Oct 112016
 

grand-canyon-cafe-owners








The front door of the Grand Canyon Café in downtown Flagstaff was swinging open and shut multiple times on Wednesday, Sept. 13, and two waitresses inside moved rapidly between booths alive with animated and hungry customers seated for late breakfast or early lunches. The smell of frying bacon and eggs and toasting bread wafted out from the kitchen in the rear of the establishment.

Mid-September was especially busy at the iconic Route 66 dining spot, as devoted patrons visited to pay their respects to the owners and chefs, Fred and Tina Wong, as they headed for retirement after selling their business.

The restaurant officially closed Saturday, Sept. 17. It is scheduled to reopen in December after being gently revamped by the new ownership team: two couples, Paul and Laura Moir, and Michael and Alissa Marquess, who already own and manage several high-profile restaurants and beverage and food supply businesses in Flagstaff, as well as minority partner Paul Thomas, who is a faculty member at NAU’s W.A. Franke College of Business. The location has been continuously open as a restaurant since 1942, a total of 74 years. In the Wong family since 1945, Fred Wong’s father, Albert, in partnership with his two brothers, Alfred and Edward, and also a nephew, Bill Yee, purchased the restaurant.

Through the years, the café became a beloved destination in Flagstaff, with constant loyal customers and visitors, all seeking that historic Route 66 flavor.

“A visit to the Grand Canyon Café was just part of the day for us,” said Bill Cordasco, Babbitt Ranches president and general manager. “It was an important thread in the fabric of our lives.”

On this Wednesday, Maite Blin and Regis Loock, both from Beauvais, France, came to for breakfast.

“It’s not expensive,” Loock commented. “You have a beautiful breakfast, very complex. And the staff is sympathetic.”

Wong, who was born in a small village in China and came to the U.S. at age three, took over management of the café in 1980 when his father retired.

Among local eaters on this Tuesday was James Burns, 44, a regular at the café. He works next door at the Galaxy Sales leather and saddle shop, which his family has owned since 1949.

“I’m a local pest,” he explained. “I come and harass Fred and Tina every morning when I come and get my coffee. They’re some of the kindest people. They’re the oldest, and we’re the second oldest [business]; there’s a lot of history between these two places. Fred’s been here since he was a little runt peeling potatoes in the back.”

Burns also orders out lunch, to eat at the Galaxy where he took over in 2015 after his father, Isidore (Izzy) Siebenberg, died. Lunch often is corned beef, his favorite, or the chicken fried steak, which he said is “the best in town.”

With its art deco exterior and neon signage, as well as the eclectic novelty items adorning the interior, the restaurant has been featured in many cookbooks, travel guides and newspapers and magazines, including the Arizona Daily Sun and Arizona Highways Magazine.

Retiring from the restaurant will give the Wongs more time to work their farm in Camp Verde, where they have another home. They also plan to frequently visit family in Phoenix. The couple, who married in 1982, have three grown children, Mark, David and Jessica, as well as their first grandchild, born earlier this year. “I’ll be able to spend more time at the farmers markets,” said Wong. “I had to skip this year. My son couldn’t help me; we had our first grandson, four months old. We’ll be going between Phoenix and farmers markets. We’ll go back and forth.”

Tina Wong said she plans to keep busy.

“It’s not retirement,” she said. “I’ll find something to do. I can’t sit around.”

Wong, who was a business major at NAU, first learned his cooking skills from his father, who had worked cooking Chinese food in Colorado. Wong said he had also trained as a chef at Hyatt hotel in San Francisco. The Wongs often cook side by side in the kitchen, working from about 13 hours a day, six days a week. Tina, who her husband said learned to cook “on the spot,” is fluent in the Chinese language and is greatly valued for her tasty Chinese cooking.

“She’s known for her eggrolls, fried rice and Mongolian beef,” he noted. “I’m famous for my chicken fried steak. It’s time for me to retire; I’m 68 this month. We’ll stick around to help the new owners if they need us. Flagstaff is nice and cool in the summertime. We want to thank all the loyal customers through the years.”

One of eight staff members, waitress Paige Sandoval, 23, has been working at the café for 5 ½ years.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “I’ve known Tina and Fred my whole life, so working here is just like being at home. My great-grandparents, when I was small and we lived in Tuba City, used to bring us in for lunch just about every Friday. Tina and Fred, they’re wonderful employers, but to me, they’re more like a second pair of parents.”

