On Thanksgiving Day, Mining Camp Restaurant in Apache Junction served 950 dinners, filling the long rows of family style tables with heaping platters of barbecue beef ribs, turkey dinner and all the trimmings made from scratch.
In its 56th year of continuous operation, Mining Camp Restaurant owner Vinton Fugate was as busy as his 40 servers while he baked, washed dishes, bussed tables and “tested” his barbecue beef ribs.
When Fugate began working at the restaurant at age 13, he washed dishes for two years.
“After I was promoted to kitchen staff, I cooked and baked starting full time in 1967. I still enjoy it, but here I am, still washing dishes,” Fugate wryly comments.
As owner, he does “whatever is necessary.”
Attention to detail is his strength. He knows the temperatures for his walk-in warming room, where the barbecue beef ribs stay at over 140 degrees in the hot room for six hours. His cooler keeps food at under 40 degrees and the freezer at under 20 degrees.
The ribs, which he admits to eating daily—quality control, he notes—have been a mainstay of Mining Camp Restaurant, at 6100 E. Mining Camp St. in Apache Junction. Over the years, they have served over 600 million pounds of the popular beef.
“Like in the Old West, you help yourself to all you can eat,” Fugate said. “We don’t waste food, though. If one person wants more, we provide that.”
“We don’t fool you here, we feed you,” he said.
While dining at the long tables in parties of 2 to 210, each party receives their own food.
He bakes the rolls himself using special ingredients like green chili and fresh garlic. The 10-ounce burgers nestled in the rolls are on the menu at The Dutchman’s Hide Out, the seven-year-old addition to Mining Camp, which seats 90. At Dutchman’s Hide Out, mesquite steaks have won them accolades like “Valley’s Best Steakhouse 2015” from ABC15’s A-list.
Dennis Bagnasco, the general manager and executive chef of Dutchman’s Hide Out, serves steaks, burgers and other individual servings for small parties of diners.
Fugate explains, “Dutchman’s Hide Out has a new menu with new sauces. Our locals mentioned they wanted something different, and that’s where the idea of building a steak house came from.”
Dutchman’s has a definite mining camp vibe, with miner’s lamps hanging from the ceiling and dark wood.
With 60 percent of Mining Camp’s business happening from Dec. 25 to Mother’s Day, Fugate and his staff work to lure people outside of the East Valley to Apache Junction.
Catering is available for weddings and events in a rustic barn on the premises.
During the hot summers, Fugate starts work around 4 a.m. while it’s cool, finishing by 1 p.m. He uses the summertime to fix, upgrade and repair the facilities.
Family and many staff are equally devoted to the restaurant as all of Fugate’s children and four of his six grandchildren have joined the staff. One chef has worked 39 years, and Vinton’s wife of 11 years, Deborah, began as staff 26 years ago.
As people become more involved with specialized diets, Fugate says they’ve adapted to include gluten free and vegetarian options, and smaller quantities. Even with health concerns, the 10-ounce burgers and fries are popular in Dutchman’s Hide Out.
With everything prepared from scratch using proprietary recipes, including their secret sauce for the ribs, they pride themselves on their quality, which has netted them a “Certificate of Excellence” from Trip Advisor due to consistent high reviews. Even the county health inspector gave them an “E” for excellence.
On a recent mid-afternoon in prime holiday shopping season, Christopher Truitt and Suzanne Case were enjoying the family-style dining and taking a break.
Truitt said, on his second serving of the BBQ ribs, “I’ve been eating here for most of my life. The food is great.”
“This is my first time. Our server is outstanding. The coleslaw, ribs, bread, ham—everything—had great flavor,” said Case.