This will be a winter of discontent for Santa Fe foodies seeking fine dining.
Many of the city’s higher-end restaurants have shut down indefinitely, electing to eschew outdoor service or takeout, the only options currently allowed by state public health orders.
The Compound, Geronimo, Santacafé, Coyote Cafe, Sazón, Sassella, Restaurant Martín and Market Steer all closed during the November lockdown and none have reopened. Bouche Bistro, Trattoria A Mano and Lucky Goat — all owned by NM Fine Dining, a string of popular, mostly fine dining establishments — closed in March and will not reopen until the pandemic subsides.
The changes haven’t gone unnoticed, with diners trying to adjust.
“We’ve dealt with it pretty well,” said Santa Fe’s Bruce Legler, who, with his wife Anne, visited Restaurant Martín every couple of weeks. “We’re doing takeout twice a week. We’re doing Joseph’s [Culinary Pub] on Saturday and then El Mesón. We’re getting by.”
The Leglers say they also order takeout from Whole Hog Café, Fiesta Oaxaca and Raaga-Go. They can’t get the fine dining restaurant environment to which they were accustomed but are taking it in stride
“We make it fine dining ourselves,” said Legler, adding they transfer the food from cartons to fine china and break out stemware for their wine collection. “Except we have to serve ourselves and do the cleanup.”
Without Santa Fe’s fine dining juggernauts, the city’s restaurant outlook isn’t far different from other cities. And it’s not just more expensive restaurants that are taking a hit. Cowgirl BBQ announced in November it would remain closed for three months. Second Street Brewery posted Monday on Facebook that all three locations have closed until further notice. They closed over the Dec. 5-6 weekend.
Second Street has had dining only at its Rufina location since the pandemic started, but taprooms were open at the original location on Second Street and at the Railyard.
“Twenty-five percent of outdoor space is just not enough to work with,” said Second Street brewmaster Rod Tweet, the company’s president. “That and COVID cases are not going in the right direction. I’m thinking that’s three months.”
Second Street will focus entirely on beer canning for the immediate future, Tweet said.
The National Restaurant Association reports 17 percent of the nation’s restaurants or more than 110,000 have already closed because of the pandemic and another “500,000 restaurants of every business type — franchise, chain and independent — are in an economic free fall.”
Il Piatto on Marcy Street permanently closed during the first lockdown in spring, and the space is available for lease. Eloisa at Drury Plaza Hotel, Cafe Sonder and Restaurant L’Olivier also closed permanently.
The carnage is all too apparent for Restaurant Martín co-owner Jennifer Rios. “It will be incredibly difficult for our segment,” Rios said. “Without substantial economic stimulus, many more of them will close. I’m at the restaurant right now looking at a gas bill, electric bill and sewer bill. How do you pay bills, rent and have enough capital to reopen?”
It’s not hard to see the reality, particularly in the tourist areas of downtown.
Geronimo, one of two AAA Four Diamond restaurants in New Mexico, states on its website: “Due to the current public health order in New Mexico, Geronimo will remain closed until the state re-opens restaurant interior dining rooms.”
Coyote Cafe had the largest street dining area. The barriers remain in place, but the restaurant is closed.
Sazón and Sassella, where Lawrence Becerra is co-owner, have also shuttered.
“We’re not going to have people eat outside,” Becerra said.
Even restaurants that had been able to do well in a takeout model have decided to shut down until indoor dining can resume.
The Compound had an “unbelieve to-go Thanksgiving” and was open for takeout the following Friday and Saturday but has since closed, owner and chef Mark Kiffen said.
“We’re not really a to-go restaurant,” he said. “We did it all summer. We are not going to reopen until Santa Fe is back to yellow.”
As of Dec. 2, New Mexico counties are rated on red, yellow or green levels based on their number of COVID-19 cases and the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests. To reach the yellow level, counties must have eight or fewer average daily cases per 100,000 residents during a two-week period or 5 percent or fewer positive test results.
Santa Fe, for the two-week span ending Nov. 30, averaged 90.1 cases per 100,000 and a positive test rate of 15.5 percent. Santa Fe would have to lower its average case rate to 12 or fewer cases per day, which last happened Oct. 19, or drop to 5 percent test positivity, which last happened Oct. 13-26, according to state Department of Health statistics.
At the yellow level, restaurants can have 25 percent indoor capacity and 75 percent outdoor capacity, according to state health guidelines.
The yellow level is not good enough for Jennifer Rios, who with her husband Martin co-owns Restaurant Martín, which closed Nov. 14 just before the second lockdown.
“We have not reopened at all,” Jennifer Rios said. “We have no plans to do to-go and exterior dining. We don’t want to bastardize our product. You should not sit outside when it’s 36 degrees. We probably won’t be able to reopen until the weather gets warmer, probably around Easter.”
Restaurant Martín will wait until occupancy limits are over.
“We will be cautious about reopening until it’s something that sticks,” she said. “When we reopen, it’s one time.”