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 V.22 No.25 | June 20 - 26, 2013 

Food News

Westside Story

Bringing an independent spirit to Albuquerque’s newest developments

A year ago, if you'd asked me what I thought of Albuquerque’s Westside, I wouldn’t have painted the prettiest picture. I might have lamented what I saw as sprawling suburbia and an endless vista of brown and tan houses. Worst of all, I would have assumed that the Westside was a culinary desert for locavores.

So if the Westside is really as bad as I had thought, why are so many local Downtown and Nob Hill business owners choosing to expand there?

For Jeff Jinnett, president of Marble Brewery, the biggest factor in choosing where to locate a second taproom was simply customer demand.

“Lots of guests down at the brewery live on the Westside and would tell us they’d love to have something nearby,” explains Jinnett.

Customer demand was also a chief factor for Carrie Mettling, owner of Rebel Donut. After posing a question about where to expand on their Facebook page, the overwhelming response was clear: Rebel Donut customers wanted a location on the Westside. Mettling heard the same request offline from customers making the trip to the Northeast Heights location.

So if the Westside is really as bad as I had thought, why are so many local Downtown and Nob Hill business owners choosing to expand there?

Expansion is tough under any circumstance, but expanding west in Albuquerque provides its own set of challenges. For one, the Westside is still growing with no end in sight. What was nothing but dusty desert last year is now home to expanding new development. This kind of rapidly growing territory is a goldmine for national chains with the deep pockets and name recognition that property managers and developers view as a safe bet.

Unfortunately that means new startups and local business owners looking for new locations are left out of the loop. Locavores are left to forage for independent eateries elsewhere.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a local business to do well on the Westside. In fact, the first day of business at Rebel Donut’s Coors location was busier than any previous day at their Wyoming store. And they continue to outsell their Northeast Heights counterpart as they tap into a whole new pool of potential customers.

When Paula Griego Pope and the team at Nob Hill's Olo Yogurt Studio decided it was time to open a second location in the Paradise Hills area, she made it a point to get to know the area and her new neighbors. She took the time to meet with local PTAs, mothers groups, church groups, the Paradise Hills Little League and others. She also sought out opportunities to support local groups through donations of gift cards and a percentage of sales. It was her way of getting to know the community in a way that a national chain can't.

The newest Olo location finds itself in a shopping center replete with dollar stores, hair salons and a neighborhood dentist. The location makes for good family-friendly foot traffic and Olo has made it work to their advantage. To make sure they stand out among the mix of local and national chains in the area, Pope and her team took great care to maintain the same look and feel as their successful Nob Hill location. That includes replicating their signature striped interior and flavors like “Carlsbad Chocolate” and “Lobo Cherry Vanilla.”

This has helped those Westside customers who used to make the long trip down to Nob Hill feel right at home in a much more convenient location.

Pope recalls seeing a couple of Nob Hill regulars on the first day of business on the Westside. “They were one of our first customers, and I have seen a lot of familiar faces at the Ventana Ranch store,” says Pope.

All three business owners feel very optimistic about the future for the Westside market. When asked if they felt like there was a lack of independent and local businesses in the area, all three overwhelmingly indicated no.

Local businesses are a tight-knit community, no matter where you find them. For proof, look no further than the display of Rebel Donut treats in the toppings bar at Olo. At Marble’s taproom, you can order food from Ironwood Kitchen, a neighboring local restaurant, without ever leaving your ale behind. As more local businesses start up or expand on the Westside, they will bring Albuquerque’s unique flavor and character with them.

 
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