Sandoval is not sure if she will be staying on with the new employers, but another waitress, Beatris Castruita, 28, will be relocating to be with family in Colorado.
“I’ve been seven years at the café,” she said. “I love it. I’ve met so many people here. Fred and Tina have been great. They’re really good people, and it’s time for them to retire and enjoy time with their grandson. I wish them the best.”

Local businessman Mark McCullough was sitting at the “Liar’s Table,” reserved for hunting and fishing friends of Fred in the back of the restaurant.

“I come down a couple times a week,” he said. “I eat healthy; the Chinese is healthier. Tina changes the special every day. They have worked very hard here, but it took a grandbaby for them to retire. I think that’s great.”

Local Flagstaff Unified School District teachers also made the Grand Canyon Café a favorite eating spot for decades.

At a booth against the wall, Linda Harris sat with her husband, Clair, and Dave Brown, both retired Flagstaff High School teachers, along with Judy Davis, whose husband, Terry, had also been a FHS teacher.

“We used to come at least once or twice a week for breakfast for 35 years,” Harris said. “We just moved out of town. We live not far from Camp Verde where Fred lives, so we know where the food will be.”

Teachers were such frequent diners that seats were assigned to them.

“They would come early,” Davis recalled. “Albert opened early on Friday so they could get to work on time. They all sat in the same seats for years and years. The waitress would say, ‘These people are family.’”

The Wongs always made sure everyone left with a full stomach, including a homeless Native American man who sat in front and was fed regularly.

“We have the most prestigious people in Flagstaff, down to that homeless fellow,” Dave Brown said. “Fred and Tina treat everyone the same.”

Jim Muns, a retired history teacher at Coconino High School, with 31 years in FUSD, has been coming to the café since 1968, when he first came to town to attend college.

“His dad, Albert, had the place; I came in to eat,” Muns said. “I’ve known Fred and Tina about 23 years. I come just about every day. I would come down in the evening and work for them, take cash when they were very busy. After I retired, I upped my job; I’m down here five days a week. Officially, I am the cashier. They’re very, very nice people, who work very hard. I think Flagstaff is going to have a very serious case of chicken fried steak withdrawal.”

Many folks were ordering Fred’s chicken fried steak during the last week the chef would be in the kitchen.

I’ve had a lot of local customers,” Wong recalled. “They come and go, generation after generation. That’s one thing I’m going to miss, all my friends here – all my loyal customers.”

By Betsey Bruner, Flagstaff Business News

Dec 032013
 

flagstaff-route-66









Angel Delgadillo’s hand vibrates on the stick shift of his ’55 Dodge pickup as he squints out the cracked windshield and gears down to a stop. “The old road came right along here,” he says, sweeping at an expanse of dust-blown asphalt and the juncture where Route 66 hives off from the I-40, which bypassed his small hometown of Seligman, Ariz., in 1978. He may be showing me a road, but what he’s really pointing out is history.

The Great Diagonal Way. The Mother Road. Main Street of America. Route 66, arguably the most fabled and important road in the United States, was commissioned in 1926 and became America’s main thoroughfare, linking Chicago to Los Angeles. Immortalized in song, film and fiction, the almost-4,000-kilometre road was known as the path of opportunity in the 1930s for dust-bowl farmers from Arkansas and Oklahoma fleeing sharecrop destitution in hope of a better life in California, and was a prominent military deployment route for resources and hitchhiking soldiers in the Second World War. By and large on flat terrain, it spawned a trucking industry determined to usurp the rail cargo that paralleled much of the road. Later, it mapped a 1950s travelogue postcard route for the family road-trip vacationers who were California-bound or headed west to see the Grand Canyon. Motels, diners, gas stations, banks and general stores lined the highway and thrived on the wayfarers stitching their way across rural America. That is, until the road was eclipsed by a series of interstate highways built in the late ’50s, a portent of the inevitable decommissioning of Route 66. The bypassing of the last leg in Williams, Ariz., in 1985 was the end of the road. And then it disappeared off the maps.

“We didn’t exist, we didn’t count, we didn’t matter,” recalls Delgadillo of the rejection of the old two-lane road for the newer highway, which abandoned Seligman and other towns like it in this northern stretch of Arizona. Inspired by the survival instinct of those “flight of America” migrants he witnessed travelling westward through Arizona as a child, Delgadillo, hailed as the “guardian angel of Route 66 and a tourist attraction in his own right, and his brother Juan drove the movement to resurrect the spirit of — if not the traffic on — Route 66 and bolster relic Arizona town economies so that folks could stay. Make a living. Matter.

