By Noah Austin | Photo by Paul Markow
If people have been asking Kay Nye to mail them cinnamon rolls, two presumptions can be made: One is that those people have faith in the U.S. Postal Service. The other is that those cinnamon rolls must be very good.
On the latter point, there’s no debate. Kay runs Cricket’s Dessert and Sandwich Shop in the small town of Lake Montezuma, and the homemade rolls — a perfect combination of sweet, gooey and delicious — are a big reason Cricket’s is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
“One day, I got a call from this woman in Virginia whose husband grew up in Phoenix, but his grandpa had lived here,” Kay says. “He loved the cinnamon rolls, and she asked whether I could send her some rolls to surprise him. She was the first one I experimented with.” Kay baked the rolls, froze them, wrapped them in foil and put them in a box to mail. The Virginia woman got them two days later and said her husband was thrilled. “I’ve kept doing it since then,” Kay says.
Kay and her husband, Ralph, moved to Arizona from Southern California 40 years ago, when Lake Montezuma (population 4,700 or so) was even smaller than it is today. They noticed residents often congregated outside the town’s small grocery store. “We said, ‘We ought to put a little coffee shop there and serve cinnamon rolls and sandwiches,’ ” Kay says.
The Nyes built the restaurant themselves, naming it after a nickname given to Kay as a teenager by a 6-foot-6 friend who said she was “no bigger than a cricket.” They’d never run a restaurant before. “We figured if it didn’t work, we’d just sell it as a building,” Kay says. The grocery store is long gone now, but Cricket’s is still chirping.
One wall of the cozy, inviting space is covered with photographs of stars and comets — all made by Ralph, who maintains the telescopes at Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory and spent five years restoring an early 1900s telescope formerly used there. The place is a neighborhood hub, and on this Wednesday morning, patrons discuss the latest goings-on in Lake Montezuma. It has the feel of a family gathering, and in a way, it is: The Nyes’ son and daughter both have worked at Cricket’s.
In addition to the addicting cinnamon rolls — which Kay makes from scratch, along with pies and other sweets, starting at 5 a.m. daily — breakfast features the usual staples: bacon, sausage, omelets and pancakes. Lunch is burgers, sandwiches, soups, old-fashioned milkshakes and daily specials such as chicken enchiladas. It’s all homemade, and it all draws rave reviews.
If you need proof of that, consider that the restaurant isn’t easy to stumble upon — it’s not easily seen from the main road through town. Kay also doesn’t advertise, relying instead on word of mouth and the recollections of people such as that fellow in Virginia. Residents of nearby Sedona and Cottonwood have become regulars. Others stop in whenever they commute between Phoenix and Flagstaff. And she’s welcomed guests from as far away as Japan.
What Kay loves most, though, is that people who grew up in Lake Montezuma keep coming back to town for “fond memories.” And for three decades or so, that’s often meant going to Cricket’s and having a cinnamon roll.
Cricket’s Dessert and Sandwich Shop is located at 4225 Zuni Way in Lake Montezuma. It’s open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., but the schedule sometimes varies, so call the restaurant before making a trip. For more information, call 928-567-5761 or visit www.cricketssandwichshop.com.