Her Chickasaw heritage and family guidance taught her to dream big and work hard

As a native Oklahoman who quickly spread her wings after graduating high school, Chickasaw citizen Dawn Welch eventually found her way home and has never looked back.

Her great-grandmother, who taught her the traits of strength, pride and determination, was a full-blooded Chickasaw who walked the infamous Trail of Tears. This Chickasaw heritage and family guidance taught Dawn to dream big, to work hard and to never give up on what she wanted to achieve.

Dawn grew up in Yukon, Oklahoma, and left the state after high school to go abroad. Working on a cruise ship, at the age of 23 she set her sights on opening up a restaurant in Costa Rica; strangely enough, that’s exactly how she made her way back to Oklahoma. Traveling to Stroud, Dawn ended up on Route 66 at the historic Rock Café – she came to look at an old grill that was for sale, but she ended up with a lease to the building.

That was in 1993, and Dawn is now a beloved and iconic fixture at Rock Café, originally constructed in 1939. She was even the basis for Sally, the female lead in the 2006 hit Pixar animated feature film, “Cars.” Pixar executives visited the restaurant on countless occasions between 2001 and 2006, sampling the food, hearing stories and soaking in the subtle nuances of both Dawn’s feisty character and the treasured atmosphere of the restaurant.

All was picture perfect until 2008, when the Rock Café was destroyed in a fire. The interior of the building was decimated, but the stone walls remained standing and sound.

It took Dawn a year and a half to rebuild, but rebuild she did. She credits her unbreakable Chickasaw spirit for helping her through the rough times, and during the wake of the tragedy, she even found a spare moment to write a cookbook, “Dollars to Donuts.” The Rock Café is now completely rebuilt and better than ever.

Accomplishments

  • In 2009, named Oklahoma’s Woman of the Year by The Oklahoman
  • Mentor, Institute for Economic Empowerment for Women. IEEW is an organization that helps women in developing countries open their own businesses. For more information, visit ieew.org.