The piano player at Furr’s Cafeteria is long gone. America’s buffet restaurants might soon be a memory, too.

Furr’s parent company, Fresh Acquisitions LLC, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The Furr’s at 522 W. Cordova Road in Santa Fe has been closed for months. When spring blew into town, a menu for Thanksgiving was still taped on the restaurant’s door.

Before the bankruptcy filing, calls to Santa Fe’s dormant Furr’s were answered by a strange recording that said everyone was busy helping other customers. The phone, like the restaurant, no longer is in service.

Barring a comeback in bankruptcy court, a New Mexico success story is coming to an end.

Entrepreneur Roy Furr opened his first Furr’s Cafeteria in 1946 in Hobbs. Furr died in 1975 at age 70. By then, 43 cafeterias in six states carried his name.

A brief obituary on Furr even made the newspapers in New York City. In addition to Furr’s cafeterias, the corporation he chaired operated supermarkets and a fruit-packing business, and it maintained interests in oil and real estate.

Roy Furr had believed his restaurant chain would grow if it was distinctive.

Many Furr’s cafeterias featured wood-burning fireplaces. Piano players or organists provided music to go along with chopped steak, baked cod, fried chicken, salads, vegetables and pies ranging from chocolate to strawberry.

It worked, at least for a while. Roy Furr’s restaurants were white-hot properties when he died.

Kmart in 1980 paid $70 million to acquire the Furr’s chain. It had 76 restaurants then, mostly in the Southwest, and it was still growing.

Furr’s was adding a half-dozen restaurants a year. Kmart, then the second-largest retailer behind Sears, expected to increase Furr’s expansion by about 15 cafeterias annually.

But nothing changes faster than the weather or a business dependent on customers with discretionary income.

Furr’s operated two cafeterias in my hometown in Colorado. A pianist in coat and tie would play soothing background music as highly paid steelworkers and their families filled the tables.

But Big Steel was sliding by the time Kmart acquired Furr’s cafeterias. In my town during the early 1980s, the number of steelworkers declined from 6,000 to 2,200.

Wages dropped for those who survived the purge, and unemployment jumped to 11 percent. At once, Furr’s and every other restaurant had fewer customers.

The piano man went away. So did Kmart’s plans for an aggressive expansion of Furr’s cafeterias.

Kmart sold the Furr’s chain in 1987. Tastes began to change in the midst of country’s loss of blue-collar jobs.

Furr’s opened a cafeteria in Davenport, Iowa, in 1987 but closed it three months later. The menu didn’t appeal to the Midwesterners.

Though extreme, the quick closure in Iowa signaled that the chain had many weak links.

Furr’s filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003. Restaurant closures became far more common than grand openings.

Furr’s had shut down its cafeteria in DeVargas Center in 2000. All the Colorado locations were closed by 2017.

When the pandemic began in 2020, Furr’s had shrunk to 16 locations in four states. Most of its cafeterias were in Texas and New Mexico.

Like all dine-in restaurants, the Furr’s in Santa Fe closed temporarily as state government wrestled with how to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Managers told some 40 Furr’s employees they would not receive their last paycheck.

The company couldn’t afford to pay what it owed, workers were told.

Maria Rios, who made minimum wage working on the serving line at Furr’s, organized fellow workers to challenge the company. They used the National Labor Relations Act to obtain the money Furr’s owed them. All 40 employees received their pay.

Furr’s brought everyone back when it reopened its Santa Fe location in June. But the cafeteria closed again in the fall after a spike in coronavirus infections.

In its new bankruptcy filing in the northern district of Texas, the parent company of Furr’s estimated it has assets of

$1 million to $10 million. The company pegged its liabilities at

$10 million to $50 million.

I asked Jason Brookner, an attorney representing the company, if any of Furr’s cafeterias might reopen.

“We have no comment other than to refer you to statements made in our publicly filed pleadings,” Brookner wrote in an email.

The bankruptcy documents that Fresh Acquisitions LLC filed list the pandemic as the reason the restaurants could not operate profitably.

