Friday, December 4, 2009

Bad News, Good News

The "news" this time refers to the situation facing the Route 66 Malt Shop in Albuquerque.

When we learned about the Malt Shop, it was in an April blog [Gil’s Thrilling (and Filling) Blog] which featured a photograph of writing on the front window saying “Lost our Lease, Being Evicted.” It seems that petitions from loyal diners failed to sway the landlord’s mind.

The Malt Shop, all that remains of the former Horn Oil and Motor Lodge, which was built in 1946, is located in the gas station portion. The Motor Lodge portion had already been leveled in this complex that had been on the National Register.

Thirteen years ago, owners Eric Szeman and Diane Avila took on the work of a major overhaul of the gas station's garage/service bays. They have been dedicated to preserving the culture of Route 66. As a result of their efforts, the Malt Shop exudes the look and feel of a vintage roadside grill and soda fountain with a menu of authentic dishes.

The Malt Shop was empty when we stopped there mid-afternoon one weekday, so we could walk around, photographing some of the memorabilia collected by Eric and Diane. We took advantage of the opportunity to talk with them about both the past and future of the Route 66 Malt Shop. As they spoke about the milkshake mixers and the old floor model radios in the Shop (one is by the side of the Coke machine), the emotions of a strong personal investment in the Malt Shop came through.

The posters of Elvis, James Dean, and Betty Boop added a touch of the 50's. The tone set by these and other posters was reminiscent of days gone by.

But with plans already underway for turning the eatery into a gym/pilates business, the future of the Malt Shop looked bleak.

Eric said his first thought upon hearing the landlord's decision was to look into buying boat and traveling up and down the East Coast. He was born in Butler, PA, but left "many, many years ago," although he still follows the Steelers (note the Terrible Towel in the photo above by the Coke machine).

Then one day, as only Hollywood could script it, a stranger walked in and said, "What would it take to get you to move to one of my shops in Nob Hill? I'll put in whatever lighting or special additions you would like at no cost to you."

Several conversations later, Eric and Diane decided to move to Nob Hill instead of buying a boat. Two other aspects of this move make it sound even more unbelievable: the new location will still be on Central Avenue (old Route 66), so the name still fits their site and much of the customer base already make the cross-town drive from Nob Hill to their present location. Talk about a win-win-win outcome to what initially seemed like bad news.

We continued our conversation from our table near The Culpeper Minute Men flag.

We already knew one menu item that we definitely would order. More on that tomorrow.

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