Friday, January 17, 2014
Today's post introduces you to a very colorful authentic character whom I tripped over one day on my journey and couldn't resist writing his story. In 2009 Johnny C. moved his kitchen and his unique expertise into town from Gallup, NM, which is about 60 miles West of Grants. He had previously maintained several businesses. The building he chose to open Johnny's Kitchen in had been occupied on and off by several other people with similar intentions of feeding the residents of Grants, NM. Johnny's Spanish ancestry no doubt inspires his menu. Burritos and tamales are his most popular offerings. During holidays he is the busiest man in town, keeping up with orders for tamales. He also caters meetings and parties ranging in size from 10 to 600. He serves whatever they ask for, from meat and potatoes to Mexican fare. He has been in the catering business for over 20 years and his customers always come first. In the kitchen he usually works with a skeleton crew and also keeps expenses down by using disposable packaging such as foil and napkins. His customers do not mind the no frills treatment because they come for the generous portions he serves not what it is served on. Regular customers often stop by to visit and enjoy the friendly casual atmosphere of Johnny's place. It has the unique distinction of including sales tax in its prices. Instead of paying let's say, $3.00 plus tax for a burrito, the tab is just $3.00. Johnny said, "I don't like to mess with change." When I first met Johnny I asked him if he was married. His answer was, I am a part time husband". At the time I thought ahaa! Now I am quite sure he meant he spends most of his time working so he is not home much. He closes at 4:00 PM and then coaches a youth baseball team. He volunteered because of his young grandson. He said, "We are either practicing or playing a game." One day I was waiting for my son's ex-wife to arrive so we could have lunch together. I confided in Johnny that I didn't know how to refer to her anymore. He asked a question that made my decision easy. Without hesitation he asked, "You didn't divorce her did you?" Family is very important to Johnny. He and his wife Carmen, find time to take weekend trips together and have gone on several cruises, including to the Bahamas, the Mexican Riviera, and Jamaica. Their roots are in Gallup where they raised their two children. Their married daughter is a third grade teacher in Grants and has a daughter of her own.Their son also lives in Grants, is married and has a son and a daughter. According to Johnny, "We moved to Grants to be close to our children." Most people show off photos of their family, but not Johnny. When I stopped by to set up his interview he pulled out a picture of his recent knee replacement. Arthritis had eaten the cartilage in his knee, causing the bones to rub together. Although in a great deal of constant pain, it didn't keep him from working. In preparation for his surgery, which went well, he had to attend classes to learn how to use a walker and crutches. He went from walker to walking. He only took two months off and admitted, "I should have taken at least four months to heal." In 2010, due to circumstances beyond his control, Johnny was forced to move his kitchen once again. Grants is an old town and so are most of the water pipes running through town. The powers that be decided it was time to dig up one of the main streets and replace the pipes. Unfortunately, some of the digging took place in the area in front of Johnny's Kitchen. He didn't go far, just a few blocks further East. About this time the owner of our only bakery wanted to sell her property. Everything worked out just the way it was supposed to. Johnny's son loved to bake and the two became partner's. They now share the space as Johnny's Kitchen & Paul's Bakery. If I were to describe Johnny C. in one word it would be authentic. What you see is exactly who he is and his customers will follow him anywhere.