What a difference a year makes. In 2008, Dawn Welch watched Stroud’s historic Rock Cafe, which she has owned since 1993, burn down. A year and nine days later, in May 2009, she reopened the cafe with the original walls, which had been erected when the cafe was built on Route 66 in 1939. In rebuilding, she went through the arduous task of maintaining the cafe’s historic landmark status.
Six months later, Welch saw the publication of her cookbook, "Dollars to Donuts: Comfort Food and Kitchen Wisdom From Route 66’s Landmark Rock Cafe” (Rodale), which is not only a cookbook but also a guide to running a cost-effective home kitchen. Today, the cafe remains one of Stroud’s focal points, where community members of all ages meet to share news, gossip, meals and memories. "It’s funny, because we’re still doing the same thing that we did 70 years ago,” Welch said. The walls that were filled with memories and memorabilia from before the fire are getting filled again. During football season, when Stroud High School made it to the state championship game, Welch posted newspaper articles about "our kids” on the walls. She recently hung a shadowbox filled with the origami that customer Parker Sneed of Stroud folds from $2 bills when he eats there regularly. And in recent weeks, she has received more to add to the walls. John Lasseter, director of the 2006 movie "Cars,” which was set along Route 66, sent a care package of posters, toy cars and a personal letter from him about how happy he is that she reopened.
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Meet five remarkable women from Oklahoma. Whether they’re entertaining millions, serving their communities or sharing their knowledge, they’re using their gifts to inspire others. The Oklahoman’s Features Department narrowed finalists for the you! section’s Woman of the Year to five extraordinary women. A panel of staffers from The Oklahoman chose our winner, Dawn Welch, owner of the Rock Cafe in Stroud. Each of these women had a standout year in 2009. — Lillie-Beth Brinkman