BELEN — A new attraction at the Belen Harvey House Museum — the Fred Harvey Whistle Stop Cafe — is another way visitors can step back into history.

The cafe, which is now open, is situated in four rooms in the southwest portion of the historic building.

The cafe is adorned by way of the 1920s, with red and white plaid table clothes, rustic tables and chairs, Pioneer Women tableware and country décor.

Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo
Volunteers at the Belen Harvey House Museum and the Whistle Stop Cafe began serving customers this week. Pictured, from left, are Cat Stinson, Lily Smith, Linda Jenkins, Priscilla Day, Jan Smith and museum manager Frances Zeller.

Frances Zeller, the Belen Harvey House Museum manager, said the Whistle Stop Cafe is a place where patrons can enjoy a fresh cup of coffee, freshly-made muffins, a variety of grilled sandwiches, artisan soups and malted milkshakes.

“I always felt like this end of the museum felt a little drab to me, with not a lot going on,” Zeller said. “The first two or three rooms have a lot going on and they’re interesting. You come back here, and there wasn’t really much to offer. It was more like a utility area.”

Zeller wanted to offer the community and visitors more, saying all first-class facilities have a cafe or an eating area.

“We wanted to offer people a quick bite — a tasty little nosh,” she said. “This is a quick stop for a sandwich, some ice cream and a cup of coffee.”

The planning and preparing to open the Fred Harvey Whistle Stop Cafe has been ongoing for more than a year. The name, fitting for the railroad, the time period and heyday of the Harvey House and the restaurant in the movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes,” is reminiscent of days gone by.

“This is a lot less formal of when the Harvey House was here in the 1920s,” Zeller said. “Belen doesn’t need formal. It’s kind of a country-casual-comfortable place to be.”

For months, Zeller has been collecting furniture and décor that now sits on tables and shelves in the cafe. Little by little, and with help from grants acquired by Belen Library Director Kathleen Pickering and donations from the Friends of the Belen Harvey House Museum, Zeller was able to purchase everything from equipment for a commercial-grade kitchen to table clothes to make it feel authentic.

The owners of the former Buckland Pharmacy also donated its ice cream freezer and the milk shake machine. Zeller said she is hoping to offer a small cup of ice cream for about $1.50.

Local businessman Jay Peters and the Chavez Coffee Company, a local coffee roaster, are donating money and coffee to the cafe to offer free house coffee to customers.

“We feel really lucky to have that and to be able to offer a little nicer value,” Zeller said.

The menu includes a variety of sandwiches — green chile turkey, a ham and maybe a roast beef sandwich, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a vegetarian option sandwich. The cafe will also have fresh-baked muffins and cinnamon roles.

“It will feel wholesome and food of the period,” Zeller said. “We won’t have chips and hamburgers, but nice, fresh, over-stuffed grilled sandwiches.”

With coleslaw and a cucumber salad on the side, Zeller says the cafe will have a “grandmother feel,” with unique, fresh food.

“We want to offer something old fashioned, that will bring you back in time,” she said. “If you’re a museum guest, this is continuation of your visit and your experience.”

The Fred Harvey Whistle Stop Cafe cafe is open from 11-3 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday.

Also new to the Belen Harvey House Museum is the Welcome Center.

“Since we’re the anchor attraction in the city … we’re easy to find and the natural space for the Welcome Center,” Zeller said. “We already have a lot of brochure racks, and we’ll provide visitors and locals with all the information about the area.”

Zeller said she hopes the local businesses and community will bring their information — whether it’s a flier, a postcard or a brochure — to get distributed.

“We are a hospitality agent, no matter where they’re going, they’ll be able to have access to WiFi, or look something up, and we’ll even print directions for them,” Zeller said of the guests. “They can stop in for a cup of coffee or even use the restroom if needed.”

Zeller says the Welcome Center will be able to promote local attractions, restaurants, art galleries and upcoming events.

“We want to be able to point them in the right direction,” the museum manager said. “We have thousands of people come through the museum each year, and we’d like them to be able to visit other area attractions in Valencia County, and even in Albuquerque.”

The Welcome Center at the Belen Harvey House Museum is open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.