Many people travel to Gallup because of Historic Route 66 and Indian jewelry. But for sports fans, the visit isnt complete until they go to Sammy Cs Rock n Sports Pub & Grille & Coffee Bar.
They come to see the large collection of sports and entertainment memorabilia that earned the restaurant a place among the 101 best sports bars in the United States. Then they make return visits because of the friendly encounter they have with Sammy Cs owner, New Mexico State University alum Sammy Chioda 76.
Unbeknownst to Chioda, writer Jordan Burchette listed Sammy Cs on his national survey.
I had no clue this was going on, says Chioda, who has had a 40-plus year career in broadcast media in Gallup. It was independently done. One of our customers from Denver called and told me to search the Internet for 101 best sports bars. He said I would be pleasantly surprised.
Burchette wrote of his experience at the only New Mexico sports bar on the list, Deceptively large, Sammy Cs is loaded with the sports and music memorabilia accumulated during the owners four decades in radio. Its lighter on TVs than most of the bars on this list, but heavy on ambience.
Chioda has been collecting sports memorabilia since he was a youth and now has hundreds of pieces on display. One of his first items was a baseball signed by Pete Rose. And like most of the items, theres a personal story associated with the baseball.
Petes pretty well represented in here. We have several signed jerseys and photos, including one of my family with him, he says.
The walls and display cases are filled with signed photos and jerseys of athletes from every professional sport, as well as Olympians, musicians and local heroes.
On a miniature hardwood basketball court are signatures of celebrities who have passed through Gallup and stopped in to experience Sammy Cs.
Opening a sports bar was a natural fit for the avid fan and former sports broadcaster.
We had a lot of memorabilia at home that I had gathered during my broadcasting days, he says. My wife, Marie, said its time for it all to be moved out.
Marie admits that she didnt realize the quantity of items Chioda had accumulated.
No one in town knew all of this existed, she says. I knew about some of it, but I was amazed when he emptied the back shed.
Meanwhile the couple wanted to do something to make a difference in Gallups downtown area.
We opened Sammy Cs in 2007 and all of a sudden theres vitality in the downtown area. A lot of things are going on here that attract the tourist, said the NMSU College of Business 1988 Top Alumni.
The establishment at 107 W. Coal is not just about entertaining sport fans with 16 television screens, its about displaying the couples pride in their hometown.
Both returned home after college with accounting degrees. Chioda went to work for the local radio station and is now the president of Millennium Media, Inc. Marie helped with her familys businesses.
Now they each own a restaurant. Marie has put her special touch on the Rocket Café, which has the only wood-fired brick oven pizza in Gallup. She also added her flare when designing Sammy Cs.
A bit of Gallup history is displayed in the bricks forming arches between the various seating areas. The word Gallup is imprinted on each of the 80-year-old bricks.
In the early 1900s there were a couple of brick plants in Gallup, Chioda says. The name of the manufacturer was stamped into the brick.
Sammy Cs arches are made from bricks that a friend had scattered everywhere in his backyard.
We wanted to do something that creates a presence of Gallup, so we bought 3,700 bricks from the gentleman and our group cleaned them one by one to be used in the restaurant. The bricks add a special character to the place, he says.
Customers from Lexington, Ky., and Chicago have told Chioda that they wondered where the bricks in their homes came from.
They said the bricks are stamped Gallup, and they had no clue what that meant, he says of bricks identical to the once in the restaurant. Now they know where they came from.
Amongst the memorabilia are other tributes to the impact of sports on the community and its residents.
I like to say that the NCAA Womens Final Four tournament passed through in Gallup, Chioda says. The Womens National A.A.U. Championship was played here from 1965 to 1975. When the tournament started in 1926 in Pasadena, Calif., there were only six teams.
The display includes photos of teams that were the frontrunners to the Baylor, Tennessee, Texas A&M and other modern day powerhouses. There is also an article written by Chioda about the history of the tournament.
Gallup athletes who have reached the college and pro ranks are also honored including Jared Montano and Chris Williams who played football for NMSU.
Chris journey of life went through Gallup. He played in the football league that Tony Dorsett and I started 17 years ago. Chris still holds the rushing record for the league, he said of the former Aggie who tried out with the Miami Dolphins and is now playing in the Canadian League for the Hamilton Tigers.
Williams Aggie jersey is on display along with his youth football team photos.
Jared Montano also played for New Mexico State. He is now a dentist here in town, Chioda says while holding a signed photo of Montano in his Aggie uniform.
Other signed photos of Aggie legends include Dolphin Driel Harris, Green Bay Packer Davon House, Pervis Atkins, Charley Johnson, Danny Villanueva and Sam Lacey.
Much of the memorabilia has come from Chiodas sports broadcast connections and the contacts he has made while inviting athletes to speak at the Gallup Rotary Club annual Speakers Bureau. For the past 12 years he has coordinated the scholarship fundraiser that 600 people attend annual.
We give out $26,000 in scholarships every year, he says. Several of the recipients have told me they probably would never have been able to go to college if it hadnt been for the scholarship.
Encouraging youth to further their education is one of Chiodas passions.
If I know someone is trying to decide between NMSU and another college. I make it a point to go out of my way to talk to them and tell them they really ought to consider New Mexico State, he says.
He give them several reasons for attending NMSU, including smaller classes sizes, the fact that NMSU faculty care about them succeeding, and with Las Cruces five hours away thats a good distance for the young adult to develop their independence yet be close to home.
I enjoyed my time at New Mexico State, says the New Mexico Broadcasters Hall of Fame, 2005 inductee. I was involved with the radio station. My first play-by-play game was between the Aggies and Tulsa. It was broadcast on KRWG-FM.
Sport fans leave Sammy Cs with smiles on their faces. They have walked down memory lane while viewing the memorabilia and if they are lucky they have spent time with Chioda hearing the stories behind the items.