If you live in Santa Fe, you’ve likely heard about how Railyard-based coffeeshop and restaurant Opuntia Café suddenly shut down last week just three years after it moved into a new location from its original Baca Street space. If you didn’t hear, SFR broke that news in a story you can read right here.
When the dust settled and the “Aw, man,” proclamations ceased, however, our knee-jerk “this sucks” reaction made way for a more intense train of thought in the aftermath. Owner Todd Spitzer’s reasons for closing Opuntia sounded a little too familiar: Margins are down, costs are up, good workers are few and far between of late and the debt became insurmountable. These are familiar refrains in Santa Fe from over the last few years.
“We had a 20-year lease on the building at the original location, and it expires at the end of June,” Second Street Brewery founder Rod Tweet told SFR in March last year, when the original flagship location of his brewery was set to close. “That means no lease exists and we had to negotiate a new one, and we’ve been unable to negotiate a new one I’m comfortable signing.”
Then in November, Felipe Martinez announced it was time to shutter his enduringly beloved Felipe’s Tacos. Granted, that was about retiring, but it still stung pretty bad for a lot of us around here.
In June of this year, hard kombucha joint HoneyMoon Brewery announced it would close, with co-founder Ayla Bystrom-Williams telling SFR, “the problem is that with a company trying to grow, we just can’t continue the path of always owing money and barely being able to buy ingredients—I don’t know how many times I can do the dance.”
In September, downtown Santa Fe gastropub Fire & Hops joined that list, too. “It just goes back to labor issues,” owner Josh Johns said at the time, adding that while he didn’t want to close, he’d found an opportunity to get out while making sure his staff was paid properly.
Add to that list a number of other restaurants that have closed for various other reasons, including Loyal Hound, Lone Spur Café (though we admittedly don’t care about that one), Alex (which had formerly been Café Marquez before it moved into the CHOMP food hall, and which we now realize kind of just disappeared), Tajine, La Tour Experience and probably others we’re spacing—and probably others to come if we’re being honest. So our question is this: When do we start to feel truly scared versus understanding of the fluctuations of business?
Restaurants are already so incredibly difficult to open and maintain, and they often generate little, if any, profit. Did you click on the link above to the Opuntia story? Owner Spitzer said he stopped paying himself months ago in there—and that’s intense. It’s likely even scarier for the staff who’re in the middle of a sudden jobless week. Even if that hadn’t happened, website Bankrate-dot-com said just last June that Americans are tipping less. When we consider such news alongside post-pandemic inflation, rising rents everywhere and the weird way everyone just forgot any lessons learned in lockdowns, we think it’s probably time to become alarmed.
Restaurants are one of the places people can work when they’re starting out. A dedicated worker can rise from the ranks of busser to owner (Coyote Café/Santacafé owner Quinn Stephenson famously did this); it’s where teenagers often start out. You can get a summer job in a restaurant, too, or consider it a forever backup plan if your irritating journalism job doesn’t work out. The whole closing restaurant thing is especially harrowing in Santa Fe, where much of our economy is based on visiting folks eating out and local folks serving them. When the workers can’t afford to eat where they work; when the tips are down; when the places we’ve come to love close their doors—that stuff matters, and it sort of feels like the local business equivalent of when we all learned bees were dying in droves: Without the foodservice industry in Santa Fe, can the city even survive? Will we just become a colony for the elderly who made their fortunes in generational wealth and inheritances? God, that would be awful, though the Santa Fe of today feels so different from the Santa Fe of our youth that we aren’t even actually sure what could save it any more.
Downtown isn’t downtown anymore. Nobody wants to work (for bullshit wages) anymore. Felipe’s left town when you needed him most; Spitzer had to tear down his shingle. Dogs bark in the street. Your beer won’t stay cold. The last song you liked faded from the public consciousness more than a decade ago and the radio never plays it anymore. There’s a goddamn Chipotle in our town now, mere blocks from better burritos, and the line for the drive-thru to the homophobic/transphobic chicken chain juts out into the street with cars full of people who think not bothering to consider that place’s hatred is an excuse.
We can’t swing a $20 burger when gas hits $4 a gallon. Better pray your landlord likes you. Don’t let some developer see your neighborhood. A cup of coffee or tea from that second story café would be nice...some chicken and waffles in Midtown would work...a beer and a burger over on Second Street sounds perfect, right? You can’t do those things now, and it’s only gonna get worse. You can’t eat out always, but a day is gonna come where you can’t eat at all.
Oh. Our. God. We just realized we’re going to die one day.
You right now, probably.
-Like we said above, Opuntia Café closed forever over the weekend. What a huge bummer. We know that it’s tough going right now for the restaurant industry, but as one of the only places in the Railyard that wasn’t a fucking brewpub, we’ll miss it.
