Almost 50 years ago, Olive Ashby Matus moved to the community of Christopher Creek, and it was the beginning of an era.
This week, sadly, it is the end to that era. Creekside Steakhouse as we know it has been sold. John and Olive Matus have owned Creekside Steakhouse for more than 37 years, and this week they have moved on to slow down and enjoy life. No one deserves this more than John and Olive. The two of them have worked very hard over the past 37 years and have done more for this area than anyone ever could. They are going to be missed. Somehow, it just isn't going to be the same without walking in there and seeing Olive behind the kitchen counter, or John behind the bar, telling jokes.
Olive's stepfather, Lyn Ashby, owned the property in 1937. In 1958, Olive moved here because her father-in-law was dying of cancer. She owned and ran the Blue Jay Café, which was located on the property. That makes it 49 years for Olive to have been on that property, and that's a long time. But, anyone who knows Olive can testify that she is a very hard worker. Olive said that APS was putting the main power line in through Christopher Creek at that time, and she fed the guys, packed their lunches and even cut their hair. Then, she started Olive's trailer park with 58 trailers. Now, most of those trailers are gone. Just a few remain and probably will disappear with the new project coming in. Olive went back to California in 1967 where she met John, who was on the fire department. They married in 1970 and came back and starting building Creekside Steakhouse as we know it today. There was nothing in that spot when they got started and John and Olive had to do everything by hand back then.
They started with a bait and tackle store and a beer bar only. Then, they added a deli. Someone in Tonto Creek was tearing down a building and did not want the materials. So, John and Olive went over and brought back the materials and built the dining room. At that time, Olive was working in town to pay the bills. They expanded the food, and put in some pool tables. The back room got so popular that they built another room and Olive quit her job in town and came back to serve food. Olive said everything seemed to escalate from that point. The Matuses have met people from all over the world. When Olive does her Christmas cards, they go out to every state. She said they could go anywhere in the world and have a place to stay. They have met so many wonderful people over the years.
There have been more benefits to help people, more weddings, anniversaries, funerals and memorials at Creekside Steakhouse than anywhere else in the Rim Country. The Pony Express has stopped there for 37 years on its way to deliver the mail to Payson. John has done numerous flyovers in his plane in remembrance of residents in the community who have passed away. The walls inside Creekside can literally tell a story. There are so many names of people from all over the world carved into the bar and walls of Creekside Steakhouse. Olive has a sign that has been hanging in her kitchen for over 30 years that reads "It's my way or the highway," but those of us who really know Olive, know that there isn't anything she wouldn't do for you. If she would see someone walking along the highway, hitchhiking, and they looked like they needed help, the comment from the locals here would be, "Here comes Olive's new employee." She would go out of her way to help anyone. A lot of people over the years have broken down on the highway and ended up at her place. They couldn't afford food or a place to stay, but Olive would give them both without expecting anything in return. She is just a very special lady. She is the same way when it comes to animals. She has taken in many a stray dog or cat over the years. I can remember seeing some very strange-looking animals around the property. Dogs, cats, ducks and even chickens at one time. One in particular was a very strange-looking chicken that had the weirdest hairdo I ever saw. He kind of looked like he had a dust mop on top of his head. I didn't like that chicken. He was kind of scary and would chase you around. If I was late for work I would blame it on the chicken. Yes, even I worked at Creekside years ago. I think everyone around here has worked for John and Olive at one time or another. It was a great place to work. The help situation here in Christopher has also been hard, but John and Olive have kept their help all year, even when it was slow. Olive said that was the key to keeping help. You have to give them a steady job, even if you are not really busy. Many people who came to work for John and Olive needed a life and Olive and John helped many of them turn their lives around. If you went to Creekside over the years and met the help, you realized that John and Olive must be doing something right. For instance, Karen Elerick has been a waitress for John and Olive for more than 30 years, and she drives from town to work there. Rhea Hoedle has been there 16 years. Most of the wait staff worked for John and Olive for 10-plus years. Most restaurants can't keep help that long, but John and Olive have really taken care of their help, and made it one big family. This is a restaurant that was open 365 days a year, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes in the middle of winter, it would be storming like crazy and no one on the road, but Creekside remained open. Olive always thought that there might be someone out there that needed to stop, take a break and eat. You could always count on them.
As you walk through the Creekside, the walls were decorated with a lot of people who are no longer with us, but deeply missed. Some have just moved on, and many have passed on. In the entryway there is a "Tree of Life" that Dean Shields, who used to live here, made. If someone passes away, Dean adds his or her name to the tree. There are hundreds of names on that tree. If you stand there and read those names, it is sad to think how many people over the years this small community has lost. Below the tree, it reads "The Leaves May Fall ... They Will Never Be Forgotten," and below that it reads, "In Memory of Those We Have Loved and Lost."
There are so many memories and not enough space to talk of all of them. The only thing is that, for the most part, they are happy memories. I think it is going to be hard for John and Olive to leave and hard on the residents to lose them, but they both need to relax and enjoy life. Olive will be 80 years old this May and John will be 70. I would say it is time to slow down and smell the roses. All of us here in Christopher Creek don't know what will happen without the two of them, but we truly do wish both of them the best of luck in whatever the future holds for them.
May the Lord smile on the two of you and your family, as you move on in life. We know you will be in Payson and that is not far away. I just hope everyone doesn't knock at the same time.