UPDATED: Rock Cafe destroyed by fire

The Rock Cafe of Stroud, Okla., which has served hungry travelers on Route 66 since the 1930s, burned to the ground late Tuesday night.

Dawn Welch, who has owned the Rock Cafe since 1993, called us late Tuesday to let us know about the blaze. As of this writing, shortly after 1 a.m., firefighters were still working to contain the fire. Only the restaurant’s stone walls were still standing.

Welch said the fire was reported about 11:20 p.m. Tuesday. Witnesses across the street, she said, said the fire was “billowing” from the structure.

The Rock Cafe had closed early that day at 3 p.m. The fire’s cause remains unknown.

Welch wasn’t sure whether she was going to rebuild. “I have no idea what’s going to happen; it’s too early,” she said. The restaurant is insured.

Mamie’s, a souvenir shop next door that is part of the Rock Cafe complex, apparently was unscathed.

Welch was the direct inspiration for Sally in the Disney-Pixar animated movie “Cars,” and the restaurant was a key stop for the film crew when it was researching Route 66. The Rock Cafe also contained a lot of “Cars” memorabilia, including a personalized letter of appreciation from director John Lasseter.

But the Rock Cafe was well-known in Mother Road circles even before Hollywood came calling. Known far and wide for its jagerschnitzel and spaetzel and other splendid diner fare, it was featured by Roadfood.com,  Gourmet magazine and the Food Network.

I’ll try to get to the scene of the fire at daybreak. More later …

UPDATE: I got to Stroud shortly after sunup Wednesday. The interior of the restaurant is gutted, and the roof has caved in.

However, the Rock Cafe’s stone walls are still standing and appear to be sound. So if the restaurant is rebuilt, it can easily retain its original look.

It appears that the Rock Cafe’s neon sign was unscathed, as was the Mamie’s souvenir shop. Those stout stone walls probably shielded them from the heat.

A firetruck was still on the scene, directing water on the smoldering ruins. A convenience store clerk across the road told me the fire re-ignited about 4 a.m.

Here’s a short video that shows what the Rock Cafe interior looks like, through the east entrance.

I ran into an older gentleman who was traveling Route 66. He expressed regret that he didn’t eat at the Rock Cafe the day before. He had decided to watch “American Idol” in his motel room instead.

The goldfish in the pond near the restaurant’s patio appeared to be fine. They swam along lazily with no apparent distress.

In their own way, they showed that life goes on.

UPDATE2: Here’s a Daily Oklahoman report on the fire.

UPDATE3: Here’s another video of the fire on late Tuesday/early Wednesday. The images are dark because it’s night, but if you look closely, you can see the smoke billowing from beneath the roof.

UPDATE4: Here’s a video by an area TV station.

Good news: The station and longtime Route 66er Shellee Graham both report that Welch plans to rebuild.

UPDATE5: In case you missed it, the Rock Cafe was rebuilt and reopened a little more than a year after the fire. All is well.

56 thoughts on “UPDATED: Rock Cafe destroyed by fire

  1. Another sad news for the Route 66 Family… Another icon such as the Pig Hip in Illinois disappearing…

    Hope Dawn welch will have the courage and the force to rebuilt it.

    Dawn, we are all by your side…

  2. It is a sad day for the Route 66 travelers to hear this news. They had some of the best road food around. If at all possible I hope that Dawn does rebuild.

  3. I am saddened for you, Dawn and Fred, in your loss.

    Not only does it have meaning for me today, as an historical site on Route 66 and good food, but my memories as a teenager, loving to go to the Rock cafe for the best hamburgers in Oklahoma. I will never ever forget the Rock Cafe!

  4. Another sad loss. Glad we were able to eat there as that opportunity may not present itself again.

    Let’s hope Dawn will be able to rebuild it.

  5. This sounds like a good reason to put together a motorcycle run… and maybe a car & bike show. That would at least show her that she want her to stay.

    If it is a money issue, we could make both of them beinifit events!

  6. Dawn called me at midnight to let us know. I was sitting in a train station in Memphis, waiting on a train to Illinois after spending a week leading a group of folks from North Carolina on a motorcoach tour of Route 66. I’m so glad the group decided to stop at the Rock on their way through Sunday night, and I’m even more glad that I had the chance to spend a few precious minutes in the kitchen and a few precious minutes sitting at the bar with Dawn, eating a plate of spaetzle with cheese. I almost skipped dinner on the grounds that I was too busy and too full from lunch. I’m so glad one of the ladies on the tour insisted that I eat something.

    I hope Dawn will rebuild. More than that, I hope the roadies will continue to love and support her regardless of her decision.

    I feel as if I’ve lost a member of my family. I can only imagine how Dawn feels. Send some love and prayers her way; I’m sure she can use them.

  7. This is very very sad news. I hope & pray that they will rebuild. I’d be willing to participate in any benefit that is put together.
    Let them know that folks around the world are pulling for them

  8. Dawn, you have our deepest sympathies.

    Dawn, we feel that the ROCK CAFE will continue to have many visitors as it is a Route 66 landmark! As your friends we hope and pray that you will be able to rebuild, restart, rejuvenate, throw it in gear, put the pedal to the metal and come back stronger than ever!