Roy Furr’s chain would have turned 75 this year.

If this is it, if Furr’s is down forever, a slice of Americana will go with it.

Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080.

(14) comments

miguel de la o

Any trip to Santa Fe from Las Vegas with my mother necessitated a stop at Furr's - for 40 years - and she had to have millionaires pie! Anybody know what this consisted of?? I've tried other cafeterias around the country but Furr's WAS the best - sorry to see them go!!

Samuel Herrera

Growing up in Santa Fe whenever my parents would take us out to eat they would take us to Furrs. No one would ask, where do you want to eat? After we grew up, I joked, why ask? Santa Fe only had one restaurant: Furrs. My favorite: meat loaf with creole sauce. And ask them to put the creole sauce on the mashed potatoes. Dinner roll. Banana cream pie. Thank you Furrs for the memories.

christopher quintana

Cherry pie, mashed potatoes, cooked spinach and cod was my go to pick. I called the person who showed up at our table every 15 minutes with fresh water and ice tea: “is everything alright ‘ Lady.”

Buddy Lorence

I remember going to Furr Cafeteria, back in the good old days, with our parish choir after singing at mass. Or with friends for a nice dinner. We would either go there or to JB's Big Boy or, sometimes, Carrows years later or else a couple of restaurants down on Cerrillos Road. My mind went blank on the one that used to be right next door to Walmart. Furrs and all these other restaurants were such nice places to go for a meal and to spend some nice time with family and friends! And it will be very much missed by me! I hope there is still a chance that they can come back again! Thank you, Furr's Cafeteria, for all the great food and memories!

- -

The restaurant next to Walmart along Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe was called Village Inn. It was a chain pancake house.

christopher quintana

Village inn was an after church “greatest generation” hangout where old timers would sit and gab for hours. Food wasn’t that good as I remember. I’d drop mom off after church and come get her two hours later.

Joan Sheetz

My folks went to Furr’s in Colorado Springs every Saturday evening after 5:30 mass. They were on a first name basis with the piano player. As kids, we NEVER ate out as it was beyond our middle class financial ability, and so to see them do this for 25 or so years after we kids were grown and gone was quite something! They were at a loss after Furr’s closed. They never found a substitute they enjoyed as much.

Tammy Tapia

My grandmother loved to go there!!! After she passed we all went there as a family again just for her. I liked the way if just felt good sitting around a table with family from all over not just NM. It will be missed.

Gary Hanson

Nice memories of Furr’s in Farmington. Sorry to hear of this.

David Martinez

I agree with all the comments noted. Hopefully a new well established Buffet will penetrate New Mexico and eventually Santa Fe. I've been to one called Chuck-A-Rama with 12 locations mostly in Utah. Sorry to hear about the closing.

Diane Denish

Furr's was iconic in Hobbs. Roy Furr started a cafeteria there in case it failed, he didn't want it to be in his hometown of Lubbock. When I was a young girl, they had relocated "north" to the shopping mall -- none the less I spent many hours there in the early morning when they served breakfast. After cheerleading practice -- off to Furr's. After Fund drives selling donuts in the dark to oil servicing companies -- off to Furr's. Biscuits and gravy....a staple....rice and gravy for some. (Imagine my surprise when a recent native Santa Fe woman said she had never had biscuits and gravy!) There we would see the Catholic parishioners who had been to early mass -- parents of some of our friends. It was a gathering place...a breakfast crowd, a lunch crowd and family dining at night. Great memories.

rodney carswell

Not to mention the very impressive southwestern landscapes that hung on the walls of the Cordova Rd. Furrs (up into the 80's or 90's?), by the renowned NM artist Wilson Hurley. Once those disappeared (long ago), I knew something was up with the management.

Leonard Trejo

Furr,s was my very first job dishwashing in high school minimum wage was 3.20 an hour what a memory , to bad back then everything was made from scratch so long.

Katherine Martinez

Very sad, childhood memories packed up and put away.

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