Barnes recently hosted the entire Moriarty high school football team for dinner at the restaurant. (Photo courtesy of John Barnes)
Moriarty restaurant caters to the community and travelers alike
By Chris Mayo
John Barnes, manager of the Country Pride restaurant at the TA Travel Center in Moriarty, is committed to offering great food and great service. Whether you’re a local or just passing through, you’ll be treated like a member of the community.
Barnes has been in the restaurant business for years. He honed his skills at Olive Garden restaurants, both in Albuquerque and in Las Vegas, Nevada, and also plied his bartending abilities at that city’s New York New York casino.
And then, he says, “Truck stops happened.”
“I wanted to get back into managing,” he recalls. “I occasionally gassed up at this truck stop and their restaurant, The Iron Skillet, intrigued me. I applied and got the job.”
Barnes ultimately ended up back in New Mexico, and has been managing the Travel Centers of America, or TA for short, truck stop on the west end of Moriarty since 2010.
As the largest truck stop chain in North America, each TA includes a Country Pride or Fork in the Road restaurant. Owned by the corporation, they are locally managed, which, says Barnes, has its challenges as well as its advantages.
For the most part, TA is geared toward serving professional truck drivers and the traveling public. Consequently, the menu at the restaurant offers the quick option of breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets along with a large menu consisting of traditional American fare. “Comfort food,” says Barnes. “We serve lots of fried chicken, mac and cheese, and meatloaf.”
As a national chain, TA is in charge of nearly all of the menu and most of the layout of the restaurant. But, says Barnes, “They encourage us to inject a little bit of local flavor with their Hometown Favorites program.” For the last couple of years that has been a green chile cheeseburger, and Barnes has plans to change it up with another regional favorite as well.
There is also some leeway with the buffets and the soup and salad bar. “We offer an excellent green chile stew daily and often include posole or the Mexican meatball soup, almondigas. We have also increased our vegetable and fresh fruit choices.”
There are advantages to having a mandated menu, because it allows Barnes the time to build the restaurant into a local dining spot as well as a pit stop for travelers and professional drivers.
“I really see us as a local business,” he says. “We provide about 35 jobs to local residents, and all of us live and work here in Moriarty. My family is proud to be a part of this community.”
And Barnes makes sure to give back to that community on a regular basis. His son plays football at Moriarty High School, so Barnes recently hosted the entire team for dinner at the restaurant. “It was scary,” he says. “Trying to keep a buffet stocked with 75 teenage boys going at it was a gargantuan task.”
Each week Barnes also drops by a local business and leaves them with a menu. “I invite them to a free lunch and remind them that we are all in this together. I want every business in Moriarty to succeed. This is home.”
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