As I look back over almost 50 years of being a resident of Gallup, NM, I am reminded of some of the hardest times of my life which created the best memories of my life.
After having worked for Whiting Brothers Oil Company in several different locations: Amarillo, TX, Lupton, AZ, and Ashfork, AZ, I moved to Flagstaff, AZ, for a job with a new company that also brought me to Gallup in 1975. I remember saying, “Oh no! Not Gallup!” but it was necessary to follow my work. The job I came for was not the one God had planned for me. After a few twists and turns, I landed in Toh-la-Kai, NM and would spend the next 10 years learning the Navajo way. The Navajo people, my friends, taught me, loved me, hated me, and shaped me into the Grandma I am today.
In 1982, I started a bakery business quite by accident while trying to figure out what to do with the rotting bananas that were from the Thriftway service station and grocery store I managed. I started baking banana bread and that grew into a 2500 loaves a week business. I later added other bakery items, including many types of pies. The baked goods were delivered regularly to trading posts and businesses all over the Reservation.
In 1987, I realized I needed more space and wanted to expand the business. I searched every area of the Reservation trying to find a place for my baking business. I did not want to leave the Rez because all of my family and friends were there. After exhausting all my options, I decided it was time to move to town. I cried many tears over leaving Toh-la-Kai, but I knew God had other plans for me. Gallup was strange to us. We had shopped and banked in town, but moving there was a big change, and was not easy. I still knew I was following the path God had planned for me.
After almost giving up, I found a small place on Boardman and Route 66, where Subway is currently. The building was owned by one of the many wonderful people I met in Gallup. Hence, PeeWee’s Place was born. Fortunately, business was booming, but unfortunately, the space was very small. Almost immediately, my business outgrew my space and I started looking for another place. While I was there, I met another wonderful person who wanted my help with a downtown business called the Chocolate Shoppe. While still at PeeWee’s Place, I managed this establishment for about a year until more people were hired. Additionally, I also rented a space for a business at Rio West Mall. PeeWee’s Place was now gone, and PeeWee’s Kitchen was born.
While at the mall for 18 months, I was approached by UNM leadership to offer a bid for the kitchen there. I didn’t want it. I really didn’t want it. They kept asking so I put in a bid with terms I was sure they wouldn’t accept, but they did! UNM would be the location for my business for the next 10 years. We were already catering when we moved to UNM, but it was necessary there as well due to all the meetings being held and events that were planned. The catering business continued to grow and day by day it started to feel more like home. I loved the students, staff, and faculty, and made many lifelong friends over the years. When a new director was hired, they decided to open up new bids for the kitchen. I knew then that God had once again changed my path. I pursued the Reservation again to find a place to go back to, but God had other plans.
My last restaurant, my forever home, would be at 1644 South 2nd Street. I was excited, but scared. I never had a restaurant of this size, but God’s will was my will. To say that the last 22 years held daily surprises would be an understatement. Who could know that all my friends from my early Rez days would find me and follow me? For many years, and especially these last 22, my heart has been so full of love and friendship. There were thousands of pastries, hot cups of coffee, and meals served. There was catering for thousands of people for various celebrations, graduations, birthdays, weddings, and funerals. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and most other holidays allowed me to cook and serve even more special meals made with love in my kitchen. I’ve always been thankful for all my dedicated friends who have come to the restaurant to support me all these years.
I’ve worked hard and there have been many struggles, but they have been worth more than money or fame. I’ve watched entire families grow up, including my own, and start their own families. I have loved and lost so many people who once used to come to the Thriftway station to get gas at Toh-la-Kai. I’ve made so many friends who became family; so many people I will always cherish.
After being hospitalized on March 8, 2022, I realized my health had taken a turn for the worse. All of the years of starting at 4 am, the many nights working until midnight or later, the thousands of cinnamon rolls baked, and countless meals to planned and prepared finally brought me to this point.
As I walked through the kitchen in my restaurant to deep clean and have everything nice for a new owner, all I could do was cry. No words could comfort me. The closing of my business was not as important as realizing what I’d be losing when I would no longer be able to see my friends who are truly my life. The business was so much more than just a place to make a living for my family. It was where my heart was.
God has changed my path to a completely different direction. I don’t know what the days ahead will bring, but I do know I will hold all of you in my heart and carry you with me wherever the path leads. You will never be forgotten. Maybe someday I’ll see you at the store, in church, or pumping gas, and for a short minute we can hug and reminisce about the times we’ve shared together. I pray that no matter what you do, you will stay on your path. God has a trip planned just for you. Please don’t miss it!