On the road V ― Surprise in Wells

Hostess-apron curtains: an unusual design element at Bella's Espresso House.

The word “Espresso” on the café’s sign caught my eye when we turned off Intestate 80 at Wells for lunch. My husband loves good coffee, and the name, Bella’s Espresso House, suggested it would be a nice change from Denny’s.

Our friendly waitress, who turned out to be the proprietor, assured us that everything is homemade. That sounded encouraging (though the food turned out to be very middling).

Meanwhile, I noticed an unusual, homey, element of the décor. The entire upper row of curtains was made up of vintage hostess aprons.

“Some are my mother’s, some are my grandmother’s, and some came from yard sales,” the proprietor told us.

While we waited for the food, I got up to examine another element of the décor, an enlarged newspaper article in a massive gilt frame.

The article, which appeared in a local paper in 2002, was about two brothels (they’re legal in Nevada) and how they turned a buck from the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, 160 miles away. The madam of one of them, Bella’s Hacienda Ranch, said she drew about 100 extra customers by providing limousine service to her establishment.

As I was paying for our food, I asked the proprietor whether she was the Bella of Bella’s Espresso’s House.

“Oh no,” she said. “Bella’s my mother. She opened this place eight years ago.” The daughter said her name was Shaunia.

Is her mother the same Bella mentioned in the newspaper article? “Yes,” Shaunia said.

And when I asked whether her mother still had that business, Shaunia cheerfully gave me precise directions to “the club.”

I couldn’t help wondering whether the nice couple I had photographed with the curtains was aware of the connection between the two establishments.

An Internet search for Bella’s Hacienda Ranch (which, by the way, the newspaper article described as looking nothing like its name but rather like a truck-stop motel) turned up the information that the business, which has existed since 1950, is for sale.

You could be the next madam of Bella’s.

Text and photograph copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No portion of this text or photograph may be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Esther Hecht.

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7 Responses to “On the road V ― Surprise in Wells”

  1. Teresa Silverthorn Says:

    Yikes. What sickens me more than the details of this article, is the fact that women still feel the need to sell themselves – in order to survive.

    Humanity has evolved very little.

    These particular women – hardly at all.

  2. Judy Labenson Says:

    Stay on the back roads, Esther. This is great.

  3. ofra Says:

    i also love good coffee

  4. signoretwest Says:

    I like the curtains. And you Israelis celebrating being back in the land of Zion.

  5. signoretwest Says:

    Photo is iconic. Rural café with an elderly couple, she chunky, he in a baseball cap, surely stamped with a seed company logo.

  6. Tamara Colloff-Bennett Says:

    Did you ever read ‘Travels with Charlie’ by John Steinbeck? I read it ages ago, I cannot recall any detail – but something about the Americana aspect of your article brought it to mind.

    I love the detail you’ve given here, like about the homemade curtains. Naturally I find it sad that women turn to brothels to make a living, but maybe they had no other means of employment. I figure it’s not for me to judge…

    Great tongue-in-cheek ending too 🙂

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