Nicholas R Peña
Timing is everything: Coyote Cafe & Santacafé set to reopen June 4th 2020
They say that timing is everything. So when local restaurateur, Quinn Stephenson, saw the opportunity to acquire the notorious SantaCafé in April 2019 during what he describes as, “a booming economy”, no one could have anticipated the pandemic waiting just around the corner. “Like most of us, I started in the industry with summer jobs like washing dishes at the (Santa Fe) flea market and busing tables at El Nido and Pranzo. It wasn’t until I was bartending at Coyote (Cafe) that I started falling in love with tasting wine and I started to appreciate what I was a part of. Seeing people in the restaurant celebrating, eating and drinking and enjoying each others company over great food and drinks and to know I had a part in that, that’s when I knew this was what I wanted to do.” Stephenson, 41, has played a part in the Santa Fe dining scene for decades now, including his past ownership in Geronimo and Radish and Rye, and gives tribute to renown chef Mark Miller for being a mentor and guide during Stephenson’s early years. Now the sole owner of two of Santa Fe acclaimed restaurants, Coyote Cafe and SantaCafé, Stephenson continues to honor the legacy of these two great restaurants while navigating through the most difficult time the industry has ever seen in his lifetime.
“Last year was booming. My colleagues, friends, and the restaurant scene in Santa Fe as a whole was doing great. I wasn’t interested in opening another restaurant but Santacafé was different. The previous owners, Bobby and Judy owned and operated this extremely successful restaurant for 32 years and I heard through the grapevine that they might be interested in entertaining an offer. My dad always told me that it doesn’t hurt to ask, and if you want something you have to go after it. I knew that I had the chance to create a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire Santacafé so I literally sent them an email and initiated the conversation. We took it over in April of 2019,” says Stephenson, “I’d like to think they saw something in me to honor the legacy of what Santacafé represents and carry that on for the next several decades.”
Stephenson and his wife, Nicole, have done just that, noting that the aesthetic bones of the adobe constructed restaurant is the same. This major remodel as a whole still embodies the Santacafé vibe, complete with an intentional minimalist approach in decor, it allows for a fresh feel, a new bar constructed from a log, and an overall updated look while holding on to the light color palette that Santacafé has always been known for. “It used to be a big restaurant known for power lunches. The biggest changes that we made are just trying to focus on quality over quantity. Quality of food, service, beverage instead of turn and burn.” says, Stephenson, “We’ve upped the cocktail and wine program. I bought a temperature controlled wine cellar so the wine list has probably grown by nearly five hundred percent and our new Executive Chef, Dale Kester, is young and has a lot of talent and experience. We’re trying to elevated it all.”
Though Stephenson continues to have a realistic yet positive outlook on the current situation, he is hopeful that the typical Santa Fe “busy season” (August through October) will provide at least a bit of relief for his restaurants. Many positive changes have been made at Santacafé over the last twelve months and as Stephenson runs Coyote Café and Cantina successfully, the dining scene as a whole continues to adapt to the current Covid-19 pandemic and many changes are becoming evident in the restaurant industry. Restaurants throughout New Mexico began closing their doors in March of 2020 and Stephenson’s were no exception. The quarantine started off with a break in at Santacafé, where a window was broken by an unknown assailant that stole an empty cash register, which added insult to injury within just a year of reopening. Also, after 13 years, Coyote Cafe Executive Chef Eduardo Rodriguez parted ways to begin his new venture, Zacatlán. “There’s been a few
places that were broken in to and it just really made me angry,” Says Stephenson, “And with Eduardo gone now, I’m very fortunate to have a whole kitchen of veterans that have been at Coyote for up to twenty years. We have Benjamin Ezparsa that will be holding down the kitchen for me until I have time to search for a new Executive Chef.”
Stephenson plans to re-open Coyote Café and Santacafé on Thursday June 4th while not only following the guidelines of the state, but also taking some of his own precautions. “I’ve spent thousands of dollars to prepare for our guests. I had plexiglass installed between tables, we purchased custom face masks, custom spray bottles for every table, more hand washing stations, one time disposable menus. We also updated menus online, and will have a Covid bouncer at the door who will be taking temperatures as people arrive,” says Stephenson, “We will be offering a one page menu and utilizing all of our space at Coyote, including using the Café for lunch, which is typically closed for lunch. We will open up the private dining room for overflow. And Santacafé is huge as well, so even though we will be operating at 50% capacity and six feet apart, we can still seat a good amount of people.” Even with the addition of all of the spaces at Coyote, including the private dining “Den”,
Stephenson is hopeful to break even in 2020 and is already setting his sights on the spring of 2021. “I think we’re really fortunate to live in Santa Fe because I think we’re going to see the population of locals grow. I don’t think we’ll have to leave and abandon ship, I think we will be a life boat that people will be headed for and these transplants will eventually help the economy,” says Stephenson.
For more information, gift certificates, or to make reservations please visit Coyote Cafe and Santacafé