If there ever were a scandal regarding Joe’s Dining, it may be that this so-called Joe doesn’t actually exist.
“Joe is every man. He is you. He is me—the guy and gal next door and all female renditions of the name,” Roland Richter, who operates Joe’s Dining with his wife Sheila, tells SFR. “Joe is really all of us.”
That’s right—the famous Joe is nothing more than a mythical figure, that spirit of heartfelt dining that we all carry with us. Or something like that. If you can move past your relief or disappointment and pity for the staffers who likely have to answer this question multiple times a day, you’ll easily see why Joe’s Dining, now in its 19th year, has become one of those it’s-been-there-forever places.
Born in Essen, Germany, Richter left his home country to work in food in the United Kingdom, then the Canadian restaurant sphere and down south through the United States, eventually to Santa Fe, where he and his wife opened the DeVargas Center’s iconic Pizza Etc. There, they built up a loyal following—until they noticed a larger economic shift at play.
Pizza Etc. “was very successful, but we noticed many of our clients were starting to move to the Southside of town,” he explains, noting the ever-growing cost of living in Santa Fe. “Our market was moving down there, so we decided it was time to try that part of town out.”
Since 2002, they’ve moved on from Pizza Etc. (though the Araiza family who owns it today still tosses up a pretty sweet pie), but Joe’s Dining hasn’t had much of a reason to slow down, even through two major recessions that shut so many restaurants’ doors. Richter cites his European background as a partial reason for the success—not in a superiority sense, but rather due to early lessons in clean and fresh foods.
“My parents always cooked at home. We rarely ate out. I was lucky to go into work in a very good hotel, where I saw how everything came in fresh, from the carcasses to the vegetables; nothing was frozen back in the ‘70s, and this is when the food scene started changing a lot,” he says. “The chain restaurants really came out, looking for methods of consolidating and simplifying. Frozen products became the rage. I never worked in places like that and never liked that system. I stayed away. I don’t like it when they start taking things out of products and try to stitch it back together again.”
When a restaurant owner talks about how their regular customers are oh-so-regular, one might be tempted to roll their eyes. Spend an hour in Joe’s Dining, though, and you’ll know Richter appreciates the loyalty at work. The staffer answering the phone knows every other caller and converses in a jovial manner, saying, “We were expecting a call from you!” or “How are things going? We miss seeing you!” Customers enter and prove themselves to be on a first-name basis with a number of the staff. Three groups exit with a “See you next week!”
Even the pamphlets adorning every table feel like talk between old friends. Info within these pamphlets isn’t marketing, rather thoughts from the crew: a joke they thought was funny; the occasional talk about spiritual re-awakening; something decrying Bill Gates’ claims about a future of synthetic beef; and an appeal to customers to stop fearing healthy fats (“I love you, but please stop it,” it reads). There’s even a shout-out to all the local farmers, ranchers and orgs who stock up their supplies.
Despite the name, Joe’s Dining isn’t the kind of small town joint where The New York Times goes to discover why Hillary Clinton lost—you won’t get stuffed to oblivion. That’s not to say there’s no possibilities for eating until unfamiliar pains emerge, but there’s an obvious focus on quality and presentation over portion sizes here—which themselves aren’t lacking in generosity.
“To do something well, you have to concentrate on it very well,” Richter explains. “Hollandaise sauce is something we’re known for in our Benedict variations, those are very very big sellers for us.”
Richter fails to mention his Benedict variations might sell simply because they are incredibly good. The hollandaise sauce atop their near-perfect eggs Benedict ($16) ranks as some of the best I’ve had in town, and the in-house smoked salmon ($16) may look meek, yet is the star of the show. Topped with red onions and capers and thinly sliced atop the expertly crisped potato latkes ($8), the salmon will remind you of the difference good food makes. And though more than a few restaurants preach this commitment to quality, I can safely say Joe’s ranks as one of the few places in Santa Fe where I’m truly able to taste the difference.
Hollandaise not your thing? That’s sacrilege, but we’ll forgive you for now—Joe’s egg scramble ($12), the classic four-stack buttermilk pancakes ($8), breakfast enchiladas ($12) or one of the three omelette varieties ($13; ranging from a pepper-Western style to a garden variety style with local seasonal vegetables) are all popular options, according to Richter. And before you all freak out, yes, there’s a smothered breakfast burrito ($11) for the traditional brunchers. Throw in a mimosa ($8) and you may feel you’ve made it, for an hour, anyways.
It’s hard to recommend Richter’s spot enough, actually. “See you next week!” could easily be the company motto with the inevitable printing on mugs and shirts. If the mantra doesn’t leave your lips on the way out the door, the words will probably be dancing in your mind. Even as a once-in-a-while trip, you’ll probably want to end up as a Joe’s Dining regular. Maybe someday.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday
2801 Rodeo Rd Ste. A5, (505) 471-3800.