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Nothing says ‘good eats’ like a giant lumberjack

Liem Nguyen, owner of the May Cafe, repaired the fiberglass lumberjack that towers over his Vietnamese restaurant. The well-known landmark used to be the mascot for a lumberyard that previously occupied the site near Central and Louisiana SE. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — You see a lumberjack and you automatically get a craving for Vietnamese food. Right?

That’s certainly true for the folks who live and work in Albuquerque’s International District, where towering over the May Cafe is an ax-wielding lumberjack statue.

Liem Nguyen, whose family has operated the Vietnamese restaurant for 27 years, said the boot wearing, bearded statue, is the last vestige of a former lumberyard, where the restaurant is now located.

“We kept it because it’s a landmark. When people ask where are you located, we say under the lumberjack,” which most people who know about Vietnamese cuisine understand to mean just south of Central Avenue on Louisiana SE.

The lumberjack, whose name is simply Lumberjack, had some bad years. It seems that he lost his arms and his ax about six years ago during a wind storm. And let’s face it, an armless, axless lumberjack just doesn’t conjure up visions of pho, goi cuon, thit nuong or even bun bo nam bo, for that matter.

No siree!

So Nguyen, with the aid of another person, recently used a hydraulic crane to lift themselves about 50 feet into the air to repair the 27-foot-tall fiberglass statue perched atop his 20-foot high platform. Using steel reinforcements, they replaced the lumberjack’s arms and ax, and then gave the stern-looking fellow a fresh coat of paint, returning him to his former appetite-stimulating glory.

The pre-May Cafe history of the lumberjack has faded with time. Nguyen said he couldn’t recall the name of the lumberyard that used to be on the site, but anecdotally he was told that the lumberjack now standing sentry over the restaurant is actually a 1974 replacement for one that was originally erected in the mid-1960s.

“You know, our customers like it, and it’s been a part of the city and part of the neighborhood for so long that it was important to me, so I didn’t mind spending my money and time on it,” he said.

Oddly, the person who does remember the lumberyard is Abe Kreider, owner of K&S Service Center, 337 Eubank NE, which sells, services and repairs residential and commercial lawn and garden equipment – and who has his own landmark outside his business in the form of a large lumberjack.

Yes, there are two of them.

Kreider, recalls the Shofner Lumber Company was where the May Cafe is now located. But the 25-foot tall lumberjack outside his business is very different.

“It was made for my father, Abe senior, who started the business on Menaul and Pennsylvania in 1971.

Two woodcutters working for Homelite Corp., a chainsaw manufacturer, were traveling and doing carving demonstrations. They showed up in 1984 and did what was supposed to be a weekend over at our place, but ended up staying almost three months selling their carvings.”

Standing sentry in front of K&S Service Center is a 25-foot-tall carved wooden lumberjack, a local landmark in the Northeast Heights since the mid-1980s. The lumberjack was carved from a single tree trunk. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

As a thank-you for allowing them to demonstrate their carving skills and sell their finished pieces, the carvers decided to make a one-of-a-kind carving for Abe senior.

Working through a local lumberyard, they got a 40-foot long tree trunk that had been cut from the Valles Caldera, had it delivered to K&S, and spent a full weekend working on it, he said.

The entire sculpture is carved from that single piece of trunk, although the chainsaw bar the lumberjack holds was carved from a separate piece of wood from the same tree. Kreider said he believes the tree was some type of pine or fir.

“It became a landmark when we were on Pennsylvania and Menaul NE. People used to look for him and I got screamed at over there when we took him down and put him in storage before we moved to our new location on Eubank about a year and a half ago,” Kreider said. “People would drive by and say they lost their turn going to another business because they used the lumberjack as their landmark to know where they were at.”

Like the May Cafe lumberjack, the K&S lumberjack also had some hard times.

In the early 1990s some kids from a local high school as a prank knocked the lumberjack down, dragged him down the street and set him on fire before abandoning him.

“We had to sand it and grind it down to get back to solid wood. It broke my father’s heart.”


UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Rick at 823-3929, rnathanson@abqjournal.com.

 

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