Day Trips

Blessed Mary's in Groom: home to the righteous cheeseburger

Jim Moraniec
Jim Moraniec (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Blessed Mary's Restaurant in Groom makes a righteous cheeseburger, and the enchiladas are heavenly. What makes this little diner on Historic Route 66 unique is that there is no cash register and no prices on the menu. There is only a big jar by the door and a sign asking you to pay what you can for the meal. Any profits are donated to charity.

My cheeseburger and fries cost me $20 because I didn't have anything smaller and couldn't put into action the thought of digging change out of the bottom of the jar. It must have been God's will.

Jim and Carolyn Moraniec opened the cafe off of I-40 east of Amarillo four years ago come this August. Jim says that most people will pay a fair amount for the food. "Some people will stiff me, and some people will take money out [of the jar], but God sees," he says in a friendly, low voice. "I know those are the ones I need to pray for the most."

Some days he won't have a customer, and other days a tour bus will pull up in front. Word has spread of the cafe's good food and charitable deeds. "They've fed a lot of hungry people," he says, referring to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. "I'm just their worldly salesman."

When Jim first rented the wooden building on old Route 66, it wasn't much more than four walls. "The only thing that worked was a slicer," he says with a low laugh. "And it didn't work very long."

The 71-year-old Michigan native is an engineer who retired after 31 years of working at the nuclear bomb factory in Amarillo. Groom is about as unlikely a place as there could be for him to land, Jim says. "It's really not a bad place," he says, "other than the sudden shifts in the weather."

The dining room with 15 tables is bright and cheery. The local "liars" club meets there in the afternoons to swap stories, talk about the weather, and drink coffee. "No problem in the world too big for us to solve," says one of the members who's arrived early.

The group's solutions are probably inspired by the religious pictures and icons that decorate the walls. In one corner a big picture of Mother Teresa smiles down on the diners with the word "Charity" in big, bold red letters across the bottom.

The overt religious messages around the dining room doesn't mean that Jim is hardcore evangelical. He is a willing witness for his faith, but he will talk for hours on just about any subject. Jim's faith in a higher being is what inspires him to do good for his fellow man. He claims that many of his business decisions have been driven by his conversations with God.

"I was going to replace the old walk-in freezer," he says, "until I found out it was going to cost more than $7,000. I had a dream, and a voice said, 'If it works, let it be.' I'm still using it. No telling how much longer it is going to work, but it's worked for four years."

One of just a few restaurants mentioned in the Texas State Travel Guide, Blessed Mary's has accomplished good even as Jim struggles to keep the doors open. He has helped others with groceries, rent, and utility bills. He bought a mother with two children a car. Some of the money from the business goes to help maintain the 190-foot-tall cross by the interstate that can be seen for miles.

"This isn't the first time I've been broke," Jim says with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. "It's a blessing just being alive." The back of his business card says: Faith, Hope, Love, Don't Worry.

Blessed Mary's Restaurant is open 365 days a year from 8am to 5pm because the voice told Jim that he should. It's not necessary, but he appreciates it if large groups call him at 806/248-0170 before they arrive – especially if they want the enchiladas. The cafe is at the western end of Groom near exit 112.

768th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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