Arizona was the first state to designate the “Historic Route 66” in 1987, reviving the longest stretch of the original route of the eight states it traversed, and invigorating towns for visitors who share Delgadillo’s passion for the old road and who recognize the importance of a history laden with hope and suffering, exuberance and adventure.

Several towns are essential pit stops on this north-central Arizona journey. Oatman is a dusty former mining outpost where wild burros — descendants of the ones from Oatman’s turn-of-the-century mining days — still patrol the streets amid stalls peddling souvenirs and sentimentality. Kingman is home to three museums documenting the cultural history of Route 66 in the state.

Nostalgia has a certain currency, but Northern Arizona isn’t fetched up on a memory lane.

Route 66 traverses part of the Mojave Desert, and there’s something about that chalky landscape that focuses the senses. Your eyes grab for any departure from scrub — something higher like Joshua trees or bright like the “damned yellow conglomerate,” the way I heard someone refer to the flowers that carpet the dry earth. But grape vines? Don and Jo Stetson latched onto an idea that the virgin high desert soil on their ranch near Kingman, along with the hot days and cool desert nights, might be perfect for a vineyard plunked down in a valley against a backdrop of mountains.

It’s too early to say how Stetson’s Winery’s 3-year-old cabernet, chardonnay, zinfandel and merlot grapes will fare when they’re ready for harvest a few years down the line, but until then, they’ve turned out some pretty great wines using cabernet, merlot and chardonnay grapes from California thanks to the skilled eye and palate of one of Arizona’s wine gurus, Eric Glomski.

Arizona has an innate and comfortable frontier swagger, and this, along with the desert climate, has attracted a bold breed of winemakers. Glomski’s own Page Springs Cellars is located in the Cottonwood region of the Verde Valley, home to a more established group of wineries. The rocky, mineral-rich soils and intense heat contribute to the terroir.

Page Springs Cellars’ success has as much to do with Glomski’s zeal to understand and interpret that terroir as it does with his penchant for traditional southern Rhone varietals like syrah and grenache, or his bent for experimentation with new varietals like aglianico, alicante and marselan. He lets the land speak and the fruit guide the wine, which means some grapes are destined for a blend such as Page Springs’ 2012 Ecips, a mingling of cournoise, syrah, mourvèdre and grenache.

Page Springs, along with wineries like Pillsbury, Javelina Leap, Oak Creek and Fire Mountain, has breathed new life into the valley, as well as the town of Cottonwood, an epicurean hub for the area. They know they’re on to something, and the excitement is palpable. Five tasting rooms line Cottonwood’s main drag, including wineries from southern Arizona that want some northern exposure. Locavore, farm to table, snout to tail all infuse cuisine in the valley, with wine as the stalwart complement. It even informs the desserts: check out Crema Cafe’s Dayden rosé sorbet for a cold treat in the desert sun.

Gourmands might continue on to Sedona for its fine dining and chic shops in the northern Verde Valley, but the red rock hills, buttes and mesas are the real attractions in this city. Surrounded by towering rust-coloured spires and monoliths, Sedona’s “vortexes” beckon folk to explore what the Hopi Indians have known for centuries: there’s a spiritual energy in these here hills.

So it was natural for reiki master and native Indian scholar Linda Summers to settle in Sedona. Attuned to the subtle shifts in energy that draw visitors from around the globe to experience these sandstone pools of power, Summers shares her spiritual skills and area knowledge on personalized guided vortex tours, which include a description of the particular history and energies associated with each vortex, meditation at the sites and reiki. Summers points out the swirling pattern in nature at these sites: coils in rocks and twists in trees. Cirrus clouds begin to eddy above us at Cathedral Rock. And then Summers points at the sun, where a halo has formed: I’m hooked. While some come to meditate, absorbing the subtle energy here, others take to the hills for hikes about Cathedral or Bell Rocks, Airport Mesa or any number of treks around these surreal, otherworldly formations.

