Editor’s note: this story has been updated to reflect that Aaron Ketner is an intern architect
Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
In the early 20th century, Albuquerque’s vibrant timber industry was quartered in a neighborhood just north of Old Town, where lumber products were sourced and sold across the West.
Today, one of the largest remaining buildings from the district, a blue-and-white building on Bellamah that once housed Frank Paxton Lumber Co.’s Albuquerque operations, is surrounded by scaffolding, as it undergoes a massive transformation into Sawmill Market.
The market, expected to be New Mexico’s first food hall when it opens, announced its first four tenants. They are – Dr. Field Goods Kitchen, Plata Coffee, Eldora Chocolate, and a new concept titled Mercantile Cafe & Wine Bar – that eventually will be joined by around 20 other food and beverage producers at the new 34,000-square-foot market.
The $24 million project is a massive undertaking, but developer Jim Long told the Journal it has the potential to become not only the center of a planned mixed-use district north of Old Town, but also a community hub for the entire city.
Food hall concept
“I think markets are really community gathering spaces,” Long said. “They really provide a fantastic opportunity for socialization as well as entertainment.”
Food halls and markets may be new to Albuquerque, but they’re well established in other parts of the country and world.
Steve Carlin, an advisor on the Sawmill District who helped develop the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, California, said many American cities historically had terminal markets where produce from the surrounding area was centralized, making it possible for buyers to purchase a variety of produce without visiting each individual farm. Several of these legacy markets, including Seattle’s Pike Place Market and Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, are still popular today.
Carlin added that a new generation of food halls, including the Denver Central Market and the Oxbow, have popped up in American cities in recent years. The newer food halls tend to feature a wide variety of prepared food.
Carlin characterized the Sawmill Market as a “hybrid” of the two approaches, acknowledging that legacy markets have developed over the course of decades, but adding that the vision for Sawmill Market will include community activities and local food.
“Markets tend to be the center of town, and they do tend to reflect the food of their local population,” Carlin said.
Long, who has developed a number of hotels and resorts across New Mexico, including the Hotel Chaco across the street from the building that will house Sawmill Market, said he’s been looking to add a unique food experience nearby for years. After visiting food halls in other parts of the country, he decided he wanted to bring one to Albuquerque.
“Every eatery and food experience will be unique and different,” Long said.
A ‘center’ development
Once completed, the market will be the center of the larger Sawmill District, the neighborhood directly north of Old Town. The neighborhood boundaries run roughly from Rio Grande Boulevard in the east to 20th Street in the west, north of the museum district. Long said he envisioned the district as a walkable area that would link with nearby neighborhoods. To that end, he brought in Stefanos Polyzoides, co-founder of the Pasadena, California-based urban planning firm Moule & Polyzoides. Polyzoides said having a market that celebrates Albuquerque’s local food culture would be a good way to build off the energy from Hotel Chaco.
Ultimately, Polyzoides said he hoped the market could anchor a walkable, urban neighborhood in central Albuquerque, one that could be a model for development in an auto-centric city.
“In every major city these days … there is just a very clear movement toward walkable, mixed-use town centers,” Polyzoides said.
Enlisting homegrown guidance
To help achieve the vision, Long also enlisted the help of Jason and Lauren Greene, the husband-and-wife team behind Grove Cafe & Market in East Downtown. Lauren Greene wrote in an email that she felt the same type of inspiration when she walked into Sawmill Market with Long that she originally felt when she saw the up-and-coming neighborhood that gave rise to Grove Cafe.
“It has always been our dream to impact the food scene in Albuquerque in a positive way, and to somehow be part of the bigger picture and upward movement among our local food community,” she wrote.
The mix of tenants that have joined the project so far offer a wide variety of food and drinks, but each are locally owned.
Steve Prickett, the founder of Eldora Chocolate, described his business as Albuquerque’s only bean-to-bar chocolate store. Prickett sources cacao beans from everywhere from Tanzania to Ecuador, selling unique chocolate varieties from his storefront on Edith Boulevard that vary widely in flavor.
Prickett said Long put his business through a rigorous test to determine if it was a good fit, but noted that he appreciated Long’s commitment to quality, as well as the craft-forward focus of the market.
Artisan, unique, non-chain
“It’s artisan, it’s unique, it’s non-chain stores,” Prickett said of Sawmill Market.
Where Eldora Chocolate will need to contract its offerings to fit in the market, Plata Coffee is planning to expand. The coffee counter was founded by Rose Kerkmans and Aaron Ketner last fall. Kerkmans said the coffee shop currently occupies just 150 square feet in the ground floor of a low-income housing development that Ketner, an intern architect, designed. She said the market provides an opportunity to expand while still maintaining its focus on local coffee.
“Our mission was to, as much as possible, only sell and collaborate with New Mexico brands,” Kerkmans said.
Long said Mercantile Cafe & Wine Bar will use a lot of locally sourced ingredients, while featuring a list of New Mexico wines. Santa Fe-based Dr. Field Goods will be selling freshly butchered meat at the market, according to founder Josh Gerwin.
“Having an actual butcher in the market is a great dynamic,” Long added.
Long said he expects Sawmill Market to be open by next February. Currently, builders are reconfiguring the vast interior space so tenants will be able to use it. While the development is the first of its kind in Albuquerque, he said he thinks Duke City is ready for an indoor market to call its own.
“Population-wise, I think we’re probably at the size now that we’ll see more variety,” Long said.