Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
It has been a landmark in the community for more than four decades – a restaurant shaped like a large wooden barrel and appropriately named the Cooperage – after a business that makes barrels.
The steak and seafood restaurant at Lomas and Louisiana NE is now over a barrel, so to speak, forced to close, a victim of the coronavirus safety mandate to not seat customers, said general manager and working partner Cici Martinez.
“We’re not exactly the type of restaurant where people come to get curbside pickup for prime rib,” Martinez said. “That’s not who we are and it’s just not what’s fitting the budget of people who are going through this stressful time.”
Also affected is the Cooperage Catering Co., which operated out of the 10,000-square-foot restaurant building. The catering company lost contracts as businesses and individuals were forced to cancel events with large gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus, Martinez said.
The Cooperage’s main partner, Jim Schumacher, previously told the Journal that the recent and abrupt closure of Noah’s Event Venue had a big effect because the catering portion of his business had about 50 events planned through Noah’s for the rest of 2020 and into 2021.
When the Cooperage opened in October 1976, “there weren’t many big, wonderful steakhouses in Albuquerque,” Martinez said. “It was a place where you could sit and enjoy great food, (and) was quiet enough to have a conversation, but also had a lounge with entertainment.”
Known for its prime rib, steak, seafood and enormous salad bar, the Cooperage maintained a consistent personality – “a throwback to the 1970s,” Martinez said.
As the city kept growing in all directions and as ever more restaurants opened, dining habits changed. People’s time became more precious and they tended to patronize eateries closer to their own neighborhoods.
“That’s why we diversified with the catering company,” she said. “And when 50% of your business is catering and it’s dropping like a rock over cliff, and there’s no end in sight to this virus, what are you going to do? We knew we weren’t going to be able to sustain the overhead on the building and the staff,” which between the restaurant and catering components employed up to 60 people, many of them part time.
Martinez said that even as the restaurant and catering business are being dissolved, all remaining catering contracts will be honored. After that, there are plans to resurrect the catering business, probably under a new name and possibly in conjunction with Scarpas restaurant, which until January was owned by Schumacher and Martinez, who sold it to Scarpas general manager Joe Sommers.