a burger chain that boasted 200 locations. The restaurant is designed to resemble a kuku clock, and its owner is on the job throughout the day. Children delight at carrying off meals in boxes designed to look like classic cars from the 1950s.
“That unpredictable factor is what separates it from what is very predictable: that super-slab a few miles over,” Wallis said. “It’s my least favorite ride from Oklahoma City to Tulsa, where you are literally separated from the ecology of the land and you might as well be riding on a runway.”