This May, Santa Fe Community College’s famously student-run East Wing Eatery temporarily shut its doors after manager Miquela Deaton left. Just over a month ago, however, former Second Street Brewery executive chef Milton Villarrubia III took on the manager position after working in the college’s culinary classes as a lab technician for years.
The not-quite-cafeteria, located across from the college’s Fitness Center, provides the school’s culinary students with job experience through a café practicum, where students learn how to manage a dining establishment from the ground up and provide the community with high quality food and beverages. We spoke with Villarrubia, who says he plans for the East Wing Eatery to be open by next Tuesday, Oct. 24 with hours running from 8:30 am to 1 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. (Mo Charnot)
What kind of progress has been made in re-opening the East Wing Eatery so far?
After having my [point of sale] training today and being able to program the menu, we’re going to do one more soft opening this week. That’s what we’ve been doing, these soft openings where [student] Jon See, he’s been making items from classes that he’s learned, and we just give them away. We let people know that we’re looking for feedback on the recipes. So, once we’re able to get more students and more employees, we’ll have more offerings.
The idea of this whole thing is that it’s a student-run, student-operated café. In the past, there were items being sold that weren’t necessarily student-produced. My goal here is to really have students produce everything, if possible. I don’t want to buy frozen croissants. I really want the students to own it. As I’m able to hire more staff, we’ll be able to offer more hours, and we’ll also be able to create more dishes per day. Right now, between Jon and I, we’re able to do about two to three max per day. But if we had more employees, we could do five—that’s what we’re trying to get.
What are you planning to have on the menu so far?
For our breakfast offerings, we’ve been doing a variety of scones—pistachio, vanilla, lemon ginger, cranberry. Beyond that, a green chile corn muffin has been a big seller—or, not a seller, just a big giver-awayer. We’ve been doing a couple of different sandwiches, with all house-cured meat; brining and smoking turkey, curing corned beef and pastrami. We’ve been doing a throwback to a sandwich from about 27 years ago, when I arrived in Santa Fe. There was a restaurant called Dee’s that was a donut shop—they had a breakfast sandwich. It would be a tortilla with a hash brown, a fried piece of ham, a fried egg, some green chile and American cheese.
We also have another breakfast sandwich from New Orleans, which is where I’m from. It’s called the Grand Slam McMuffin—it combines the best of the Denny’s Grand Slam with the best of the Sausage McMuffin. Beyond that, we do a soup of the day. A lot of people know me for my gumbo, and we’ve done it twice here so far, and it’s been an incredible hit. That’s one of the things I’d like to have be a staple—a regular gumbo we do at least once a week.
How do you feel about being in charge?
I think this is the happiest I’ve been in quite a while to take on a project. I think, for me, I‘m feeling excited about management again; I wasn’t doing that in my last position, and I have a lot to bring to the table with real-world experience for the students. I’ve only been given the opportunity for one month. I think the amount of progress that we’ve made in one month is tremendous; it’s more than I thought we were going to make. Of course, I wanted this place to be open two weeks ago—I really want this to be open as soon as possible to serve the community, put out some delicious food and give the students an awesome experience that they need.