ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Editor’s note: The story has been corrected to reflect the meals served at Los Poblanos. It is currently just breakfast and dinner.
Lavender, heirloom beets and pomegranates are not the only things growing at Los Poblanos – so too are the commercial enterprises established to support the North Valley property’s long-term preservation.
The family behind Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm will soon embark on an expansion project intended to “right-size” the operation so that it can sustain the farm long term and support the staff that has grown up around it. Fresh off the Bernalillo County Commission’s approval of up to $15 million in industrial revenue bonds, the Rembes plan to more than double the number of guest rooms at their country inn and transform a 1930s-era dairy building to incorporate the on-site restaurant, an expanded farm store, and manufacturing operations for the bath, body and other value-added products made with the lavender and other herbs and produce cultivated on the grounds.
The bonds – which Los Poblanos must pay off, but which provide certain tax breaks – will help with what Executive Director Matt Rembe called a proper scaling that could ultimately mean doubling revenue within five years.
“We’re just making the businesses that we’ve been really putting our blood, sweat and tears into … more efficient – investing in a way that will allow them to have the support they need to keep growing and maintain the quality while hopefully upping the volume a little bit,” Rembe said.
Los Poblanos is essentially six interrelated businesses: the inn, the organic farm, La Merienda restaurant, a retail store, the wholesale lavender products manufacturing business and the events/weddings business.
The Rembes first proposed adding a bed and breakfast, and reopening the property’s La Quinta events center in the 1990s as a way to cover the costs associated with maintaining the rural character and John Gaw Meem-designed buildings on the 25-acre property.
The family bought half of the property in 1976 and acquired the rest more than 20 years later. It opened the inn in 1999 with six guest rooms, Matt Rembe said, and later expanded to 20.
The current project will boost it to 50, a number Rembe said will better suit some of its wedding activities. Los Poblanos already hosts about 50 ceremonies annually, with average attendance between 100 and 150. But it has occasionally lost out-of-state wedding business when couples realize the property lacks sufficient lodging for their guests.
“This allows us to get to a scale that really supports destination events from other markets, which has been really interesting for us because people are coming from all over the United States to get married here,” he said.
Fifty rooms also makes sense from a staffing perspective, he said. When he took on a leadership role in 2005, Rembe said Los Poblanos had about seven employees. Today, it has about 50, with an additional 30-40 part-time workers. Like many small businesses, Rembe said it is reckoning with rising employment costs.
“You have the same kind of management costs whether you have 20 rooms or 120 rooms, and we only have 20. … Fifty guest rooms is what we hope is kind of the sweet spot, the magic number to allow us to support the management staff and the rest of the staff, and still stay small and intimate and have a high-quality guest experience,” he said.
The expansion is expected to create an additional 20-30 jobs.
While Los Poblanos has been approved for $15 million in bonds, Rembe said the investment will likely be closer to $10 million, with costs split almost evenly between the new rooms and the old dairy building’s renovation and expansion. The former barn already houses the farm shop, but is otherwise used primarily for storage. The Rembes will preserve and renovate most of the existing structure, but also plan to add space that will double its overall size.
The building will house a new, larger farm shop, as well as the lavender and value-added products manufacturing – which is currently split among six different sites around the property – and the restaurant.
Breakfast and dinner currently take place in the ranch house. The new restaurant will mean more seating and windows overlooking the lavender fields. It also provides a true kitchen for the chefs, who currently work out of two separate kitchens, including a 10-by-10-foot space in the ranch house – the same kitchen Rembe said his mom used while he was growing up on the property. The space constraints have complicated preparation of 50-60 breakfasts and dinners.
The upgrades include all new kitchen equipment, including a wood-fired oven and the addition of a bakery that will allow the retail store to introduce a new element: artisan breads and pastries.
Los Poblanos will also incorporate some new tools to aid in the making of the bath and body products, including distillers and labeling equipment. But Rembe said much of the work, like wrapping the soap, will still be done by hand.
The space will allow visitors to see first-hand the synergy among Los Poblanos’ individual businesses. They can eat a meal prepared with food grown on site, witness the farm’s bounty turned into value-added products and also buy some of those same products – whether lavender soap or hot sauce – at the shop.
It is “really the true agritourism experience,” he said from the grounds as a tractor hummed nearby and visitors shopped the farm store. “We’re already doing it – we’re just sensitively upping the scale for it to remain sustainable long-term.”
Rembe said the expansion should begin in the next two months and wrap by spring of 2017. He said the construction will be staged so that it will not affect regular operations.
“We’re not looking to get bigger and bigger,” he said. “We’re just looking to get to the right size, and we’re confident the current vision we have now is for the perfect scale.”