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One-on-one with Roy Solomon

Roy Solomon hasn’t ever bothered to do a formal tally, so he can only estimate when asked how many businesses he’s launched in his lifetime.

“Maybe,” the soft-spoken entrepreneur says somewhat tentatively, “20 different businesses?”

Anyone who’s lived in Albuquerque more than a few years probably knows at least a few. After all, Solomon – a New York-born beach boy – has been at it since the 1970s, getting his start before even graduating from college.

He was still a student at University of New Mexico – where he was a member of the ski team – when he bought a bar near the state fairgrounds, obtaining his first liquor license almost immediately after turning 21. That property – which he operated as Friar’s Pub – led to a series of other food and drink ventures around Albuquerque, including The Hungry Bear and Sunset Grill in the 1980s and, more recently, Bailey’s on the Beach.

His homegrown chile and salsa line, 505 Southwestern, likely stands as his signature enterprise – but that may be changing.

Having sold both the retail and manufacturing components of 505 in the past several years, Solomon has embarked on an eye-catching new project called Green Jeans Farmery.

Inspired by his recent dive into hydroponic farming – and his mission to educate children about fresh, healthy eating – Solomon is turning old shipping containers into a new type of development at Interstate 40 and Carlisle. He’s already established a small, on-site hydroponic farm, around which a larger local business community will sprout. Santa Fe Brewing Co., Epiphany Espresso, Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria and Bocadillos are all signed on to open at Green Jeans Farmery, and Solomon keeps recruiting other food and retail operators.

But while the funky project continues to capture the city’s attention, Solomon himself generally shies away from the spotlight. The self-effacing entrepreneur is at his most animated when talking about anyone else, whether it’s his granddaughters – “that’s what makes me smile” – or the employees and associates who have buoyed him along the way.

“The heart of everything I’ve done comes from people that I’ve worked with,” Solomon says.

Q: Describe yourself as a teenager.

A: I grew up on the beach. I was a beach person with no shoes.

Q: What was your first job?

A: I had two first jobs really. I worked at an auto parts store and I delivered Chinese food.

Q: On a bike?

A: Sometimes on a bike. When I first got my license – I got it pretty young – I had a little Volkswagen that was my delivery vehicle.

Q: What brought you to New Mexico?

A: I was on the ski team at the University of New Mexico. I wasn’t recruited; I was actually a swimmer my first year of college at another East Coast school, but I always loved to ski, so I (walked on to the UNM ski team). Everybody was a walk-on at that time. The ski team was very new to New Mexico.

Q: You earned a degree in business. What were you thinking career-wise when you were studying at UNM?

A: I bar-tended at night and I studied businesses that had gone out of business or were going out of business. I found one on Lomas Boulevard across from the fairgrounds while I was still in college. … This guy had this place – it was called the Derby Lounge – and his wife was making him get out of the business, and I was able to buy it from him on a note. And I renovated it and turned it into … a nice bar with live music, and it became a college hangout. It was called Friar’s Pub.

Q: Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit?

A: I always liked to explore, (and) unique and different things always interest me. I like to create things that haven’t been done before. Even when I did the 505 green chile sauce, it was the first time there was a green chile sauce in a bottle, 20 years ago.

Q: Do you consider yourself a risk-taker?

A: I look at (it) as my need to create kind of overpowers my brain. Stupidity takes over. (laughs)

Q: How did 505 Southwestern come about?

A: It was my restaurant for seven years on Uptown Boulevard. When I sold the business … guests I’d had from the restaurant wanted the green chile sauce. So I started making the green chile and learned how to do it from the school of hard knocks. (laughs) Lots of mistakes. But it was driven by a quality product.

Q: You sold the retail side of 505 several years ago and then the manufacturing end in 2013. Why did you get out of it?

A: It’s a great, great product that I’m very proud of, but being a salesman on the road and traveling is not where my passion lies.

Q: You traveled all over the country doing sales. Did you ever have weird experiences introducing others to chile?

A: It was always weird, and that’s the reason they gave me a chance. I would get in my hotel room with the ingredients I (had) frozen to carry on the plane. In the morning, I would roll breakfast burritos – I always made breakfast meetings – and I would roll breakfast burritos and take them to the meeting. Once they tried the green chile, it was a very easy job after that.

Q: Going into Green Jeans, the first thought you had was a hydroponic farm?

A: I know very little about farming – and I’ll be the first to admit it – but I saw a vertical hydroponic farm in Florida. I’ve had this interest in these shipping containers, because I thought they were unique and different for businesses. I came back to Albuquerque from a trip and wondered if I could put a vertical farm into a shipping container and, after researching, there are a few people around the world actually doing that. I took the vertical hydroponic farm that I saw in Florida and tried to replicate it in a shipping container, and it’s had its challenges (laughs), so we’re still in the prototype phase. But it’s working. Things are growing and now we’re starting to get some interest with people who may help us create curriculum (around it) for schools. The next thing I need to do is try to find someone who knows something about grant writing, because I am sure there are grants available to help get some of those containers into the schools, and that’s been my focus.

Q: Who are your mentors?

A: The people I look up to … are the people that I work with. I have one person in particular (from 505) that I always use as an example. His name is Pedro. Pedro is probably the kindest soul I’ve ever met. He was a cook for me for many years and he just had this kindness that, if you could bottle it, the world would be a better place.

Q: You seem like a fitness fanatic.

A: Yeah, I’ve been in the triathlon world for 20 years, but more as a hobby than as a sport. I just love to go over the finish line.

Q: How much time per week do you spend working out or exercising?

A: Right now … I’m obsessed with this project so (it’s) minimized, but I always feel better if I can get out and run before my day starts – even if it’s just around UNM. And probably one of the things I like the most is cruising around on my bike and not even knowing what direction I’m going.

Q: What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

A: Probably the best ones I’ve ever had from people I’ve been around – friends, family or anyone else – is if they appreciate that I do something that’s kind.

Q: What is the biggest mistake you’ve made?

A: You don’t have enough paper. (laughs) Obsessing over an idea and neglecting others that I cared for.

Q: What’s on your bucket list?

A: I don’t do bucket lists. I just try to experience everything I do. (But) honestly, I belong by the beach. I should be by the beach more often – I’m not saying I need to leave New Mexico, but my bucket list is to be able to live by the beach part-time.

Q: Do you have any strange quirks or superstitions?

A: I like to squeegee my shower. … I am a daily squeegee-er. When the kids stay over, I am sure to take my shower last.

Q: What is one food you can’t live without?

A: I like clean food, but I’m a chocoholic – good chocolate, though.

Q: Do you have any hidden talents?

A: I can still do a handstand.

Q: What would you do with an extra hour every day?

A: Breathe.

Q: How would you describe yourself in three words?

A: Complicated and simple.

Q: “And?” You’re using “and” as one of your words?

A: Yes. (laughs)