Sedona’s red rocks succumb to lush forests of gambel oak, ponderosa pine and canyon maple in Oak Creek Valley, and the ascent to Flagstaff is a sight for green-starved eyes. There are plenty of national campgrounds in the valley for those in need of some forest therapy. The road snakes steeply toward Flagstaff. At 7,000 feet above sea level, this official dark-sky city is not hampered by the tang of Route 66 motel neon, a beautiful, tawdry escort in and out of town. Flagstaff is a mix of the new and very old — check out the downtown core and cocktail lounges at the historic Weatherford and Monte Vista hotels once frequented by Hollywood stars like John Wayne and Clark Gable. This university town has an easy hipness reflected in the great restaurants and craft breweries that have cropped up here. The Museum of Northern Arizona refines the area’s history, geology and aboriginal culture artfully under one roof, and is worth a trip before exploring the Petrified Forest or the Grand Canyon or any of the multitude of other natural wonders in proximity to this mountain town.

The Grand Canyon is, of course, the magnificent main draw in Arizona. But no adventurer on a great journey ever made a beeline to the end. There’s too much to see here along the way. Start by climbing a mountain: watch for the Santa Fe train rolling alongside the old Route 66. Then follow.

The writer flew courtesy of the Arizona Office of Tourism and was a guest of Hualapai River Runners and the wineries listed in the story. The organizations did not review or approve this article.

IF YOU GO

All major Canadian and American airlines fly from Canada’s major cities to Phoenix, but there aren’t always direct flights; you’ll probably have a layover at Chicago’s O’Hare. Car rentals are available at a terminus about five minutes away (via a regular shuttle) from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport.
Winter might be an obvious time for Canadians to visit Arizona, trading our cold for the dry, warm winter and perennial sunshine in the state, where many retire to golf and hike and sightsee. Braver souls who love a dry, hot heat will enjoy easier access to all of Arizona’s wonders at off-season discounts from around May to September.

By Lynn Farrell, For The Montreal Gazette

Nov 122012
 




This is our third guest article on Route 66. This one focuses on the ‘winter’ of, or ON, Route 66!

Traveling down the historic Route 66 is a unique way to get your family together during the Christmas holiday. Gather the troops from across the country and reconnect on the old historic “Mother Road” that, at one time, was best passageway from the Midwest to the West.


Drive through the streets of a fabulous world of kitschy Americana, follow each other in a caravan of cars or pile in an RV (try to avoid motorcycles during winter — it can get cold!). Each little town you pass has a legend attached to it. You may find yourself touring an old school house, visiting a nostalgic ice cream shop and looking over your shoulder in one of the many ghost towns along the tour. With the wind in your hair and not a worry in the world, this will be the best Christmas EVER!

Step into a history rich with roadside attractions, neon signs, rusty gas stations, 50s diners and vintage motels. It’s all part of the experience, part of the adventure. What do you need to know and where do you go?

Driving Tips

  • Be sure you have appropriate car insurance (with roadside assistance) so you are 100 percent protected and carefree on your journey.
  • Don’t advertise you are away from home. When in a city with inhabitants, keep your maps out of plain sight when stopped and use the truck stops if in need of rest — they are generally the safest place to rest your eyes.

Great Idea No. 1

Before you go on this fabulous family vacation, make a playlist of Christmas songs and old country driving tunes (Willy Nelson would be a great choice). Burn it to a few disks and bam! Christmas gifts, done! You’ll be singing all the way from Amarillo to Tucumcari. Pair that with the EZ66 Guide for sale at Route 66 World Bookstore and Roadfood and you’ll be on your way to worry free holidays.

Great Idea No. 2

Roadfood. It’s a must-get book. Ever wanted to eat at little off the beaten path at classic regional restaurants but don’t know how to find them? This book was written by a couple who went on a country-wide trip, finding and rating the best unknowns. While the directions are good, a navigational device is extremely helpful.

Fun Places to Stop

Christmastime along the Route 66 is vibrant with life and lights. It’s quirkiness illuminates with decorations aglow.

