#TheGoodStuff: Paying tribute to J&W Grill owner, Daren Cook
By Jim Cowan, Chickasha Economic Development Council
Many people dream of opening a restaurant, but to actually open one is a much bigger challenge. Nine out of ten restaurants that open will fail. Long hours, slim profits and managing both staff and customer expectations make the restaurant industry one of the toughest there is. To operate one successfully over decades is very rare, but to own and operate one that becomes iconic in stature seems to be almost one in a million.
J&W Grill opened in 1957. Fried onion burgers have been cooking on that flat top grill in that tiny diner for over 60 years now. I have so many friends from high school that make it their first stop when they come back home to visit friends and family. The staff at J&W know your name, your kids names, what you like to eat and probably where you went on vacation this summer. This business transcends selling delicious food and instead offers nostalgia. As steeped in tradition and consistency as they are, they were also quick to adapt to the uncertain economic times when the pandemic hit. Curbside service and delivery were immediately implemented to make sure they were taking care of their many loyal customers.
Back earlier this year on my first day at work with the Chickasha EDC, I made my stop for lunch at J&W. I was by myself, but I sure wasn’t alone sitting on one of those classic red stools. The place was packed with hungry people craving that authentic diner experience of the best fried onion burgers in the state. Customers traveled from all around Oklahoma to visit Chickasha’s version of the TV show “Cheers”, where everyone knows your name. Eating at this Chickasha landmark is a regular routine and I’m sure that will continue for many decades to come!
You can debate how many iconic restaurants there are in the state of Oklahoma, but there are several that will be on most anyone’s list. Cattleman’s in Okc, Eichen’s in Okarche, Pete’s Place in Krebs, Rock Café in Stroud, but the list is not complete without mentioning J&W Grill. Chickasha’s home for fried onion burgers has been featured in most state newspapers, magazines, TV stations and state travel and tourism media outlets. Much of this success comes from the many decades of hard work of Daren Cook.
Daren Cook started working at J&W Grill when he was only 12 years old. He worked his way up through the business and became part owner at 19. By the time he was 23, he owned the restaurant outright. That is a very young age to grow and manage a business, but to grow it to legendary status, well that is unheard of in the restaurant industry.
Our Community lost a great man this past week. I had the honor of knowing Daren and he wasn’t just a great man, he was one in a million, and when I think of Chickasha, he is definitely #TheGoodStuff. Rest in Peace Daren.