Great Breakfast — No Toast

From the Santa Fe New Mexican, Monday, April 21, 2014:

Tecolote says farewell to longtime home on Cerrillos

by Robert Nott

Tears weren’t on the menu Sunday at Tecolote Café, but they were being served up all the same.

Staff members cried as longtime patrons came by to bid them farewell, perhaps for the last time, as Sunday was the final day of service for the 34-year-old restaurant at its current site on Cerrillos Road. One waitress said she had been crying for two days. Another said she would cry later.

But owner [Katie] Adkins, daughter of Tecolote founders Bill and Alice Jennison, said she’s hopeful the restaurant will reopen soon in a new location, although she did not offer specifics. She said her parents originally opened the restaurant on June 2, 1980, so she’d like to see the new opening occur on June 2 of this year. But it’s more likely to happen later in the year, she said.

Several local media outlets reported earlier this month that the building’s landlord, Jerry Honnell, was evicting Tecolote after he heard the restaurant’s owners planned to relocate to the Luna District development center. Adkins said the restaurant has been operating without a lease for at least eight years and she was negotiating a possible move, but it did not materialize.

Easter Sunday’s shift for the restaurant was a good one, with about 550 old friends, recent converts and tourists—as well as a few regulars who had no idea the place was closing—lining up to eat breakfast and lunch. Business has been crazy good over the past couple of weeks, Adkins said. The running joke from customers is, You should go out of business more often.

Adkins was 3 years old when her parents opened Tecolote on Cerrillos near Baca Street. It was once the site of an automobile repair shop, she said. Tecolote is named after a small village (now considered a ghost town) in the northeastern part of the state that once was a stopover point on the Santa Fe Trail. She said her dad was a history buff and upon visiting the town and discovering it was a major supply point for one or both sides of the Civil War conflict, he named the restaurant after the site.

Tecolote is also the Aztec word for owl, which is why so many images, ceramic figures and children’s drawings of owls have long inhabited the eatery. Adkins plans to gather them all up, photograph them, download them onto a flash drive and then display them on a computer or television screen in the restaurant’s future home.

Adkins didn’t like the restaurant in those early days because, as she recalled, It was my dad’s child before anything else. It took at least 25 years for the restaurant to turn a profit for the family, she said, and there were lots of quarrels between her mother and father over the viability of the business and the issue of money.

She first worked there at the age of 11 as a hostess. Over time, she and her husband, Matt, left the business and Santa Fe to relocate to Iowa. There, she saw a PBS documentary on Irish pubs that had belonged in families for generations. It made her cry, and shortly thereafter, she and her husband returned to the city and the business.

It took me years to realize what I was supposed to do and to realize there’s no shame in following in your parents’ footsteps, she said.

Adkins’ grandmother, Margery Whipple, died suddenly one day while sitting at Table Six in the restaurant. The light bulb in the fixture above that table continually blows out—as it did Sunday morning while Adkins was discussing her late grandmother. Tecolote chef Leslie Chavez said she often feels the presence of a female spirit in the kitchen and can smell the passing scent of another woman’s perfume. She’s never afraid—except when she is locking up the darkened joint at the end of every shift.

Chavez spent a lot of time Sunday preparing the restaurant’s celebrated cinnamon rolls and assuring everyone that the pantry would not run out of food —even if I have to run to the store three times. Working at the restaurant, she said, was like having a huge extended family. There’s a great sense of community here. Lately, she’d been using handwritten recipes cooked up by Alice Jennison, who died on Christmas Eve 2012. Adkins’ father died in 2010.

Waitress Germaine Granillo was one of many people fighting back tears Sunday. She’s worked at Tecolote for 17 years. I’m upset, she said. I’ve been here a long time. You meet a lot of nice people here.

Patron Georgia de Katona, who patiently waited with three friends for a table around 8:30 a.m. Sunday, said she will miss the staff, food and convenience. She lives within walking distance of the cafe and said she feels crushed.

It’s our neighborhood, de Katona said, so this is our neighborhood joint. We don’t exactly walk to [nearby] Taco Bell for breakfast.

By 3 p.m., the employees were enjoying a communal staff meal at one of the tables while a few lagging customers bid elongated goodbyes.

Adkins hired a contractor to paint over the Tecolote sign out front Sunday afternoon. He was almost finished by 3 p.m.

Nobody gets my logo, Adkins said. No way. Besides, we’re not saying goodbye. It’s not over. It’s just that today is the last day Tecolote will look like this.

Adkins urges supporters to keep track of the restaurant’s Facebook page for updates.

Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.