It might be logical to think that the Sugar Shack in Concho, Arizona is successful because it’s the closest place to eat (where alcohol isn’t served), before a drive in your car takes you on a 16 mile ride to St. John’s; and this would be a good assumption until you start to come here on a regular basis and begin to feel like you are part of something.
You take a table and watch the owners, Ray and Marie Rhodes, swing around the single-wide restaurant in serving mode. They listen to what you want-they roll into service with serious eyes and a flat focus on their faces. Marie gets your coffee, places the napkin down and asks, “The usual?” That’s if she knows you. From the stove, Ray looks across the thin angle of the place to watch who is coming and going. He keeps his beard in a braid, a fork in his hand, and says, “Make sure his coffee is hot enough,” referring to a regular who likes his coffee micro waved after it’s been poured. The something different is that they took ownership of the Sugar Shack because they needed a place to eat when they came to Concho, and the outcome is that they treat you like they treat themselves: Like family.
Conversation between tables is the usual where the flare of politics gets delved into and the coffee pot appears by Marie as she watches and listens and pours from the pot to fill your cup. The half-and-half gets passed between tables by the customers and everyone says hello; large hats on weathered faced men are tipped in the respectful way that is familiar to the Western part of America, a behavior they seem to own. The Arizona Republic newspaper is available for a quick check of the sports scores, as the Arizona sun warms the room.
Around high-tables and chairs-a Sunday group, who gather mostly after their church services, sit toward the end of the place around a table that can sit 10. Menus are read and the family sitting and the family serving are in a communion of nurturing and sharing. Eggs, the way you want them, French toast, fries and a veggie wrap for this customer, is made with fresh vegetables just the way she wants it.
From the window seats, that face Frontage Street off highway 61, the pond where the Koi fish live all year long can be seen. Today, it looks icy. The hum of conversations and the smell of cooking oil and coffee are at the door when you walk in. By the time you leave with the sated belly and the social stroking of a tight community-the Sugar Shack, like an unofficial community center, satisfies the appetite on many levels.
They have owned the Sugar Shack for three years. “We love it and we bought it because we needed a place to eat,” Ray says laughing. The first thing they did was remove the thrift style shop. We wanted a place where people could hang out. We kept the menu and added sandwiches and an ice cream freezer. Recently they added a self-service soda machine.
Among 10 tables they are flexible with the menu and will make what you want. They also added breakfast on Saturday’s and Sundays…that expanded the current menu from the previous owners and when asked about alcohol they laughingly said, “There’s enough elsewhere.”
Aside from politics, and cars, people also talk about the golf course reopening and that, “It will take a lot of money to get it going,” Marie says.
The combined life experiences between Marie working in the hotel industry, and Ray in the food and trucking industries-made the ownership logical. Add on the fact that they had a home here for seven-years, before the couple (who have been married for 37-years, and are originally from Sacramento, California), took over the Sugar Shack say that they, “Love it here.”
Ray says he isn’t looking to get rich. “This puts gas in the car and if we were to grow and need more space he wouldn’t be able to do this,” he says pointing to the customer eating, meaning that enjoying the moments of connecting with fellow Conchoites is the meaningful part to Sugar Shack. This is a large part of the success. Couple that thinking with the Ray and Marie formula that, “Because everyone can be themselves,” the sweetness of the shack maintains its reputation as just being different because of the relaxed formula of, “Loving what they do and taking it day by day.”
Sugar Shack, 83 Frontage Road, Concho, Arizona 85924, 928 337-2840, WiFi available for customers