The Sugarloaf Cafe: The Historic Cafe on Scenic Highway 74
Pinyon Pines is located up a twisty mountain road, about 25 minutes from Palm Desert (if you drive slowly). The Sugarloaf cafe sat dormant for a long time before I made the decision to invest here, but it was beautifully kept up by the previous owners. The locals have been more than supportive, and have been a key part in understanding what happened here before us. Since we opened the doors in January, 2019, I have received an outpouring of love and stories from the good people who live nearby. Trying to put it all into a readable format has been difficult. Lucky for me, there are a lot of writers in the area who have offered to help me document the Loaf’s history, and one such writer helped me to write this for you.
The following includes excerpts from local historian and our neighbor, Harry M. Quinn. We cannot thank him enough for keeping our history alive, by helping us to tell the story of this beloved cafe.
The Nightingale Lunch Room, as it was called in the 40’s after the original owners, was built in or about 1932. It ”…was only a single building with two gasoline pumps out front and the only local place where one could get fuel and supplies”. The operation served several purposes: a small market, a cafe, and a filling station with two hand-cranked gas pumps. “It also served as a place for all the locals to congregate on Saturday night. There was a concrete slab with some lights on the westside of the building that was used on Saturday nights for dancing. The power for the lights was provided by a generator and the music by a live band… more often they just used an old phonograph for the dance music. I think they sold more beer on Friday nights than food, but it was always a great get-together”.
When the Palms to Pines Highway was being pieced together from Palm Desert to Idyllwild, the Nightingale housed the workers in a campground out in back. The Cafe portion of the building featured mainly hamburgers and hot dogs with potato chips and canned and/or bottled beer and soda pop…When the old propane fired deep fryer was working one could get fries rather than potato chips with their burgers. but it was nothing one could depend on. They often had meatloaf and mashed potatoes [on Saturday nights]…I can still remember their hamburgers; they were very big and loaded with everything and when they came with french fries they were even better. Of course, i was small at the time so they may not have been as big as I remember them…”
It wasn’t until the mid 50’s, when the Anza Electric Cooperative brought electric power to the Pinyon area, and it was with this that things changed. The “Cattle Country” was subdivided and neighborhoods began to form. Along with the introduction of electricity came powered refrigerators, and an end to the legacy of the Nightingale family. The cafe was re-named “The Sugarloaf Cafe”, after Sugarloaf Mountain (which is still visible from the current dining room).
Over the years the Sugarloaf has changed hands many times. The current ownership assembled the original 3 parcels: 17 Acres which border Makerville and the vast wilderness of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Although the property has changed over the years, I chose to keep` the Sugarloaf name in honor of the Nightingale Family and the many others who have contributed to its history.
ABOUT Gabbi Rose
I am a native to Southern California, and a recent Venice Beach ex-pat to the Coachella Valley. I am learning to love life in this magical desert landscape, and all its history. For as long as I can remember, the desert has been my personal healing refuge from “city life”. It brought me out to enjoy solitude and reflection, away from what was “my busy life”. I am a bi-product of the City and have been on an extended hiatus from Los Angeles since 2016.
I believe that everything good comes of following what you do best. I started in high school as a server, worked every position in the industry, went off to college, and had children. I’ve been a CEO and an Entrepreneur, and am happiest when I get to wait tables.
I am an Italian cook, but I truly love American food. I have eaten my way through many road trips across most of the country. This is what I learned:
I find pleasure in surprises.
I love roadside diners: I like to order Biscuits and Gravy, BBQ, and Pie as I pass through towns.
The Sugarloaf is my idea of a perfect surprise- we make great food & offer kind service, in the middle of nowhere.