Roses have a special meaning for restaurant owner Melissa Bales.
“It’s a representation of me,” she said. “It is tender and has thorns. I’ve carried a lot all my life. The thorns represent the not-so-good things.”
Bales recalled a house fire and a car accident, not to mention the challenge of starting and maintaining a business during a pandemic.
“I’ve been through a lot and everything is fine now,” said Bales. “The 15 years that I was alone were absolutely wonderful. I have a close relationship with my children.”
The Muskogee native recalls growing up in the restaurant business. Her parents ran the S and S Grill on East Okmulgee Avenue, where the Back in Time Diner is now located. Bales recalled working with her parents for a time.
“I took over the restaurant when the girls were two or three years old and ran it until my car accident in 1999,” she told Years.
“Every day outside of the restaurant, I wanted it back,” she said.
Bales eventually bought the old Hornback restaurant on Peak Boulevard. She said the site had been vacant for seven years and the plumbing had disintegrated.
“I knew this would be a good location,” she said.
In early 2020, she opened Mel’s Diner. Eight days later, restaurants and businesses across Oklahoma were closed over concerns about COVID 19.
These days, the Diner keeps Bales busy. Mel served 20 state cops one last morning.
“They just gathered. It was unplanned,” Bales said. “The girls did wonderfully. I have amazing cooks and they did just great. Tickets went in and a few minutes later they came out. It’s a system they’ve had for a long time.”
Bales recalled serving more than 200 bikers on June 4th.
Despite all the work, Bales is still looking for time to tend to her roses.
Melissa Bales grew up around kitchens.
She said her mother and grandmother are the cooks in the family.
“My grandmother, I always remember going to her house during the holidays, my mom baking and cooking,” she said, recalling that her mom was also particularly good at fried chicken.
Bales recalled learning many things from watching her. Not baking at too high a temperature was one thing.
“Most of the dishes we’ve made as a family have been slow,” she said. When preparing sweets or cakes, make sure they are baked at the right temperature.
Her father also knew good food.
“Father went overseas and lived in China, he learned to cook different dishes,” she said.
Bales learned more about cooking in 1983 while taking courses in food production and management at what is now the Indian Capital Technology Center.
She said the main things she learned there were how to decorate cakes and make icing from scratch.
Bates also learned that one secret of grilling is not pressing the meat.
“I cover part of my flesh so the moisture stays trapped inside,” she said.
Bales and her staff faced challenges in the early days of the diner’s spring 2020 opening.
“We got off to a tough start in those first eight days,” she said. “Everything collided. Nothing went smooth. It was tough trying to get everyone in communication, from the kitchen up front to the ware room.”
The crew initially worked solid 20-hour days.
“Covid came eight days after we opened and we had to close,” Bales said. “It was just on the side of the road.”
However, employees took advantage of the lockdown.
“I feel like the time we were down with curbside pickup gave us a chance to reflect on the first eight days,” she said. “With Covid, it gave us strength. We learned from each other. We have communicated. It was about learning more about how to make plates, we went over the recipes again. We changed things. We swapped sandwiches and did many things just by the side of the road.”
They also found a way to use an empty space they had planned for private parties.
“When I thought we would have to close again, we came up with the pizzeria,” she said. “Then we could do deliveries, we could do curbs, it would be more often.”
fondness for roses
Bales said the secret to a good rose is to show her love.
“I talk to my plants, my daughter thought I was crazy for years,” she said. “If they get sick there’s a disease called ick and if ick gets on your roses you lose them unless you can spoil them. That’s why I say they’re not like weeds, they can be hard to manage. ”
Bales said roses can get the disease if they stand in swampy ground.
“They’re kind of drowning,” she said, adding that her yard is pretty dry.
She said she prunes once in spring and at the end of summer. Also, she doesn’t use pesticides unless the plants are sick. Different roses react differently
“For example, I had roses in my garden for 18 years and I actually transplanted them from my last house. They’re still growing beautifully,” she said. “Two feet down, I planted my yellow roses and they came back for three years, then they died. You were beautiful.”
Bales said her roses are usually transplants or gifts.
“Actually, I gave my mother roses every year,” she said. “I have found unique roses. I found an almost black rose and a purple rose.”
She said that with restaurant work, “the flower beds sort of got away.”
“My son actually worked to get my beds back,” she said.
questions and answers
HOW SHE BECAME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“My grandma and grandpa moved here from Michigan, and this is where my mom grew up, so those are our roots.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“I know that. It’s not a really fast-paced little town. It’s relaxed and most of the people I meet here are friendly.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“More activities for families and children. I keep seeing that. There is really nothing here. I would like to change that, but not so quickly.”
WHICH PERSON AT MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRATE MOST?
“I get different things from each of my children. They are all very unique and different in their own way. And I learn from them.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING THAT HAPPENED TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
“The transformation of the diner. My children do voluntary work. Every one of them worked out here. Friends. We all came together to help me start this place on a very tight budget. They made it possible, so I’m very blessed to have had everyone involved.”
WHAT YOU DO IN YOUR FREE TIME?
“I enjoy my grandchildren. We sneak away for dinner so someone else can take care of and spoil me, usually on a Sunday night when we’re closed. i love roses The rose is an absolutely beautiful representation of me.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARIZE MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
“Muskogee is a beautiful city. It has beautiful people. It’s my home. These are my roots. There are a lot of helpful people here who want to reach out and help their communities.”
MEET Melissa Bales
EDUCATION: Irving Elementary School, Cherokee Elementary School. Hilldale, born 1986. Indian Capital Technology Center.
PROFESSION: Owner of Mel’s Diner.
FAMILY: Four children, six grandchildren; a great granddaughter.
HOBBIES: Gardening. Working in the restaurant. “I am here every day and meet wonderful people. It’s really family oriented here.”