Rolling with the flow

Times have changed but Ute Coffee Shop remains popular hangout

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Sam Green/Cortez Journal Ute Coffee Shop cook Bill Martinez serves up food for the lunch crowd.

Where there's good people, there's good service. Where there's good service, there will always be customers.

That's the key to the Ute Coffee Shop's business success. As a gathering spot for a wide variety of customers, these folks are there to see well-known friendly faces. Younger generations that come in to dine were likely preceded by their grandparents.

On any given afternoon booths and tables are filled with truckers, ranchers or other locals looking for a good meal and a comfortable setting.

Once a very prominent place for trucks to refuel and re-energize, the Ute Coffee Shop is still finding success, even after the truck traffic has slowed down.

Donna Bowling is behind the wheel of the coffee shop and she has steered this diner through all kinds of rough times.

Even during the economic downturn, the Ute has maintained. There may have been some hard times, but Bowling knows what it takes to run her restaurant. Keeping her customers happy comes first.

"People started ordering the less expensive items and were cutting back on eating out, but we survived," Bowling said. "And we didn't change our prices because the cost of food didn't go down during that time. I think the customers just like our people."

Bowling's husband, Richard, is a trucker. When the couple first bought the diner in 1977, he was hauling loads while she was running the business. But the coffee shop has been near and dear to them even before they owned it.

Donna, born and raised in Cortez, remembers being a dishwasher for the coffee shop at 15 years old.

Looking back, she can see how things have changed.

"A cup of coffee cost a dime," she said.

At that time, the Ute was in the building adjacent to its current location of 17 S. Broadway. Today, the restaurant remains a gathering place for friends to meet, drink coffee and grab a bite to eat.

When it first opened in 1952, it had diesel fuel pumps and a diesel shop around the back. In 1959 the restaurant moved next door allowing more space for customers. Trucker traffic isn't what it once was and Donna says she sees around 10 trucks come through in a day But even that number dropped when construction on Broadway rerouted them from the south. She knows once construction wraps up truckers will return but it will never be the truck stop it once was.

The Bowling's have owned the diner two separate times. The first was from 1977-86 and again when they purchased it in 1991. In between those times, The Bowlings raised seven kids and Richard drove a truck. In 1986, when they sold it for the first time the name changed to Karen's Kitchen. When they re-acquired the restaurant in 1991 from Kurt and Ruth Ferguson the original name returned.

"Most of our customers have been coming here forever and their family before them," Donna said. "We've been here a long time too. The food is the same, we treat our employees really good and we cook from scratch. A lot of people don't do that at home anymore."

Donna is confident in her customers and her staff.

Leon Wilkin is a part of a group of four guys who drop in to the Ute almost every morning for coffee and sometimes again for tea in the afternoon.

"This is the only coffee shop in town where you can relax," Wilkin said.

The four men have been regulars for about four years.

"This is the only place that would put up with us," Jim Long said with a laugh.

All the men agree, they would rather be in a restaurant where everyone knows what they want to drink, how they like their eggs and where they want to sit, than in a place with no personality.

"Everyone is telling stories and laughing," he adds. "It's a good place to be."

Donna says it's the regulars who are the gravy of her business. The others who come through the doors are the bread and butter. Even her employees have been with at the Ute for a long time.

Sunny Warren has been waiting tables at the Ute for nine years. Justin Lewis has been cooking for 14 years.

"I'm a lifer," Warren said cheerily.

With few worries about future financial difficulties, Donna plans to keep running the diner like she always has.

"It's a whole bunch of work but I enjoy it," Donna said. "I think people get the congeniality of the staff and they like our food. That's why they come back."

Donna now leaves the managing up to her daughter Bonnie Ellis. Donna comes in a few times a week to chat with her regulars or to bake a few pies. She may have reduced her hours but she is nowhere near retirement.

"My daughter may inherit this place down the line but not anytime soon," she said with a grin. "I still have 100 more years of bossing people around."

rachels@cortezjournal.com

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Sam Green/Cortez Journal Ute Coffee Shop manager Bonnie Ellis checks on a table where Terrencio Dutchee, Freana Bancroft, Diana Taylor and Nolenda Badback are eating.