Tijeras restaurant connects to the community
What would possibly inspire a young couple, one with a PH.D in linguistics, and the other with a master’s degree in cognitive science, to open a cafe in Tijeras? Daniel Puccini and Kendall Rattner have a solid explanation for their decision, but it took a lot of varied experiences, extensive travel, and soul searching to reach it.
The answer can also be found in their deep-seated values, and in understanding why Roots Farm Cafe is so much more than a cafe to them. To their way of thinking, the term “roots” embodies those things that grow deep into the earth, as well as the tendrils that connect friends, family, and community. They envision their cafe as providing space for new roots to grow, new friendships to develop, and new ideas to be shared. They love the sense of community and connectedness they believe the cafe can fulfill.
“We view ourselves as just a very small piece of a much bigger puzzle,” Puccini says. “That puzzle also includes soil, water, plants, animals—the entire ecosystem and how we fit into it.” The couple has found inspiration by looking into past cultures to understand not only growing techniques but also how those cultures viewed the importance of working together as a community to provide for all. “Using the old methods that nurture the relationship between the ecosystem and ourselves benefits both the earth and us,” Puccini says. He and Rattner aim to promote those cohesive values while sharing them with the entire community.
Puccini and Rattner met in Amsterdam, where they were both working on their master’s degrees. Puccini grew up in New Mexico, but recalled wanting to get as far away as possible, explore other places, and follow his dream of doing research in linguistics. He soon discovered that a life of academia and research was much more tedious and unfulfilling than he had once thought. “Getting away from where I grew up gave me an entirely different perspective and taught me to appreciate where I came from,” he says.
Meanwhile, Rattner spent ten years earning an undergraduate degree. “I only went to college because my parents insisted,” she recalls. “I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.” She eventually took a psychology course that she loved and chose that as her major. She then went on to earn a master’s degree in cognitive science. Like Puccini, though, she discovered that the life of a science researcher was not to her liking. “Now, I am able to apply many of those skills that I learned in all of that education while doing something that I love,” she says, smiling. “Knowing how to research, assess information, and problem solve have been really useful throughout this venture.”
Located just south of Tijeras, Puccini’s childhood home dates back four generations, to when his great-grandfather grew crops on the small farm for the family’s use. He remembers as a boy playing on the old, rusty farm equipment with his twin brother. Even though the family retained possession of the land, it wasn’t utilized as a farm again until Puccini made the decision to return to his “roots.” He cleaned and repaired the old equipment, purchased a team of horses, and resumed the hard work of his ancestor, using the old sustainable methods. Thus, he revived his family’s love of farming, and the land was put to good use. “I would love it if I never had to use another computer for the rest of my life,” Puccini says, laughing. “I would much rather be doing things that are connected to the earth.”
Puccini says that his mom was a very good cook, and he enjoyed learning from her. After leaving home, he continued to cook for himself and friends. He loves to experiment with different foods and is not afraid to make mistakes. “I don’t really use recipes,” he says. Sometimes that poses a problem when a dish turns out well, but he can’t recall exactly how to duplicate it.
Rattner learned to bake while living in Amsterdam, and she often shared her delicious treats with friends. She even turned her skills into a small business by selling her baked goods in local cafes and bakeries.
Both Puccini and Rattner honed their sustainable farming and cooking skills while working at Turtle Island Preserve, an off-the-grid heritage farm in North Carolina. They eventually discovered that their individual talents complimented each other and that led, in part, to their decision to open Roots Farm Cafe. In addition, Rattner keeps the books and is a gifted photographer. Her images can be seen decorating the walls of the cafe.
Providing locally produced food is part of the overall philosophy of “community and connectedness” at Roots. A much as possible, the food is grown on the couple’s farm or is provided by local producers. “This is our way of supporting local suppliers instead of having that support go to huge corporations,” Puccini says. They have learned to adapt what they serve in order to use the freshest food available, and the menu changes seasonally in keeping with this farm-to-table concept. They usually have daily specials as well, and one of the most popular items is the breakfast burrito. Their delicious homemade soups will warm up even the chilliest customer as they sit by the fireplace on cold winter days. The homemade humus platter has become another favorite with patrons.
Running the cafe is not without its challenges. One of the biggest has been finding a balance between the business, the farm, and their personal lives. In addition, they would like to spend more time developing another component of the endeavor, Roots Natural Learning Center, a non-profit which aims to share information about growing techniques, water harvesting, sustainable building methods, and sustainability practices with both children and adults. Fortunately, they have benefited from lots of assistance from friends, volunteers, and Puccini’s parents, who help with feeding the animals when he is working late at the cafe. “We want to make time for the really important things—the things that really matter,” he says. “We’re still working on time to fit it all in.”
A few well-intentioned people were not all that encouraging in the beginning stages, cautioning Puccini and Rattner that most restaurants fail in their first year of operation. But the couple believed in their vision and remained determined to move forward with their plan. A short 16 months later, they now feel that they have beaten the odds. Open six days a week from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (closed on Tuesdays), the cafe has become a popular gathering spot for early risers and friends to meet for lunch. It has an ideal location just south of the intersection on Highway 337 in Tijeras—close enough for people to drive in from Albuquerque but still accessible to East Mountain residents.
Just as plants and their roots are intricately connected, so are Roots Farm Cafe and the East Mountain community.
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