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UPDATED: Rock Cafe destroyed by fire May 21, 2008

Posted by Ron Warnick in Restaurants.
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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.

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