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Tomato Cafe on the move

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tomato Cafe, which will close later this month after losing its lease in a retail center just off Paseo del Norte and San Pedro NE, will reopen this fall at a new location.

Owner Deborah Gagnon said she plans to restart the homegrown restaurant in September at a site “very close” to the current eatery after finalizing lease terms with the new landlord. “I hope to have news to share in the next few days.”

Another tenant is slated to backfill the restaurant’s 3,300-square-foot space at 5920 Holly NE, Gagnon said. The restaurant has been at the site since 2009.

“I’ve been told it’s a national restaurant chain,” said Gagnon, who referred comment about the name of the new tenant to the owner’s commercial real estate broker. The Journal was unable to reach Pegasus Group, the firm handling leasing at the site.

Gagnon, who had been trying to renegotiate the lease with the current owner, will close Tomato Cafe on May 29. Following tenant improvements, she plans to reopen at a space that provides higher visibility and easier access than the current all-you-can-eat Italian-style buffet eatery. “I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons,” said Gagnon, who expects her 20 employees “will rejoin Team Tomato” in September.

Gagnon opened her first Albuquerque restaurant 25 years ago when she launched the former Mama Lena’s at Juan Tabo and Indian School NE. A year later, she moved to North Towne Plaza at Academy and Wyoming NE, where the first Tomato Cafe was a fixture for 15 years.

Now she’s on the move again.

Serving up fresh-out-of the-oven thin-crust pizza, salads and pasta, roasted tomato basil soup,” and, of course, the famous sauteed garlic green beans,” Gagnon’s menu has attracted a loyal following over the years.

“Kids and adults alike go crazy for the meatballs,” she said. There’s also a soft-serve ice cream machine, the ultimate sign of a family friendly buffet. Lunch goes for $9.99, and the dinner tab is $11.99. “Fresh and consistent” is Gagnon’s credo. “That’s what our customers expect.”

Those customers can be assured, however, that the essence of Tomato Cafe will remain.

“We’re going to be the same Tomato Cafe,” Gagnon said. The menu will move with the restaurant, and Gagnon is committed to the style she and the eatery’s cooks have created over the years. “We’re not going to change what we are.”