  • Chain of Rocks Bridge — Constructed in 1929, the bridge crosses the Mississippi from Alton, Ill. to St. Louis, Mo. and has a 30-degree turn midway across a mile-long bridge, according to nps.gov. Today, it has trails for walking and biking — fun for the whole family.
  • The Blue Whale — Sitting in Catoosa, Okla. is an 80-foot long smiling blue whale that Hugh Davis built for his whale-collecting wife, Zelta, as a gift. The attraction dates back to the 1970s.
  • Sandhills Curiosity Shop — Located in Erick, Okla., this wacky shop is full of music memorabilia. But it’s not just a shop, it’s an experience. Sit for awhile and have a chat with the owners, Harley and Annabelle Russell.
  • Restored Phillips 66 Gas Station – Between Clinton and Amarillo, Texas, this is where gas is 19 cents a gallon. That was all the way back in 1927, according to ridingroute66.us.
  • Cadillac Ranch — Amarillo, Texas has a mythical land covered with 10 historic Cadillacs, noses stuck in the earth as they erect from the land. You are free to graffiti your presence on the pieces of art, says legendsofamerica.com. They are open to the public to decorate.
  • Tucumcari, New Mexico – A pleasant reminder of the good old days. With historic motels like the Blue Swallow and Motel Safari, you can sleep under the pretty neon signs which light up the route through town.
  • Winslow, Ariz. — Simply, so you can stand on the corner in Winslow, Ariz. and live in the Eagles song, “Take it Easy.”
  • The Grand Canyon Railway’s Christmas Polar Express — In Williams, Ariz., a charming little town sits along the Route 66. During Christmas, the railway turns into a magical Christmas train to the North Pole.
  • Santa Monica Pier — Route 66 ends with an amusement park, an old carousel and the lovely California coast.

Lastly, be sure to take special care of our Route 66. Help preserve historic landmarks along the 2,400 -mile stretch. What can you do? Clean up after yourself and others, drive slow and enjoy the sites and get into the nostalgia by helping the local businesses survive.

Article by Olivia Lewin

May 222011
 



Imagine presenting close to 900 people the thing you truly believe in…
Imagine being first on stage – without any teleprompter, cue cards, nothing! Just you and the audience!
Ignite Phoenix allowed me to speak of my passion – Route 66!

Below are a few pics taken before and during my presentation. The video will be available shortly – and I will post it.
Thanks to all of those who came – to those who had postitive TWEETS about my presentation – and to all of those who came up to me afterwards talking about Route 66!!

 

Twitter posts about the presentation:

lakeeler Lauren
Aw, @route_66_world, making me nostalgic for road trips. #IgnitePhx

ProsserArch Prosser Architects
#ignitephx @route_66_world taking us on the road again

impromptuguru Jill Schiefelbein
#ignitephx Get your kicks @Route_66_World

victormoreno Victor Moreno
#ignitephx the passion @route_66_world has for roadside travel and it’s timeless charm is palpable, I’m smiling 🙂

MackDuncan MackDuncan
Get your kicks on @Route_66_World #ignitephx

prestoniscrazy Preston Smith
@route_66_world – feeling emotion about my 85 year old grandparents!

halfacat Roger Williams
Opening of @route_66_world killing it at #ignitephx 10 http://campl.us/bbJ5

CorineMGreen Corine
@Route_66_World Very interesting, thank you! #ignitephx

amyheisler Amy Heisler
Fantastic stories and photos! @Route_66_World. Thx for sharing! #ignitephx

AlexBerger Alex Berger
Euros and others come to visit and explore @route_66_world reminds us to visit our local route 66 stretch/not take it for granted.

aussieheather aussieheather
I’m ready to travel on Route 66! Great presentation @route_66_world

RCWClady Teresa Lewis
The mother road as Steinbeck calls it – Route 66. @Route_66_World. Great job. #Ignitephx

ASUCaseyThomas Casey Thomas
Road trip! @route_66_world proud AZ is part of the greatest road in USA #ignitephx

dustpars Dusty Parsons
Celebrating Americana and @route_66_world! #ignitephoenix

RideNowPwrsprts RideNow Powersports
@route_66_world is giving a great presentation at #ignitephx about traveling along route 66. Great places to ride!

prestoniscrazy Preston Smith
@wifeofninja @route_66_world just say we should stay at a wigwam in Holbrook.

FowleLanguage Zach Fowle
.@Route_66_World says the mother road isn’t abandoned at all. Stay at old hotels, fill up at rickety gas stations, smell roses. #ignitephx

jackalert Jack Smith
great opening! “@halfacat: Opening of @route_66_world killing it at #ignitephx 10 http://t.co/4oRZZFw”

briankranz Brian Kranz
Awesome presentation, @Route_66_World! I wanna take a road trip on Route 66 now.

brandxtshirts Brand X T-Shirts
I wanna travel #route66 on a vespa @route_66_world #ignitephx

susanbaier Susan Baier
#ignitephx Great job @route_66_world

Intelliclean Intelliclean
@route_66_world go AZ and Da Route 66!!!!!