    Please do not let something like this stop you!

    Ourselves and everyone else know that you can turn this tragedy around and make it work for you and the Mother Road!

    We will contine to tell people they must visit the ROCK CAFE!

    Your friends, Harley and Annabelle

  9. What a sad loss. I luckily was able to enjoy a fine breakfast there last September on my way through Oklahoma. I will treasure that memory forever. I hopefully look forward to a new memory at a rebuilt Rock Cafe sometime in the future.

    Best wishes Dawn and I hope you have the ability to rebuild. When I told my wife this morning about what happened, she said it was like a death in the family. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Jammin John


  11. I am so sorry to see this news! What a loss for the owner, for Stroud, and for the community of 66ers for whom the Rock was like a second home. I had some really good fried green tomatoes there just there a month ago, and the place was jumping even at 5pm! That was only my second visit, but both times I felt so connected to the road and its people while I was there, like I was right in the beating heart of Route 66.

    Well, I’ll keep watching the blog to see if there’s any news about rebuilding and fundraising efforts that could help make that possible. And thank you for giving such a detailed report about this news.

  12. Oh, what heartbreaking news! I’ve loved stopping at the Rock and have good memories from each visit – even my first one back in 1993!

    Dawn – “super big hugs” from the 66 community. And you know we have a communal big shoulder you can cry on – as well as lots of individual ones. You’ve devoted so much time and energy to restoring the place, building the business, and promoting Route 66 and Stroud that I can’t even begin to imagine the sense of loss you must be feeling.

    I know us 66ers hope you to decide to rebuild, but as redforkhippie points out, let us hope all will support and understand whatever decision you come to. Just don’t feel pressured to make a decision soon. Those massive walls aren’t going anywhere!

  13. Very sad news. Good to know that everyone is safe.

    Ron, nice, much appreciated, reporting. Dawn (never met you) and Fred (met you but once), condolences and good luck with whatever the next step is.

  14. I’d like to add my prayers too. The Rock was one of a kind and I feel privileged that my family got to eat there. I’m sure God will take care of Dawn and her family and employees, but it’s still sad. Maybe it will be a stepping stone to an even better restaurant. What a blessing it was made of stone. Ron’s right–the appearance and flavor can totally be preserved even with new construction, if she wants to rebuild, and I’m sure she has a list of improvements that could be added. Best wishes, whatever the decision turns out to be.

  15. So glad my husband and I got to eat there and meet Dawn a couple of years ago. The wall signing in the restroom was a highlight of our visit and all those that have signed that wall will need to come back and revisit and support Dawn. Seems so many of our icons on 66 are being destroyed and here’s hoping Dawn will want to rebuild…there is another generation of roadies out there just waiting to make the trip down the Mother Road for the trip of a lifetime. Our thoughts and prayers for a quick cleanup and hoping to see in this column the “rebirth of the Rock Cafe” out of the ashes. It was good for Atlanta and it can be for Stroud. Now each time I watch the movie CARS, I’ll think of Dawn and hope all her friends of the road will inspire her to rebuild. We need you!

  16. I drove to Stroud and spoke to Fred Welch this morning, if the engineers agree — they will rebuild from the inside out [retaining the distinctive stone walls]. As Dawn said by phone, “I’m not goin’ down with the fire.”

    Shellee Graham
    Chandler, O.T.

  17. What a tragedy! My heart is heavy. Dawn, you are in my thoughts and prayers. Please stay strong and remember that your friends love you and are pulling for you. I will keep my fingers, toes and eyes crossed hoping that you will rebuild.

  18. My wife and I ate there for the first time this past Sunday. We were heading home to Norman from a weekend motorcyle trip to Tulsa and Muskogee. We had seen it on Diners Drive-ins and Dives and have been wanting to eat there. The food and Dawn and her staff were great. We had planned to go back.

    From the blogs it seems Dawn and all have a great support team of friends. I know she has great customer support anxiously awaiting for the reopening of a great place to eat and be with good people.

  19. I’m sorry to hear this news. Ron and I stopped to take photos during our Route 66 trip in September 2006. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a meal there as we had somewhere else to visit. That’s our loss.
    Let’s hope that it will be restored before we make our 3rd trip along the Mother Road.
    Ron and Peter,

  20. Dawn,
    Take heart from the people in Radiator Springs. You have done much to add to the love and preservation of the Mother road. A little time, a deep beath, and accepting the love, support, and encouragement of your Route 66 friends will bring clarity to the future.
    From one who was privileged to appreciate “THE ROCK” over the years.
    Pat Evans ‘Rallymaster” Mother Road Ride Rally 2000 thru 2007

  21. Dawn, so saddened to hear of your loss of the beloved Rock Cafe. It has been a true icon of the road with you being the big part of it. All of us hare will keep you in our thoughts and prayers as you go thru this sad times of your life. Take care.

    Rich, Montana and Rest

  22. My thoughts are with Dawn and her family. Remember, after darkness comes the Dawn, and the Dawn we know is strong and committed to Route 66. We’re all pulling for her, and know that some day the Rock will rise again.