-We mentioned a few Forks ago that a buddy had told us they saw a San Francisco Street Bar & Grill sign in the window of the Plaza-adjacent eatery that had closed some years ago, and now it turns out that totally was about the place reopening, this time with folks who’d worked for its founder Rob Day. Carlos Rivas, Sergio Sanchez and Victor Medina are up in there making plans now, and they’ll be up in there when the place opens.
-Tickets are now on sale for Edible Institute, the November event from Edible New Mexico that gets into food stuff and food systems and, like, food stuff and systems. The topic? “The Hands That Feed Us.” Learn more about what that means, and get your tickets, by clicking right here.
-If you didn’t know this week finds all kinds of local restaurants doing all kinds of special things for the now-in-motion Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, you should all kinds of get it together. The way we hear it, special tastings and meals have sold out—but keep those eyeballs online, because people are always giving away tickets or selling to things through phasebucks and twooters and gergslit or wherever. Hahahahah! Gergslit? The Fork, you’ve done it again!
-Sounds like chef Randy Tapia has officially moved his Poki Tako eatery out of the CHOMP food hall in Santa Fe. This is massively disappointing as Tapia’s food is EXCELLENT, and we’d definitely love for him to be someplace he could flourish. Our food writer loved the food. LOVED IT. We don’t know where he’ll land yet, but we do know he has the truck, so...
-Didja hear the one about the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market Institute’s 2023 Cultivating Community Celebration? It’s a fundraiser, no question, but that’s a good cause and there’s some dooooooooope stuff to be had over at that thing come Thursday, Oct. 12, including a three-course meal by chef Alain Jorand, hors d’oeuvres, wine from Gruet, beer from Hidden Mountain Brewery and more. At $150 for folks who don’t work for the market, it’s a little steep, but we wanna see farmers get supported, so...yeah. More details here.
-Lastly this week, in it’ll-never-get-better-than-this news, gas/convenience Allsup’s announced you can now order six, 12, 24 and 48 packs of their famous chimichangas online (you can do the same with their similar burritos all the way up to a 72-pack!). GASP! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS MEANS? It means some people might die, but it also means we can just heat them up at home?! We love those things! GAH!
Apropos of nothing in this edition of Le Fork, this made us feel feelings. We don’t drink Folgers, though, we drink Ohori’s.
-Regular readers know that The Fork is a regular reader of Eater--dot-com, which is how we found this list of cool food-based books to read for the impending glorious gloom of fall. Like, damn there’s some good stuff on this list—you should read it.
-Some lady who visited a gelato joint in Lavis, Italy, took to the interwebs to bemoan the $1 charge for an extra spoon. We’re in agreement with that, man—like, that’s a wild charge. Do we think charging for extra bread or refills is crazy? Not really. But the spoon thing is wild.
-Regulators in California have ordered bottled water company Arrowhead (or, more specifically, its parent company Blue Triton) to quit it with all the drawing from natural springs. Turns out the brand has a long history of drawing water from a natural spring in San Bernadino, California—like, more than 100 years long. Turns out, though, the company never actually had permission to suck that water out of the Earth. Wild, right? Learn more for Mother Gaia right here, bro.
-Kraft Heinz, the company that makes Kraft and Heinz things like Kraft Singles and Heinz ketchup, issued a voluntary recall last week of something like 80,000 cases of singles (being those singularly wrapped American cheese singles that come in single form) for choking/gagging reports from customers. Turns out there was a thin plastic film on those little cheezers, and we don’t mean that thin plastic film they come in anyway—this was another layer of that stuff. Keep that in mind if you’ve got Singles lying around your fridge.
-Lastly in not-just-local news, Delish-dot-com has a real hard-hitting piece about how Fanta bottles look different in different countries. Though a strong contender for The Fork’s semi-annual Who Caresies Awards, we figured everyone needed to know right away. See what all the hubbub is about right here. Or don’t. Like, drink Fanta, see bottles or don’t. Live your lives not based on bottle shapes, but the contents of those bottles. What? Why are we like this. Actually, don’t answer that. BYE.
A Totally Scientific Breakdown of The Fork’s Correspondence
Ohhhhhhhhh, dang—food coverage is back in the pages of SFR, and this week’s all about the best bagels around. You heard us. Take your “but NYC” crap and stuff it in a sack! Read more about them bagels here.
Number of Letters Received
*Oh. Our. God. That’s the meaning of life, the universe, everything!
Most Helpful Tip of the Week (a barely edited letter from a reader)
“Our factory focus (sic) on doing custom furniture for middle & high level projects over 14 years. Like: 4-5 star hotel, apartment, restaurant, golf club, aged care community etc.”
*We don’t know what this has to do with food, but we love how bold it is to cold email someone with this.
Actually Helpful Tip(s)
“The Fork wins ‘The Food Depot’s Best Cheerleader’ trophy this week!”
*The Food Depot just gets us, which is why we keep telling you fools to donate to them!
Boldly and coldly like the gergslit we are,