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A heart for Hotchkiss

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Photo by Pat Sunderland When he replaced the windows of his home in Hotchkiss, Larry Jakubiak filled the old frames with colorful scraps of glass. His craftsmanship has transformed his front porch into an art gallery.

Retirement is a major lifestyle change for anyone, but for a restaurant owner who's dedicated nearly every waking hour to his business for 28 years, retirement was a shock to the system.

After Larry Jakubiak sold the North Fork Valley Restaurant to one of his employees three years ago, he decided to take it easy. Too easy. Worn out from going and going and going for so many years, he planted himself in front of the TV. After six months of just sitting, he realized his entire body was hurting. "I could hardly walk to the post office," he said. "I told myself, 'You're not that old yet; you need to get some exercise!' "

So at the suggestion of Linda Tullis, he joined a stained glass co-op headquartered in the studio next to the Creamery Arts Center. He'd done some stained glass work when he lived in Denver, but when he purchased a carpet cleaning franchise and moved to Grand Junction in the 1980s, he boxed up all his equipment. He dug out those boxes, a couple of former restaurant customers handed off glass and equipment they no longer wanted, and he set to work. He picked up a few pointers from Linda McVeil, but soon developed his own methods, which he describes as unconventional. "A lot of people think stained glass is tedious, and it can be, but I find it very relaxing," he says.

In February, he joined the artists' co-op at the Impressionz Gallery in Cedaredge, where several of his pieces are on display. He's also had a booth at AppleFest and has reserved a spot in the holiday craft show at Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction. He hopes to get into more galleries, as well, mainly because he's enjoying himself so much he wants to keep creating new pieces.

Through word of mouth, he received a custom order for a six-foot transom that's about halfway done. Poppies are featured prominently in the design, which Larry came up with after perusing Pinterest, photos and pattern books. He copies designs only for smaller, more affordable pieces that he wants to finish quickly; otherwise, he enjoys the design work. In fact, his mother encouraged him to become an architect. "I love design, and I like to draw," he said, "but in my hippie days I rebelled. I sure wasn't going to do what my mother wanted me to do, but lo and behold, she was right!"

That rebellious streak prompted him to move from Michigan, where he was raised, to Denver, where his cooking experience was in demand. The next stop was Grand Junction, where he joined the Emmaus Christian Fellowship. Under the powerful influence of what he calls a "cult," he says he was forced to move to a compound in the Smith Fork Canyon, then to open a restaurant in Hotchkiss. The restaurant occupied half of the former Cottage Hotel; the other side contained a health food store.

By 1990, Larry had managed to extricate himself from the cult and he bought the Rainbow Café on Bridge Street. He renamed the restaurant and began working "constantly."

Larry loved his customers and his staff at the North Fork Valley Restaurant, but the stress was piling up. After the recession of 2008, he had to cash in his savings and sell all his toys just to keep his business afloat. He says, "After 28 years, I was tired. I realized the last two years I was there I just wasn't keeping up." He welcomed an offer from Pat Medina, one of his employees, and retired.

Ownership of the restaurant provided a powerful connection to the people of Hotchkiss, Larry says. "I got to meet and know people from all walks of life in the restaurant," he says. "That was a place where a pauper and a millionaire could sit down and have a cup of coffee and a great conversation. I grew to love the people and the town."

His lengthy career as a restaurateur is nearly matched by 18 years as mayor and member of the Hotchkiss Town Council. He also retired from that position recently, citing health reasons.

He explains that he first got involved in town government as a favor to Jack Neill.When he wanted to purchase the restaurant, Neill, the manager of the credit union, loaned him $5,000 for a down payment. Neill was also the mayor of Hotchkiss and a regular at the restaurant. Neill said the town council needed businessmen like Jakubiak, so Larry applied for a vacancy on the Hotchkiss Town Council. He subsequently served as mayor for eight years, the maximum allowed under term limits. He took a four-year break before being asked to return to fill a two-year vacancy on the council. That vacancy stretched into another four-year term. Larry was midway through that term when he resigned in August.

He takes a great deal of pride in some of the projects that were completed while he was in office, from the new sewer plant to the state-of-the-art water plant. "I never had an agenda; I never wanted to enhance my business," he adds.

He highly values his relationships with the town staff and engineer, and he vividly recalls a radio conversation he had with G. Gordon Liddy. The conservative radio show host vowed to land a helicopter in downtown Hotchkiss after he learned the school board refused to let graduates wear their military uniforms to commencement. As mayor, Larry got on the phone to dissuade G. Gordon Liddy from that course of action, which would have put nationwide focus on Hotchkiss, but in a very negative manner.

Rumors are already circulating that Larry will again run for mayor of Hotchkiss, but he quickly dispels that idea. "Believe me, I am not going to run for mayor. Eighteen years is plenty."

What he is going to do is continue organizing Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for area residents. For 16 years, he has prepared dressing, potatoes, vegetables and other side dishes to accompany the turkeys and hams provided by Zack's BBQ. Community members donate desserts and salads. With the help of volunteers, 90 to 125 people enjoy a hearty holiday meal with their friends and neighbors. Leftovers go to the needy.

Larry also does some catering, providing breakfast, lunch and dinner for four-day HIV prevention gatherings on the Eastern Slope. He keeps a covered trailer fully equipped for those events.

"I do not consider myself a chef, but I do think I have a knack for making food taste good," he said.

Although he's retired, Larry continues to work seven days a week. "I don't take a day off, because I feel guilty if I do. I can't do the eight to 10 hours a day any more; I can work a maximum of five to six hours a day. But I'm having more fun now. And I don't have the stress."

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