    Afton Station

  23. stroud is an awesome community and dawn and fred have an awesome attitude about this tragedy. the community will support her decision to rebuild with all coming together to help in the process. you are in my prayers

  24. Where else in OK could you get an Alligator Burger?
    Seriously tho i hope they do rebuild. And we’re all trying to
    rebuild aren’t we?

  25. While my thoughts are with Dawn and hope she can rebuild, I would just like to take the moment and also say, it is this kind of reporting and honest love of the subject that makes this site the PREMIER destination for fans of Route 66.

    No ads, no pop-ups (frankly for this kind of service I wouldn;t mind seeing some, and seeing Ron get a coupla quarters here and there for all the time he spends on this).

    First class, USDA choice writing, constantly updated and researched, and the reason that some kid in Germany who wants to do a report on Route 66, is probably reading this as we speak.

    You should really put on of those Paypal tipjar things, or some google ads or whatever on the side. You bust your ass on this every day for nothing.

    I dont get to drive it much anymore, but I always know I can get my daily fix of 66 right here.

    I tip my hat to you Senor Warnick. Say hey to Em.


  26. Dawn I am so sorry to hear about the fire. My heart goes out to you, I can not even imagine the losses you are suffering. I wish I could have visited your place, because I can relate so much from what I have read about the place and seen in videos. You remind me so much of myself. Do what you feel is best and let us know if there is anything we can do to help.

    Sue Waldmire
    Cozy Dog Drive In
    Springfield, Illinois

  27. Myself and four other buddies played hooky from work last Friday 05/16 and drove Route66 from Tulsa on our motorcycles. We had heard that the Rock Cafe was a great little dinner to eat at. We pulled in around 1:00 in the afternoon and we were starving. Four of us ordered up the great chicken fried stake. Man was it good. I think Carter had a burger. I do know Carter order the bread pudding though for dessert. The least I can say is everyone at the dinner treated us like family, and the food was GREAT!!!

    From the Tulsa Crew we wish you a quick rebound!!!!

  28. We hope you will rebuild and reopen. If you do we will be there. When i went there i felt like family. The food was GREAT and the workers were excelent. Our thoughts and prayers are with you!

  29. im sorry to hear this we eat there regulary with all three clubs dawn i hope you do rebuild sop we can come back

  30. We visited with you in April from Birmingham, Alabama. Enjoyed our visit and our food very much! Makes me sick to think you have probably lost your guest books because it might give you comfort right now to read how much everyone enjoyed your place! Know you remember a lot of the outpouring of love in those books, though.

    Good luck and may God bless you in deciding what the future holds!

  31. Unless I am mistaken, the guestbooks were not being stored at the Rock at the time of the fire. Dawn had repainted the floor in the dining area a few months ago, and when she put the furniture back in, she left out the shelves that stored the guestbooks, as she needed the space to make room for additional seating. I don’t know where she was keeping them, but I don’t think they were in the Rock. Several people have asked me about that, so I’ll try to remember to ask Dawn next time I see her.

  32. I am so so sorry, we just drove up there a few weeks ago in hope of eating some of your wonderful food… We came early this yr cause usually we come each yr around Thanksgiven….We have done this for 7yrs it was OUR tradition!!! How sad we were when we saw that awful sight… We parked in the little park and walked around what was left and then just stood there for about 10 minutes until I finally said OUT LOAD I feel as though I just lost a very good friend!! I have been in awe every since.. PLEASE REBUILD – I cant imagine doing anything else as a “tradition” 7yrs we have come, it would mean so MUCH to see that NEON SIGN LITE UP AGAIN! I am so sorry Dawn…
    Thankyou for all the GOOD GOOD times!

  33. Restoration on the Rock Cafe started right after Thanksgiving. The goal is to open in May of 2009, one year after the fire. To see photos of how the restoration is going, please see davidshistoricpreservation.com and click on Rock Cafe Rt. 66. All is going well, despite the icy weather.

  34. We stopped by in July, 2008 and got the shock of our lives when we saw what had happened. I’m very happy to see that it is being rebuilt! We will try again soon.
    Castle Rock, Washington

  35. Dawn I am so sorry to see that your successfull business had been put on hold for a bit. I do hope you get everything back in food session. I would love to hear from you and come and see your new restaurant when rebuilt. It has been a VERY VERY long time since we spoke please feel free to contact me.

    Your Cousin
    Shana Lack

  36. WOW! I just stumbled across this thread. I didn’t know it reopened!! ACES!! Great News.. I am now warming up my motorcycle, and heading East to the Rock.

  37. Hello Dawn
    Just ran accross the news that “The Rock” has reopened. That’s great news. I have a lot of memories there. Graduated SHS ’49. Living in VA. now. Hope everything is going great for you now.
    May your road ahead be straight and wonderful.
    God Greatly Bless You. Bob Hall

  38. Dawn, strange how things happen, i,m in new york and just watched diners, drive-ins and dives on tv 1/9/10 did not know about the fire.. found this page and read about the rebuild, i wish you well .. i thought the show was great and think you have a great TV personalaty, keep it real,,,, Darren

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