Thursday, June 10, 2004
Downtown Tortilla Factory Out of Business After 30 Years
By Barbara Armijo
Journal Staff Writer
M&J Sanitary Tortilla Factory and restaurant, which for 30 years has served New Mexicans and provided a feast for one U.S. president, has closed its doors.
The restaurant, at 403 Second, has been written about in such publications as The New York Times, the New Yorker and Cosmopolitan.
When then-President Bill Clinton came to Albuquerque in 1994, Mayor Martin Chávez called M&J's to cater a meal for 15 people aboard Clinton's presidential jet.
Bea and Jake Montoya have owned the restaurant, and the tortilla factory behind the restaurant, since 1974. The restaurant was known for its homemade blue corn and yellow corn chips. The salsa was Bea's special recipe.
On April 28, the restaurant served its final meals. Only this week were the Montoyas able to face going back to the restaurant.
The DeSoto family owned the first Sanitary Tortilla Factory off of Broadway when it brought the first tortilla-making machine to the city. It was thought to be more "sanitary" to make tortillas by machine rather than by hand.
Another owner ran the factory for about 20 years before the Montoyas took over and moved it to its current location, Bea Montoya, 62, said.
M&J comes from the initials of the first owners, Mary and Jesse , who opened it next to the factory on Broadway.
"I was 32 years old when we opened," she said. "And I've loved being here every single day. Now, I just sit here stunned that we're not open."
She said the restaurant's lease ran out earlier this year and a new one was drafted. Montoya said she had been paying $2,500 a month, but the new lease was going to be more than $3,500.
"We couldn't do it. Business has been getting slow here anyway," she said.
When road crews shut down Lead and Coal to convert them to two-way streets, the business suffered.
"We haven't been able to get all our business back," she said. "People just don't want to bother with the streets."
Montoya said the Townes' family has been kind to them.
"Especially Mr. Bill Townes," she said. "He was like family."
Bill Townes, 83, said Wednesday he had hoped his loyal tenants would be able to renew their lease.
"They are good people," he said. "But it was tough for them to make it anymore."
Joe Tanner, a Farmington businessman, walked into the restaurant Tuesday for his usual supply of a dozen tamales, but found it closed.
"I come into town once a month for business," he said. "We love (the tamales). I doubt I'm going to find a place like this again."
Bob Schwartz, former Bernalillo County District Attorney, currently Gov. Bill Richardson's crime policy adviser, said when he worked Downtown, M&J's was one of his favorite places to eat.
"Where will a person be able to get real authentic New Mexico food Downtown now?" he asked. "Places like M&J are special. I'll tell you what, if they put a (chain) in that space it will be sacrilege."
Montoya said she is negotiating with another restaurant owner who wants to buy some of the equipment and move into the space. She said she has no plans to move the restaurant to another location.
She spent most of this week saying farewell to regulars and taking calls from restaurant owners interested in buying equipment.
For Montoya, closing the business is painful.
"I've died 100 times today," she said after telling another group of regulars she was closed for good.