The family has graciously offered to share their story, a true tale of inspiration and of a family of immigrants that built a small empire along Route 66 in the desert southwest. I eagerly await their email as this should make for some interesting reading.
I stumbled on the story while deciphering the history of iconic Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, formerly the Kimo Cafe, in Kingman, Arizona. This is to be another point of interest on the self guided historic district walking tour being developed by Kingman Main Street.
This restaurant was just one chapter in a story that started with a young Swedish boy who had gone to sea and then got caught up in the Mexican revolution. Within a few decades he and brothers, John, Albert, Albin, and Ivar, that followed him to America had established a gas station along Route 66 in Peach Springs, Arizona, a Dodge and Plymouth dealership in Kingman, Arizona during the height of the Great Depression, managed the Shell Oil franchise in northwestern Arizona and built a motel in Newberry Springs, California along U.S. 66.
One of the enterprises was the service station know today as Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, a Route 66 icon in the era of renaissance.
With certification of U.S. 466 that had its eastern terminus at Route 66 in Kingman near First Street in 1935, and construction work to realign Route 66 west along Front Street, now Andy Devine Avenue in 1937, business shifted from the historic commercial district that centered on Fourth Street.
In June 1937 it was announced that Roy Walker was to begin building a modern auto court at the corner of First and Beale Streets. In 1939, Oscar Osterman, the local Shell Oil distributor, purchased adjoining property and built a service station and café. Osterman had used the name Kimo for a station he had opened on Beale Street in the early 1930s. The Ki was for Kingman, and Mo was for Mohave County. He used the name for his new station.
An advertisement in the Kingman Miner dated January 1940 reads, “Kingman Café No. 2 formerly located at 224 Beale Street has moved into the new café building of the Kimo Shell Service. The same excellent food and service in a new and beautiful location.”
A few years after opening it was renamed the Kimo Café and Oscar Osterman’s wife Clara took over management. Clara was a cook of local renown that had managed the Casa Linda Café on Route 66 In Kingman, and a former Harvey girl.
Generations of Kingman residents had fond memories of the Kimo Café. Located just a few blocks from the high school, it was a popular lunch stop and after school hangout. And for many young men, the station was a first job as the flow of traffic along Route 66 provided an endless supply of customers.
In the mid-1950s, E.J. “Charlie” McCarthy leased the service station and garage. In addition to managing the Kimo service station McCarthy had established a Texaco station along Route 66, Canada Mart today. In 1959 he opened McCarthy Motors, a Studebaker dealership that also sold International Harvester trucks, next door. In 1967 he acquired the Ford dealership that is now TNT Engineering.
In 1991, Scott and Roy Dunton, owners of Dunton Motors next door, purchased the café and station. In an interview Scott Dunton said, “At the old Kimo the only part that was a restaurant was the narrow section when you walked in the front door. The kitchen was in the back. Everything from there to the east was gas station and garage. We did a full remodel and enclosed the pump island. We changed the name to Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner. Of course, the “D” in the name was a reference to Roy Dunton. The idea was to create a ‘50s style diner. A lot of my mom’s recipes ended up on the menu.”
In 2006, Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King put the diner, and its signature root beer, in the national spotlight during a segment of Oprah and Gayle’s Big Adventure. They stopped in for lunch and so enjoyed the root beer several cases were purchased for the studio audience on a future program.
Scott Dunton said, “The idea for the root beer came from my family’s trip to the World’s Fair. That was in 1962. I was twelve and every day I walked all the way across the fair to get XXX Root Beer. I always remembered how it tasted like it was filled with cream. My dad said it was the Rutherford family root beer, a tradition in Spokane. So, when we bought the Kimo and decided to build the diner, I remembered the taste of that root beer and tracked down the Rutherford’s. As it turned out they had sold the business with the formula to A & W. Then I talked with the franchise department but decided that being linked with A & W would limit our plans. I looked for other options and found Mutual Flavors. In our initial conversation I asked if they could make a creamy flavored root beer. They kept sending samples, and my family and I kept tasting it, but it just wasn’t right. Then I suggested adding caramel and Mr. D’z Old Fashioned Creamy Caramel Root Beer was created.”
It is fitting that the Dunton family were pioneers in the Route 66 renaissance as they had been providing service to travelers along that highway corridor since it was signed as the National Old Trails Road. N.R. Dunton had begun managing a garage and service station in Goldroad about twenty miles west of Kingman since about 1925. That was the year he built Cool Springs on the east side of Sitgreaves Pass.
On June 13, 1946, the Kingman Miner published a picture of a new dealership at the west end of Front Street between the Kimo Shell and Café on First Street and noted that, “The new building built by A.L. Owen now houses the N.R. Dunton Motor Company. One of Kingman’s finest new business houses, it has a modern display room for cars, an automotive parts section, and an up to date maintenance department.” Roy Dunton, with Herb Biddulph, Kingman’s first mayor, purchased that dealership in 1950. Today it is Dunton Motors Dream Machines managed by Roy’s son, Scott.
In the late 1990s Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner was leased to Armando and Michelle Jimenez, Las Vegas restaurant owners. Today the colorful old diner with its signature sign and world-famous root beer has become a landmark and a destination for legions of Route 66 enthusiasts.
This venerable old diner has survived hard times, good times, and odd times such as the years of the apocalypse better known as the COVID 19 pandemic. And the story of the Osterman family is that of America as the land of opportunity. These are the stories of inspiration that are shared with pride through Jim Hinckley’s America.