Golden Sands owner: Doors open - for now
By Glenda Rae Davis
KAYENTA, March 1, 2012
Two weeks ago the Navajo Reservation's most famous roadside diner was on the verge of closing, a casualty of hard economic times and an eviction notice from the Kayenta Township for unpaid lease fees.
But Gray, who has operated the Golden Sands since 1987, said township officials told her during a Feb. 13 meeting to keep the doors open despite the notice ordering her out by Feb. 18.
"They said they would get in contact with us," said Gray, 54, adding, "It's been about two weeks and still no word. We check the mail often and have been waiting for their call but nothing so far."
Gray said at the end of the meeting, a member of the Kayenta Township Commission asked township director Andre Cordero if he would contact her regarding a payment arrangement and Cordero nodded his head.
"I'm going to go in this week and see what is up with the whole thing," she said.
According to the township, Gray owes $227,000 mainly for unpaid fees on the land where her café and home are located, which is leased from the township. Gray said between the depressed economy and increased competition from fast food chains, business declined and she got behind on payments to the township.
In addition, high turnover in the township executive director's office has frustrated her attempts to work out a payment plan, she said.
The Navajo Times was unable to confirm Gray's account of the township meeting because Cordero, the township's top administrator, did not return phone calls requesting information on the situation.
The eviction notice prompted Gray's son and co-manager of the café, Billy Crawley II, to organize a live music benefit Feb. 11 in hopes of raising enough money to pay the debt.
"It was a great day. A beautiful day," Crawley said. "The turnout was more than expected. People came and stood by us and talked to us. It was a blessing."
Crawley, 32, estimates that 300 people showed up, coming from all over region to support the Golden Sands. A total of 16 artists donated their time to help raise money to pay the township.
"A couple of my original line-up were not able to make it but there were other artists who came and asked if they could perform," Crawley said. "We had a country band show up and a drum group called Southern Soul did a blessing, flag and honor song to start us off."
Miss Northern Navajo, Koltey Tso, also attended and addressed the crowd, Gray said, adding, "She was great."
The café's more usual role is to host fundraisers for others, as it is doing today. Both Tso and Miss Navajo Nation Crystalyne Curley are waiting tables until closing for a Tip-A-Royalty fundraiser to benefit the Navajo Nation Special Olympics.
Grey said the Special Olympics fundraiser "is just one of the ways we are getting support and helping others at the same time. We just recently catered to a Navajo Trust Fund event too."
Crawley said the Golden Sands benefit helped community members to reconnect with one another.
"I saw people that day that I hadn't seen in a long time," he said. "It did something great for this town."
The music show was free, but the café was open for business throughout the day, and Crawley also held a raffle of donated items, some of which had personal meaning for the donors.
"I got a drawing from a girl named Shine. She said it was her first drawing ever and we ended up auctioning it off for $60," Crawley said.
Another donor traveled all the way up from Tucson and gave a guitar to be raffled.
"I was like 'Are you serious?' It was a $600 guitar and he wanted it to be a part of the raffle," Crawley said.
"It wasn't just people from the community here, we had people from Cuba, N.M., Crystal, N.M., and Phoenix. They were from all over the place," he added.
Altogether, $2,000 was raised to help the Golden Sands stay open and Crawley said, "My heart goes to every single one of them - the people there that day and the people who emailed, people on Facebook, and the ones that wrote letters. I owe them a lot."
Crawley noted that the amount raised is only a fraction of the debt owed, and he is still accepting donations through his Wells Fargo and PayPal accounts.
Information: 928-697-3684 or www.facebook.com/pages/Golden-Sands-Cafe/190059704372169.
Information: Tip-A-Royalty, 907-350-4454.