ON A SCORCHING JULY AFTERNOON, a few dozen folks sit on the patio at Del’s Restaurant, in Tucumcari, listening to a local band perform classic country and rock hits. Others dance or admire the vintage cars and hot rods here to celebrate the Mother Road restaurant’s 66th birthday.
While much has changed in Tucumcari, Del’s, and its iconic Hereford-bull-topped neon sign, has remained a constant, and a must-stop along Historic Route 66. For half of those years, Renee Gutierrez has been there, too, taking orders for chicken-fried steak, catfish, and—her favorite—chimichangas filled with shredded beef, cheese, and green chile.
“You get to meet people who come and go,” says the longtime server. “There’s not a job in the world that can compare to my job.”
Gutierrez got her start at Del’s at age 16. Her older sister, Vicky, waited tables there, but was relocating to Colorado and pushed her to apply. “You got to get this job, Renee,” Vicky told her. Working shifts after school and on weekends, Gutierrez began busing tables before becoming a server a year later.
She’s lasted through several owners: Jessica Braziel, the former restaurant secretary who bought the breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot from founders Del and Wilma Akin in 1978; her daughters, Yvonne Braziel and Yvette Peacock, who took over in 1995; and most recently, Chase Waters, a Tucumcari native and former employee who purchased Del’s in July 2021.
In fact, Gutierrez helped train Waters as a server when he started as a teen. They have been friends ever since. “He said one day he would own a restaurant,” Gutierrez says. “Fifteen years later, he came back and did what he said.”
In between, Waters left to manage chain restaurants in Texas. But he was never too far from the Del’s family. “Yvette and Yvonne would randomly text me asking when I was coming back to buy them out,” Waters says. “I finally gave in, mid-Covid.”
Although he’s enhanced Del’s Western decor with memorabilia from his grandparents’ Phillips 66 station, which once operated in town, Waters hasn’t changed much else since taking over. He recognizes the importance of employees like Gutierrez to the Del’s experience. “She enjoys making people happy through food and laughter,” he says. “She’s always going the extra mile for guests.”
That includes the time Gutierrez waited on actor Morgan Freeman, who was making a nostalgic return trip to Tucumcari. A decade earlier, when bad weather had forced him to stop in town, he’d become enamored with the place. When she approached his table, “it felt like I was looking at a TV,” she recalls. She left him alone so he could savor his steak and eggs.
Yet her favorite memory isn’t the brush with Hollywood; it’s a compliment paid by an airline pilot. “I’ve been all over the world,” he told her. “And you’re the best.”
“I’m trying to make it feel like a five-star experience,” she says. “I will stay there until I die or retire.”