Focus always supports locally grown products

Cherie Montoya, owner of Farm and Table and president, at the North Valley restaurant on November 1. The restaurant aims to use as many locally grown produce as possible. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Cherie Montoya was a nonprofit prodigy, having worked at the National Hispanic Cultural Center and AIDS Services in New Mexico, but she had no experience running a restaurant.

That, however, did not stop her.

Award-winning sound Farm & Table restaurant is now 10 years old, and going strong. So does the on-site farm that supplies some of the menu items and an adjacent gift shop that would have been a Camino Real stagecoach stop.

The most unexpected thing about getting into the restaurant business?

“Every day I feel like something is breaking,” Montoya says. “Like big stuff. One of the fridges doesn’t keep the temperature, and that’s a big deal. We have to deal with it now. If something doesn’t break, something is wrong. Especially after being here for 10 years.

Montoya, who grew up near his North Valley business, is renting 2 acres of the 12-acre land his father bought years ago to prevent a 40-home development on the property.

Montoya and his partner, Danny Lopez, have made the most of the rural views: the large patio dining area overlooks the farm, and there are separate raised platforms with tables that are placed at the edge of the field – a holdover from the pandemic days when social distancing was the norm.

Montoya’s approach at Farm & Table is similar to some of the principles she learned while working in nonprofit organizations. These include sticking to your vision without “mission drift” and building a team that can work together.

It was this team spirit that sustained Montoya after a cycling accident last winter when she fell on her face and damaged a cranial nerve. His vision in the injured eye may return one day, but in the meantime “there have been so many limitations”.

“The work is hard, but we have a team,” she says. “Especially with my accident, I feel like we have each other, and it’s really comforting to know.”

Cherie Montoya, owner of Farm and Table and president, at the North Valley restaurant on November 1. The restaurant aims to use as many locally grown produce as possible. (Adolphe Pierre-Louid/Journal)

It’s the restaurant’s 10th anniversary. Did the business go as you had imagined?

“Yes, exactly. I’ve been in the nonprofit world for so long, and in this world.. you don’t change your outlook. That’s the rule of thumb. I just wish more businesses for-profit live by these philosophies, because it makes so much sense. So when you decide what you want to do, it’s valuable. It’s not like, ‘I have to make money. How am I going to change things and make more money?” It’s not like that at all. The essence of what it is, like any nonprofit, should stay the same. You know where you’re going and you honor it. So who we are today is exactly what we were 10 years ago, just better.

And what is the vision?

“The vision is to honor… locally grown produce, from berries to nuts. We get pecans from Mesilla Valley, we get berries from Corrales, but also the protein as much as possible. There are a few breeders keeping their protein here in New Mexico. Sure, we can get things from other places, but that (the vision) honors where we are, our local economy. It is to highlight our friends, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors. It’s just awesome, it’s delicious, and it’s doable. It’s expensive, but that’s our thing.

If it’s grown locally, why is it expensive?

“If you go to the farmers market and compare the price of kale to the price of kale at Smith, it will be about four times as much. Sometimes more. It’s more expensive because we don’t mass-produce under terrible working conditions. We don’t make cheap food and vaporize it so it can survive the thousands of miles it will have to travel to get groceries. When you (support) local workers who work hard to grow food, it just costs more.

What is your favorite part of the job?

” I think that’s all. I never feel like going to work. It’s a beautiful space, the food is great. Once we open and people start coming in – they are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, or they are bringing their friends who are from out of town. It’s a really cool vibe. I really like that.

What are your plans for the company?

“When my last farmer (who was renting the property) left, I decided to take over the farm myself and change the concept to a permaculture farm, which is focused on the future instead of transforming something immediately “This will be our third year. We have planted many kinds of fruit trees, nut trees and berry bushes and many perennials. So it’s long term.”

What do you do with your free time?

“I just like walking along ditches and acequias. And riding my bike, but obviously I haven’t done that in a while now. I like being outside, and my new thing that I I’ve done is travel to Chicago, my daughter is at the Art Institute there.

What is the hard thing you learned?

“You organize an idea. It’s this beautiful idea – if it turns out that way. But we all know that things don’t always turn out that way all the time. There is a magazine called Comestibles. It’s about our restaurants and our food professionals who are dedicated to local food. So if I get an award from them, I think that’s so special. My chefs got these best chef awards, and there’s this… thing that happens right after. They receive it and they leave. So it happened with every chef. And all the chefs I’ve had, I love them. I still miss them, but I don’t feel like a limb was cut off. I guess that’s the beauty of Farm & Table – that it’s never just one person. It’s such a collective.

What are you most proud of?

“That we did at 10 years old. I have been the only person who has been here from day one until now. It was hard. I am proud to have a good reputation and to be respected by my peers.

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