Today was the last day the Grasslands Bakery and Cafe was open; as I’ve explained here before, my parents decided earlier this month to close the bakery, mostly because of concerns about my mom’s health.
It was an emotional day, because the few people who came in were really very saddened by the bakery closing; for folks who live in the area, and who appreciate good food made with integrity, it’s a huge loss.
My story of the closing began last weekend, when I drove to Sonoita to get ready for the final “sale”: my mom had things she wanted to sell from the kitchen, like her Cordon Bleu casseroles, as well as many of her potted cactus plants behind the bar and on the patio. I’d promised to price things and assemble a sale table to prepare for the closing weekend.
The day before I drove the 50 miles to Sonoita, there’d been a lot of rain and snow in southern Arizona, and the Santa Rita Mountains, from this view en route to the Grasslands, were all white:
Once at the Grasslands,I went behind the bar to get started my pricing project; this is the lovely view behind the bar:
All cactus plants would be for sale (most of them sold BTW); isn’t this a lovely tableau? Aside from the great food, something folks are sure to miss about the Grasslands is the aesthetic:
I stacked up #10 tins of tomatoes, roasted chiles, artichoke hearts and bags of pasta on the bar, and priced everything with stickers: here’s the bar transformed into a sales table:
And here’s the final view: while working, I remembered that that this very tasteful dining environment was once, in the early 90s, a dive bar called El Vaquero. I went there only once, I took some friends in for a drink; my memories of the place included bright green Astroturf on the floor, a pinball machine and clearly intoxicated patrons snorting coke off of the very bar where I’d just stacked the half-price Cordone Bleu casseroles. El Vaquero and The Grasslands are night and day. In 1995 when my parents acquired the property it took an intensive amount of work to remodel the place; today, at last 2 long-time customers told me they remember seeing my mom outside back in ’95 with a pick-axe digging the footing for the block wall around the patio. I can remember scraping up the old tile (in retrospect, I hope it didn’t have asbestos in it!) and I can also remember a few painful back sprains from that work.
Anyway, after stacking up the bar, I put price tags on all the potted plants out on the patio, even those with snow on them:
And on those that were snow-free:
So, that was last weekend. This morning, when I came in the back door of the bakery, I thought I heard a different voice inside in the kitchen….and I was right, one of my mom’s (many) younger brothers came to visit on this last day….and he was eating breakfast in the kitchen. Here is my uncle, Thomas Schmidt, with my mom:
I then started to take photos of customers who came in to eat or buy stuff to go and say good-bye; here’s my parents w/Gary Naban and Lori Monti:
And, here’s Chris and Sandy; I remember first meeting them 15 years ago. Chris washed dishes on weekends for my parents last year and was very helpful to them on busy days; while I’m an amateur weather-geek, he’s an actually employed as a weather geek: Chris, keep up the accurate forecasting!
I got John and Kay Bevan to pose w/my mom in front of all the canned preserves; John and Kay used to come into the Ovens of Patagonia, when my folks owned that place. We’ve known John and Kay for a very long time. After I went to massage school, Kay was one of my very first clients. Thanks you guys for your many years of patronage!
And in yet another farewell pic, here’s Steve and Gabriel in the kitchen w/my mom and dad. I think Steve and Gabriel started coming in after 2001, which is when I moved to Tucson and worked less often at the Grasslands. They asked me why I wasn’t taking over the Grasslands (not knowing all the time I put in the place early on); but the real answer to that is, I’m not my mom, and she’s really the heart and soul of the bakery and is the real reason for its success. I mean, everyone loves my mom; what is there not to love?
I got one last shot of the last brotchen–what I’ll miss most–and the last cookie batter my mom made this afternoon:
In the last hour being open, here are some of our very beloved and long-term local customers–Ernie Hann, Gloria Engle-Hann (an enthusiastic and talented–yes!!–quilter) and Bernice Pomeroy, who taught piano to my brothers Frank and John when they were kids. These 3 folks just have the best vibe. I always enjoyed taking care of them and waiting on them, just lovely people, thanks so much!
Here’s me and my mom and dad, after we closed up and locked the door:
And, finally, here’s my folks with India, who moved to Arizona from Montana last year, and who’s worked for my parents since November; she’s just been a wonderful support and great help in that short time. Plus she’s a new friend! Thanks India.
I know there will be many, many people who will day-trip to Sonoita from Tucson or Phoenix or further afield, expecting to find their favorite bakery open. And they’ll be disappointed, at best; I think a lot of people will be very saddened, even devastated.
Most customers at the Grasslands weren’t locals, they were tourists or from out-of-town. It’s impossible to contact these people and let them know, so they can avoid being inconvenienced. The Grasslands webpage now reflects the closure. But the Grasslands is not hooked into social media platforms; there’s no tweets or Facebook friends. The pace is old-world.
To all the folks out there who’ve come in over the years, thank you very, very much. The Grasslands was a special place.