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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

Breakfast in a Small Town

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

Breakfast in a Small Town


This chapter of Walking the Same Ground doesn’t actually begin in Westcliffe, the Valley, or Custer County at all. However, It will get back home eventually.

This morning, as I am writing this, I am having breakfast at the Dutch Mill Restaurant in Antonito, Colorado, a small town near the New Mexico border.

Antonito, originally a sheep herding camp near the Conejos River, is home to the oldest church building and congregation in Colorado, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. It was built in 1857, almost twenty years before Colorado became a state. As I drove around I only saw two other churches in town, another Catholic and a Presbyterian.

One of Antonito’s claims to fame is Fred Haberlein, an American Muralist who grew up in Conejos County and painted several murals in Antonito.

The Dutch Mill is a little cafe with a bar in the back and a few Fred Haberleins adorning its walls. It is the only restaurant I found open on main street. I’m not sure, but it may have been the only restaurant in town.

As I walked in, I immediately noticed that my cowboy hat was definitely not the only one present. I asked my waitress how long the Dutch Mill had been there. She told me that she didn’t know for sure, but her grandparents had run it forty years ago, and it was still in her family.

The two waitresses were busy, so one of the customers grabbed the coffee pot and made the rounds, pouring refills. I am sure that this was a common and accepted practice.

I had asked for an extra napkin, which I never received. I was not offended however, as my waitress had gotten sidetracked by stopping at another table to visit, and I was enjoying listening to the laughter and stories being exchanged. In our modern day of hurry I did not want to forget that small town restaurant protocol called patience. After a while, I just went to an unoccupied table and got my own napkin.

On this particular Sunday morning, as probably every Sunday morning, the cafe was full of people who all seemed to know one another. No one left without stopping at other tables to give somebody a hug or a handshake, visit with friends, or catch up on local news.

Since I was seated near the door, everybody saw me as they left, and probably thought that they should have known me simply because I was there. Most of them said hello as they passed by.

No sooner did people leave, than others filtered in off of the street to take their place. During the hour that I was there, most of the tables were always full. Feeling a little selfish, I finally left when I saw a mother and her young daughter waiting for a table.

***************

As I sat at the Dutch Mill enjoying my bacon and eggs, my thoughts wandered back to Westcliffe in the 1970’s and similar mornings at Susie’s Cafe. In those days, Susie’s, named for Susie (Sanchez) Loafman who was the proprietor, was the only restaurant in town. Silver Cliff may have had the Prospector cafe or the Silver Bell at the time; I don’t remember.

As with the people at the Dutch Mill, I would have known almost everybody present, and coffee refills were the responsibility of anybody with a free hand. Hugs, handshakes, and stories would have been as common as the cowboy hats. Raymond and Belinda (Susie’s brother and sister) may have been somewhere in the restaurant helping out or just visiting with friends. Susie’s husband Danny might have been setting up for music night when his local band, The Mountain Meadow Men, would have been playing.

Susie opened at 6:00 A.M. to be sure that the ranchers and other early risers had a place to eat and catch up on the latest Valley news. Susie’s Cafe didn’t have an original Fred Haberlein, but it did have a Thomas Hugg mural of the Sangre de Cristo Range that filled one wall.

As with the Dutch Mill, Susie’s bar was in the back, separated a little from the cafe. And like my breakfast in Antonito, my morning at Susie’s on that day long ago, would have been filled with good food, good conversation, much laughter, and a good dose of local news.

***************

A few years ago, Barb and I were in one of the local restaurants. There were probably thirty or so people at other tables. We knew three: Mary Kattnig, her son Bob, and his son Tom. Mary has passed away, Bob has moved to Missouri, and I think Tom lives in Gunnison. And so, my restaurant friend “list” continues to dwindle.

This is not because people in Westcliffe are no longer friendly; they are. The restaurants serve good food and the waitresses are great. I suppose It is because of my introverted nature and that I am no longer so involved in the Westcliffe social loop. When there were way fewer people in the valley and I was a teacher, a pastor, and a coach, I knew almost everybody and they knew me.

I don’t get many 'hellos' anymore; however, as I said, this is my own fault. Maybe I need to give a few more 'hellos' myself, and sit near the door more often.

***************

I don’t know the exact year of this menu, but I think that the prices may offer a general time frame.




It doesn’t seem possible that Susie died over twenty years ago. The building, which was once Susie’s Cafe, is now a gift shop. On the front of the building is this plaque commemorating Susie and her many years of service to the community.


As a pastor, I sometimes encountered people who needed a hot meal. Susie welcomed them all, and I don’t ever remember receiving a bill. I think that many of you who knew Susie, as I did, will vouch for the truth spoken on this plaque.


Apart from visitors riding the train to Chama, New Mexico, tourism doesn’t seem to be particularly thriving in Antonito. And other than a Family Dollar and a couple of retail cannabis outlets, I doubt that the town has changed very much in the past half century, when it was probably three churches and the Dutch Mill.


On the other hand, Westcliffe, which is about the same size as Antonito, has changed considerably. Currently, we have about twenty-five churches (in the county), six restaurants, five coffee shops, and two bakeries in Westcliffe, with three more restaurants in Silver Cliff. No cannabis yet, but we do have Family Dollar, Dollar General, and Subway along with a lot more tourists and a lot more traffic.

I guess this morning, as I am sitting in the Dutch Mill in Antonito, I am feeling a little nostalgic, I find myself missing the days in Westcliffe when there were just five churches……and Susie’s.












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