Businesses don't always close to enable employees to enjoy the holidays, such as Thanksgiving, with their families. Analeah Ortiz feels very fortunate because the place where she works, La Cocina de Taos, plans to honor employees by closing for the day.
"Louella Chacon-Conway, the restaurant owner, is very family oriented, and so are her relatives (the Chacon's from Mante's Chow Cart), and they run their businesses in that manner. For example, their restaurants are also closed on Sundays so we can be with our families. La Cocina and Mante's could make a lot of money on those days, but the Chacons see a value in how they're doing things." said Analeah Ortiz while preparing for her work day.
Ortiz, a 2000 Taos High graduate, helped care for her mother Frances who later passed away following a bout with cancer. Meanwhile, Ortiz also worked at Cid's Food Market, assisting with carry-out and other activities for two years.
But she was 18 when her mother died and took time off from the work world due to depression over her mother's death.
She took time off later as well to care for her eldest daughter Santana, who is now 15 and a sophomore at Taos High. When Santana was very young, Analeah Ortiz took her daughter to Hawaii for an extended visit with Antoinette and her husband John Sharfin and their daughter Luna. "I checked out Hawaii to see if I wanted to live there. It was beautiful, but I missed my dad (Manuel Ortiz Jr.) too much. We're very close," said Ortiz. She returned to Taos after three months in Hawaii, finding work at Ricky's Restaurant and at Super Save.
Ortiz spent the next few years splitting time between Grants, N.M., and Taos. Her second daughter, Sabrina, was born in Taos 11 years ago. Her third daughter, Ariana, was born a couple of years later. When Analeah decided to return to Taos for good, she remained at home raising her daughters until Ariana was old enough to attend kindergarten. Then Ortiz returned to work.
Ortiz enrolled at UNM-Taos and studied basic subjects. At the same time, she cared for Annabelle Velarde until the latter's passing. Then "I got a job at Pat's Place at the former Holiday Inn. Pat Conway was a great boss, and I remained working there until the restaurant closed. Then, Pat's wife Louella Chacon-Conway called and asked if I'd like to work at her restaurant, La Cocina de Taos, because she needed a server. I worked with Louella at Mante's Chow Cart when I was in high school, so I considered that my job was meant to be," said Ortiz.
That was three years ago, and server's work continues to please her. She works five days a week, rotating various shifts, with the exception of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
This self-avowed "people person" greatly enjoys her work day. "I like to talk and know different people and where they come from. We have regulars, too, locals who we know well. I think a restaurant is like a hair salon in a way because people in attendance talk to fellow diners and staff or both," Ortiz said.
Even when Ortiz isn't at work, she remains busy. She appreciates the family-oriented workplace and takes advantage of this positive attitude by enjoying the time off with her loved ones. "I try to do as much as possible with the girls' school activities such as lunches for Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations," Ortiz said. "My girls each have an activity such as basketball, robotics and chess club. The girls are also involved in after school activities. We go to Albuquerque or Santa Fe (most recently Meow Wolf) and work on arts and crafts like embroidery. We take walks, gather rocks along the way and paint them. For the first time this summer, we went fishing. I learned how to bait and hook," Ortiz said.
For a time, Analeah couldn't afford to take her daughters on a far-away vacation, but recently, the family stayed at Las Vegas' Circus Circus and enjoyed themselves. Future goals include a trip to Disneyland and eventually a visit to Analeah's sister Antoinette, her brother-in-law John and niece Luna Sharfin in Hawaii.
Talking about her daughters naturally led to memories of another special family member, her mother Frances Ortiz, a positive person who lived by the motto, "Don't worry; be happy."
"I wish I could give my mom a kiss again," Ortiz said. "I'm using this opportunity to tell youngsters not to be ashamed to kiss and hold your mom."
"Be blessed with what you have," she added. "Life is too short to be unhappy."
Ortiz's day off on Thanksgiving means a family Thanksgiving meal at the home of her aunt and uncle, Carmen and Leandro Ortiz. The menu consists of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, red chile, stuffing and all the trimmings. The guests include many cousins who play games throughout the evening after the meal. Ortiz recently became a vegetarian, but she plans to eat her favorite mashed potatoes, red chile and ham. Relative Mariano Aragon prepares the ham, and Melissa Aragon, a family member, is "like a sister."
Ortiz said, "I'm lucky to have good bosses in a place that offers good food, good-sized portions and the opportunity to support local businesses. Not just because she's giving my co-workers and I the day off, but I give thanks for Louella Chacon-Conway who's been my rock through my journey. I'm thankful for my family - my sister, my dad, his significant other Dolores, my daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Family comes first. It's wonderful to spend the day with those who I love."