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Celebrating 30 years of ‘surprises’

The Artichoke Cafe is celebrating its 30th anniversary. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

The Artichoke Cafe is celebrating its 30th anniversary. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In 30 years The Artichoke Cafe has become more than co-owners Pat and Terry Keene ever imagined.

The Keenes purchased the structure in 1989. Pat Keene took what she had learned at culinary school and implemented it at The Artichoke Cafe, 424 Central SE. The philosophy was a white table cloth restaurant with about 75 seats serving made from scratch new American cuisine using French techniques. Pat worked 10 hour days in the kitchen while her husband Terry handled front of the house duties including host and busser.

“When I started in the kitchen sometimes it was me and a salad guy and occasionally if we got busy we would bring up the dishwasher guy to help,” Pat Keene said.

The Keenes found a way to balance it all while caring for their two sons: then 5-year-old Evan and 1-year-old Gavin.

“It was very hectic but it was fun because we were doing what we wanted to do and we had a lot of passion for it,” Pat Keene said.

Terry and Pat Keene are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their restaurant, The Artichoke Cafe.

Terry and Pat Keene are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their restaurant, The Artichoke Cafe.

After 10 years, Pat Keene had a strong team in the kitchen and felt comfortable to step away and open an Italian restaurant named Portobello, which operated for three years. The Keenes later went on to open Bien Shur Rooftop Restaurant and Thlur Pa Lounge at Sandia Resort & Casino. The Keenes moved on from Sandia after about four years and opened an upscale bar in the now Bricklight District that they later sold. Intrigued by gourmet pizzerias popping up around the country, the Keenes opened Farina Pizzeria in 2008 across the street from The Artichoke Cafe. They later opened Farina Alto Pizzeria & Wine Bar in 2013 in the Northeast Heights. They still own both pizza restaurants.

Changing with the times and the trends has been key to The Artichoke Cafe’s success as well using tried and true methods and throwing in some creativity. The fine dining restaurant has received numerous accolades over the years including recently being named Best Upscale Restaurant in the 2019 Albuquerque Journal Readers’ Choice Awards and being honored with the 2019 Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

“People like to be surprised a little I think,” Pat Keene said. “Surprised not scared. People love also to know that you’re thinking about ways to surprise them by doing nice specials, changing the menu occasionally, feeding them seasonal food, using local (products) as much as you can. We always try to keep our customers interested and happy.”

In its earlier days, The Artichoke Cafe served as a beacon of hope for an area of town in desperate need of gentrification.

The Keenes became involved with the Huning Highland Neighborhood Association and were able to bend then Mayor Martin Ch├ívez’s ear and made strides in turning the nearby vacant and problematic old Albuquerque High Building into something that would breathe new life into the area. Developer Rob Dixon was selected by the city to develop the old high school into the Lofts at Albuquerque High. Dixon also began to buy up the old seedy motels and razed them to put in apartments, according to Pat Keene.

“Back then it was Rob Dixon doing all this beautiful development and Pat and Terry Keene at The Artichoke Cafe,” Terry Keene said. “There was nothing else here. It was kind of a wasteland of drugs, prostitution, empty buildings … Nobody else was really developing.”

The Keenes continued to expand their restaurant and soon an outdoor patio area was converted into two private dining rooms. A back prep kitchen and an office were also built. The expansion helped business and soon people were booking private parties for personal celebrations, business meetings and luncheons. Business was booming in the 1990s with revenue growing about 13 percent each year. The Keenes decided to build a bar and get a full liquor license, which was popular with customers who could now order cocktails.

The bar was the last phase and then the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project came along. Business fell 25%. Customers were forced to find back routes to access Artichoke.

“Luckily because we owned the building and we were able to control things more we were able to survive that,” Pat Keene said. “It was noisy and there was a lot of stuff about it that was kind of a big mess. We actually had hoped that the ART project would work out well and unfortunately it didn’t for one reason or another because it’s still not up and running to this day. We hope it will be soon. It has slowed down traffic on Central. It’s complicated to drive on Central and our business has not come all the way back from it.”

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