How long have you been in your present occupation?
Born and raised in Taos – such an amazing place to call home. I learned from a very young age hard work is what it would take to be successful. I worked many random jobs since I was 12: babysat, cleaned windows, worked in a restaurant. I graduated Taos High and then lived in Albuquerque for 2 years. I never went to college — it wasn’t for me. I came back to Taos looking for work to figure out my next move.
My career story begins on Bent Street. I went door to door looking for retail work. I had noticed Orlando Ortega [now her husband], but was too shy to say, “Hello.” A week passed before I went back to check in with all places I applied. This time, Orlando actually ran up to me and said, “I have to know who you are.”
We began connecting. He actually hired me to swing hot dogs that summer in 1991 when he was running the cart for T.K. [Kennedy] and Charlene [Dulong], then owners of Bent Street Café & Deli at the time. That was the most fun job ever. I loved being outside in a great spot. I met so many people. We fell in love. Orlando, who was born in Embudo, and I bought the business that following year, and that included two carts Orlando ran — the burrito cart in front of Cabot Plaza and another on Bent Street. We worked many events as well such as Pow Wows, San Geronimo, Fiestas — you name it. It was fun but a lot of work. The carts were seasonal, so during the winter Orlando and I both worked two jobs and had one car — whoever needed to get to work first got the car and the other one had to hitch. Thank goodness at that time I worked at Taos Ski Valley, so hitching was easy. At night I worked at the Chili Connection.
After our daughter was born in 1995, she was 4 months old when in July of that summer we were hit head on while enjoying a Sunday drive toward Pilar. Orlando shattered a knee cap and I broke an arm. Luckily, my baby didn’t get hurt. But that changed things. Orlando and I were out of commission. We moved in with his parents to recuperate. After about 6 months, we were heading to a doctor’s appointment when we noticed the for rent sign on a building and thought, “We don’t have anything to lose, let’s do it.” Everyone thought we were crazy, but we believed we could make it happen. We took the chance and Orlando’s was born in 1996.
How did you get where you are today, and who/what helped you along the way?
Orlando’s mom and grandmother helped with the recipes. His grandma thought we were crazy wanting vegetarian chiles, being that traditionally chiles have meat, but she helped perfect them. Unfortunately, she had cancer and didn’t get to see the restaurant grow. So in 1999, our son Orazio was born and Roberta, Orlando’s sister, started working with us and is still here. She has been an amazing asset as the front-of-house person — not to mention her avocado pie is phenomenal. The help of Orlando’s momma doing apple pies up until five years ago and my momma as a line cook for about 19 to 20 years have been huge assets.
Time has definitely gone by so fast these last 24 years. We have an incredible staff, some who have been with us for many years. The entire kitchen staff is the backbone. Felisha Rascon manages the floor and oversees the restaurant while we are gone. We thank our locals near and far who have been loyal and supportive all these years. Without our customers, none of this would have been possible.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been an incredible journey. We learned that we had
to take time off to keep sane, so we started RV-ing for short amounts of time with our kids and it made things easier having family to help us.
What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
I’m thankful for an amazing journey and proud of the family we raised. We tried our best to make happy memories and even though the restaurant was a commitment, we learned how to juggle it all. All of the hard work allowed us to surf and enjoy Mexico — a dream come true. It proves that hard work does pay off.
As an invisible mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?
Don’t be afraid to take chances. The biggest piece of advice is start small, enjoy what you do and believe in yourself.
Meet all of the Taos Woman 2020 Women of Impact: