Route 66 News

Remnants of Club Cafe soon will disappear

The neon signs and building of the long-closed Club Cafe restaurant in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, likely will vanish by summer’s end unless an unlikely savior is found, according to today’s print edition of the Guadalupe County Communicator, based in Santa Rosa.

Known since 1935 for its sourdough biscuits, New Mexican cuisine and its trademark “smiling Fat Man” logo on signs and billboards, Club Cafe closed more than two decades ago after a triple-whammy of the opening of Interstate 40, a recession, and the opening of a McDonald’s.

The man who owns the Club Cafe property held out hope for a long time it could be reopened — until now, reported the newspaper.

The building’s owner, restaurateur and Santa Rosa Mayor Joseph Campos, said he’s officially giving up on his decades-old dream of bringing new life to the old Club Café, and unless some deep-pocketed dreamer makes a surprise rescue bid, the structures could be demolished by summer’s end.

“I’ve got to knock it down. That building is a liability,” Campos said on Tuesday.

The Club Café served its last customers in 1992. Campos bought it the next year, along with rights to the “Fat Man” logo that symbolized prosperity and still invites people’s Joseph’s signature bar and grill up the block.

Campos told the newspaper that necessary upgrades to the building — including plumbing and electricity — would cost up to $750,000, and the return on that investment looked increasingly improbable. Otherwise, “everything will come down,” he said.

The Communicator interviewed “Route 66: The Mother Road” author Michael Wallis about the Club Cafe:

Wallis said the pending demolition of the long-vacant Club Café could be seen as a form of euthanasia, a mercy killing for a friend who has long been on life support.

“My tears for the Club were shed the very day it was first closed,” Wallis said […]

The Communicator does not have an online edition. However, its front page may be seen at the Newseum’s website here.

(Disclosure: I also was interviewed about the Club Cafe for the Communicator’s story.)

The Chicago Tribune published a story about Club Cafe’s closing in August 1992. Then-owner Ron Chavez saved the restaurant from closing 19 years before, but couldn’t keep inexorable market forces at bay.

The Club Cafe`s closing means that 54 Santa Rosa-area residents will lose their jobs, including five of his children, Chavez said. He also expects to lose his house, which he used as collateral for the last-ditch effort to keep the restaurant afloat.

“I just couldn`t keep it going,“ he said. “There were a lot of people who recognized it, and appreciated it. But it`s very hard to be a cult business where only a few people appreciate it.” […]

Chavez said renewed interest in Route 66, rekindled through the 1990 publication of Michael Wallis` top-selling “Route 66: The Mother Road“ and this year through the highway`s 66th anniversary, wasn`t sufficient to withstand the recession and the arrival of McDonald`s at the edge of town alongside Interstate 40.

Chavez resurfaced years later as a poet and author in Taos, New Mexico.

(Image of Club Cafe signs by Pete Zarria via Flickr)


4 thoughts on “Remnants of Club Cafe soon will disappear

  1. Bob Harmon

    I had only one opportunity to eat there many years ago; it has certainly earned a place of honor in the history of 66. I have to wonder if there is any possibility of salvaging parts of the neon sign out front or any of the old signage that was at the rear of the parking lot.

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