How A Little Snack Shack in Middle America Helped Shape My Creative Profession

For fear of being too sentimental, I almost didn’t post this. But hey, I thought it actually was quite fitting for my cartooning career and a nice homage to my grandma (although, there are not enough words here to properly do that). Sweet? Sure. It’s not as full of my usual jokes (or lousy attempts at them) and banter. Call it what you will, but I had some big takeaways from growing up being exposed to a certain little spot in a dusty small town.

There was this smell. A DELICIOUS aroma that can only be described as a mixture of hamburgers, fries and other all-American food. You know that scent of a good restaurant when you walk in. They all have something unique, but here, it was SPECIAL. I can’t explain in words. It was different, better and I haven’t experienced anything like it since. It was even noticeable outside when you pulled-in.

You could hear the sizzle of the grill, the buzz of the pop machine (I do say pop — not soda or that other nonsense) and the cash register ding when someone is stuffed and ready to go.

It was bright, warm and welcoming with a yellow exterior, neon lights and a glowing Pepsi sign. A menu marquee with black plastic letters spelling out for you what your options were and how much the food items costs.

It had a dirt parking lot. No lines for traffic to know where to park. Just dry, dusty gravel and the occasional pop-up weeds in some spots.

On hot summer days, it could easily be around a hundred outside and it was air conditioned and perfect inside. Luckily for the area and the openness, there was usually a breeze.

Hardly any traffic. Just vast skies around with a view of grain elevators and a water tower, often times accompanied by a beautiful sunset (if you went in the evenings, of course). It was perched next to a very small town off of Highway 96 in the middle of the country, so you would hear the hum of a vehicle approaching and then diminishing every now and then.

You knew you were in for something good when you came here.

This was one of my favorite places in the world as a kid.

The name?

Snack Haven.

Snack Haven was a little diner, or snack shack (it was very small, maybe five tables in the place) that was created and owned by my grandmother in Haven, Kansas, in the 1980s.

Sure, we all have our favorite childhood memories of our favorite restaurants, but this really was a special place. I’m sure you can figure out why. C’mon, my grandma owned it. It HAD to be good.

I think of this establishment and the memories from time to time. One reason is I STILL have the plastic cups from there in my kitchen and are still in use after 35 years — they don’t fade, I swear. They still boldly display the slogan “Home of the Big Snack.” So, every time I take a swig of water out of them (I don’t drink pop much anymore) it stirs up memories.

So, how does this all connect with my cartooning?

Back then, I wasn’t contemplating about becoming a cartoonist. I was preoccupied torturing my sister and playing with the latest He-Man action figures. But I did love to draw from a very early age (after a busy day of storming Castle GraySkull).

I always admired my grandmother for her independence. She was a HARD worker. I mean, I don’t know how she kept pace. Along with Snack Haven, she owned a novelty shop called Ace of Hearts (in the same town). Two businesses that kept her on her feet nonstop.

I wanted something similar. Even at that age, I knew that when I grew up, I wouldn’t mind at all having something that was MINE. The INDEPENDENCE. The HARD WORK. I could see it all paid off.

After my cravings for constant milkshakes diminished, I realized that maybe it wasn’t a restaurant I wanted, but maybe becoming a cartoonist?

Lots of things shaped who I became, and I don’t give full credit to my grandma or Snack Haven, but I picked up on a lot as a kid that definitely helped my career path and mindset.

I noticed all the hard work that it took. There will be imperfections and it was okay (we all have weeds sometimes). The idea of having something that was yours and you created. Something to be proud of. This was all stuff that any person in a creative field wants and has, too. It’s kind of the same boat (minus the extra pickles and fries).

And the joy people got from this place. Something that made people smile? I liked that.

It all added up.

Even the name: Snack Haven. It really stood out. A play-on-words. I remember ALWAYS finding that name appealing. It was in Haven, Kansas…and called Snack Haven. Any word junkie would appreciate that.

So, I got a lot out of observing all of this growing up. It all absorbed into my little noggin and I remember a lot of details.

And now I’m a cartoonist.

I think the “Home of the Big Snack” helped me realize to dream big. Make something. It can happen, whether it be a little diner or a freelancing career — whatever.

Cartooning isn’t easy, so I had no choice but to work hard myself.

I was fortunate that there were a lot of hard workers in my family (mom, dad and ALL my grandparents) and I saw it from many angles, but the effort that grandma put in really sticks the most.

So, I’m thankful that my grandma opened that little place up and I had a chance to experience it.

It makes me wonder if I’d have that independent spirit and if I’d be a cartoonist today if Snack Haven didn’t exist. I don’t think I would. Sure, maybe I’m wrong (there’s no way of knowing, of course), but I have my doubts.

Like a double-hamburger, it all stacks into a big delicious takeaway.

When I walk into a restaurant these days, I notice what it smells like first. Nothing has ever hit my scent glands like grandma’s place, but that’s okay. I had my time breathing it all in in the middle of Kansas, several decades ago. I’m glad I did, or I might not be writing this and cartooning.

Food for thought? Sure. Like a good play on words, let’s go with that.

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The Frustrated Cartoonist

Written by

My name is Nate Fakes. I’m a syndicated cartoonist in the L.A. area. I love what I do, but the creative life can be, well, frustrating. I write about it.

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