Looking for a challenge
Orlando and Yvette Ortega, owners of the popular restaurant Orlando’s New Mexican Café, opened up a new venue on May 8th.
The couple of restaurateurs needed a new challenge, said Ortega, adding that Orlando’s mostly “runs by itself.”
“We have a great crew there,” he said. “My sister, Roberta Ortega, manages the place. Orlando’s has been in business for seventeen years and is doing well so we decided to start another restaurant.”
It would have been easier to just open up a second Orlando’s but since the Ortegas were looking for a challenge, they chose a different style.
Food is mostly American cuisine, though there is a great selection of pasta. The place used to be a gas station so they kept the “metal theme” in the décor, which includes an old propeller. And they brought in Chef Adam Dooling, who happened to be the perfect match.
Dooling had worked at Orlando’s when he was a teenager. Later he traveled to New York and attended the Institute of Culinary Education. After ten years working as a chef in high-end New York restaurants, he came back just when Ortega was planning his new business.
“We were in sync,” said Ortega. “And then, I didn’t want to offend Chef Adam by telling to prepare chicken wings and comfort food so we decided on a menu that includes everybody’s favorites like burgers and hotdogs, but also fettuccini carbonara and spaghetti pomodoro.”
Even the chicken wings have a twist, said Chef Dooling, who makes them with a special Thai sauce. “They aren’t ordinary ones. They are supercharged.”
Other dishes include a salmon entrée with grilled asparagus and roasted Parmesan risotto cakes and grilled New York strip with mashed potatoes.
There are ten draft beers, a large selection of Mexican bottled beers and a wine list.
“We offer some gluten free dishes,” said Chef Dooling. “The batter used for the calamari and for the cods in the fish and chips dish is gluten free.”
Chef Dooling is trained in French and Italian culinary techniques, and he has also dabbled on Asian cuisine. “I love to apply my knowledge and create special dishes for our special patrons,” he said.
A cabalistic name
The restaurant’s name is based on the actual street number, 316 Paseo del Pueblo Sur, but Ortega chose it for other reasons as well.
“Three one six are also my birthday digits,” he said. “I was born on March 16th. And they appear on our phone number too.”
I always ask business owners for advice to new entrepreneurs when I write this column, but I had never heard anything similar to what Ortega told me.
“If someone tells me that he wants to open up a restaurant, the first thing I will do is try to convince him not to do it,” he said. “If you like cooking for friends and throwing parties, keep it this way, because once you turn it into a job you are going to hate it after the second week.”
Not that he hates his job, but it certainly takes time away from family and friends, Ortega says.
“As a restaurant owner, you have no holidays,” he says. “My wife and I work around 16 hours a day. We do love it but we make many sacrifices for the sake of the restaurants. That being said, if people are ready to dive into the business, they should be prepared to work long hours and have lots of patience because it takes a long time for a restaurant to start paying off the initial investment.”
Station 316 Café seems to be on its way to pay everything off quickly, though. The place is full and people keep coming in.
“I am very happy with the way things are working here,” says Ortega. “People come in and often bring in friends and relatives from out of town. I start to see familiar faces several times a week, just like in Orlando’s.”
So…what’s the secret?
“Great costumer service,” he says. “Of course, we can’t please everybody, but we try. Having the best quality products is a key element too.”
“We make all the sauces here,” says Chef Dooling. “I stay away from commercial sauces and give a personal touch to all the entrees. Other restaurants offer similar dishes, but if people are going to have steamed mussels, for example, I would like for them to think that this is the best place to get them in Taos.”
“This is still a work in progress,” says Ortega. “We listen to our customers. We are adding more dishes to the summer menu and have a happy hour now, too.”
Floor manager Felisha Rascon says that a reason for their success is making every patron feel at home.
“From the moment they come in, we welcome them and try to make their Station 316 Café experience a really pleasant one,” she says. “And they keep coming back.”
Station 316 Café is located at 316 Paseo Del Pueblo Sur, Taos, New Mexico87571
Phone: (575) 737-0316