Holguin – who joined the Albuquerque Police Department after moving here from upstate New York – never stopped reminiscing about the places he ate while stationed with the U.S. Army near Syracuse.
“There’s a big Spanish community in Syracuse and there are little, small (Spanish restaurants),” Holguin says. “I came here and was thinking about it all the time. Even though I was working, I was like ‘I want to open a restaurant here.'”
And so he has.
Holguin this month launched The Cellar, a Spanish tapas restaurant with a beer and wine bar, at 1025 Lomas NW.
Trading a badge and gun for a kitchen and waitstaff might seem like a major leap, but Holguin worked a few restaurant jobs as a young man in El Paso. And he says his experience as a military policeman – including two tours in Iraq – gave him leadership and people skills that will serve him well in the new endeavor.
“The way you’ve got to treat people (as a military police officer) – the customer service is always there,” he says.
The Cellar represents many years of thought and more than a year of painstaking preparation. Holguin has been leasing the restaurant – a onetime video store – since spring of 2014 and spent the interim almost single-handedly redesigning the space as an upscale, 46-seat eatery.
He went with what he called a “rustic-industrial” aesthetic inspired by the front door he installed. Crafted in Mexico nearly 200 years ago and wearing a coat of faded red paint, the heavy wooden door opens into a dining room with concrete floors, exposed ducts and lots of handmade furniture.
“I’m pretty handy with wood, so I wanted to do everything the way I wanted,” Holguin says.
Holguin built the menu in conjunction with his chef, James Duke, whose work will be on display in the restaurant’s open kitchen.
Diners have their pick of 20 different tapas at The Cellar. Holguin says he wanted the menu to cover a lot of ground, so there’s chargrilled corn on the cob ($7) and flash-fried avocado ($9), but also ceviche ($10) and a lobster tostada ($16).
For bigger appetites, entrée options include roasted chicken ($14), paella ($13 for a single serving) and “pasta de Madrid,” an $11 dish of angel hair tossed with Spanish onions, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil and sherry wine.
Holguin says he’s importing many of the ingredients from Spain.
Several of the beers and wines, meanwhile, come from closer to home. There are selections from local breweries, such as Tractor and Sierra Blanca, and wineries like Gruet and Vara.
The Cellar is located at Lomas and 11th. It’s open 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. on Mondays. The phone number is 242-3117.
When deciding among dozens of cereal options – or even just picking a peanut butter or bottle of grape juice –
customers at the Downtown Albuquerque Lowe’s grocery store now have something else to consider beyond price, nutrition and taste.
It’s the product’s sustainability rating as determined by HowGood, an independent research organization that has studied an estimated 140,000 products commonly found on store shelves.
HowGood looks at up to 70 environmental and social factors for each product – such as growing practices, how the company treats its farmers and employees, and even if it has a history of chemical spills or waste management issues.
Only the products that rank in the top 25 percent earn a HowGood label, which is placed on the store shelf near the price tag. A product that charts in the top 5 percent of all food produced in the U.S. gets a “Best” marker; those that crack the top 15 percent get noted “Great” and those in the top 25 percent earn a “Good” label.
HowGood does not label anything that ranks outside of the top quarter of products.
“The last thing we want to do is make people feel bad about what they’re buying; it’s about making people feel good about switching their choices to more sustainable ones,” says Jessica Siuda, HowGood’s head of sales. “No red flags, no stop signs. There are always some things I’m going to buy that don’t rate well, but if I can change a few things in my basket, then it makes a difference.”
Siuda notes that even some “conventional” products make the grade. Consumers can learn more about why individual products scored well – and look into those that don’t have a label – by using HowGood’s barcode scanner smartphone app for additional details culled from the organization’s massive database.
The Lowe’s at 701 11th NW near Downtown is one of seven in the 146-store chain participating in a three-month test of the HowGood program. Its Alamogordo location is also part of the pilot. Should Lowe’s decide to implement the program across all its stores, it would be the largest chain to date to partner with HowGood. (HowGood labels are also currently found at Mountain View Market in Las Cruces and the Los Alamos Co-op.)
Siuda says the program rewards manufacturers with the most ethical practices and can even boost sales at grocery stores as consumers subtly shift to the more sustainable, and often slightly more expensive, choices. But mostly, she says, it’s a simple system that takes the guesswork out of shopping in a world where products tout themselves as “natural,” “organic” or “wholesome.”
“That’s the beauty of our program; we’re trying to take the confusion away from that. What does natural really mean? People don’t know,” she says.
Green Jeans update
Green Jeans Farmery – developer Roy Solomon’s shipping container retail project and hydroponic farm at Interstate 40 and Carlisle NE – continues to take shape.
Solomon says the first wave of businesses, including the Santa Fe Brewing Co. taproom, Epiphany Espresso and a couple of food vendors – should be open by July, with others following shortly thereafter.
Green Jeans’ food choices will include the previously announced Amore and Bocadillos, as well as the more recent signees, Rockin’ Taco and Rustic on the Green.
Rockin’ Taco will specialize in Baja-style street tacos, and comes from an experienced chef and restaurateur. Owner Jay Young studied at Johnson & Wales Culinary School in South Carolina and previously operated Sandia Crust Pizza Co. in Cedar Crest and, before that, Stella Blue in Albuquerque.
“I really haven’t (done tacos before) other than just for myself personally, but it’s always been a concept I wanted to get into,” he says.
Rustic on the Green comes from Kelly Adams who has operated the Rustic Food Truck in Albuquerque for nearly three years, including regular nights at Marble Brewery.
Adams called the small Green Jeans location a “segue into bricks and mortar,” though he’ll continue operating the truck. The Green Jeans location will stick with the same short burger menu that has powered the truck since its inception.
“We’re not going to change the formula because it keeps working,” Adams says. “We’re excited to be part of Green Jeans with Roy. I think (the project is) going to be great for Albuquerque.”
If you have retail news to share, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 823-3864. For more regular updates on Albuquerque shopping and restaurant news, visit my blog at abqjournal.com or follow @abqdyer on Twitter.