Taking over the Aztec Street space formerly occupied by a popular cafe with a succession of owners over the last 20 years was a daunting prospect for new business partners Alisa Franzone-Davis and Marie Bartels.
"A lot of people have been coming here forever," Bartels said, "and we've been very friendly, trying to become a community here. But already it's an amazing gathering place."
The partners, who had a soft opening in March for 317 Aztec, have been through a whirlwind process the last several months, starting with spotting an ad for the sale of the existing cafe last November. The cafe quietly closed last fall, following the end of a high-profile partnership deal between the cafe's previous owners and Il Piatto restaurant.
"We were at the broker's office that day and put down earnest money. Then we were busy negotiating to buy the business until Feb. 1," Franzone-Davis said, "and [we] finally ended up just taking over the lease for the space."
Several weeks of intense cleaning, refurbishing and reorganizing the kitchen followed, most of it paid in sweat equity, the business partners said.
"People were coming by every day knocking on the door wanting us to open," Franzone-Davis said.
317 Aztec is now open daily and serves Santa Fe's Agapao organic coffee, breakfast, lunch and dessert.
The menu is a reflection of the partners' strong interest in raw foods.
It's filled with imaginative salads and juice blends from local produce as well as hearty breakfast dishes, soups and sandwiches. About half the menu choices adhere to raw food tenets -- the rest is a mixture of vegan, vegetarian and clean-sourced meat dishes.
Food sources are at least 90 percent organic, Franzone-Davis said, "because if you don't do organic, there's no point."
Gluten-free and traditional baked goods also are available, as well as raw chocolate treats by chocolatier Christianna Uehlein, formerly of Body Cafe.
Next month, Gillian Labe, who was a private chef for actor Woody Harrelson, will start providing the restaurant with Friday and Saturday dinner specials made from foods bought at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.
"Actually, I never even wanted to open a restaurant," Bartels recalled with a laugh. Her family owns the Crystal Mesa Farm Bed and Breakfast on N.M. 14, and she has had her hands full cooking for others while raising her family for the past 16 years. But she has also had an amorphous dream of nourishing and creating a healthful community, something a mutual friend knew when he introduced her to Franzone-Davis a couple of years ago.
Formerly the manager of Body Cafe and Jambo Café, Franzone-Davis, too, had a dream of creating community. Her dream was more specific, though. It centered on preparing raw foods and teaching its healthful benefits.
Years ago, she came down with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, after
13 years working as an attorney. "Someone suggested I try a raw food diet, and I thought, well, I eat a lot of salad, that's raw, but I began researching it and found that it's so much more than that," she said.
"I went in cold turkey, and after three months, I was healed," Franzone-Davis said. "Once that happened, I quit law and went raw, studying everywhere I could find."
Franzone-Davis clarified that a disease such as rheumatoid arthritis never fully goes away, but she has successfully managed her symptoms by carefully managing her diet.
Her search for information, training and certification took her to the Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institute in Puerto Rico, the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Arizona and the Living Light Culinary Institute in Fort Bragg, Calif., where she managed its raw-food cafe and was eventually recruited to work at Body Cafe in Santa Fe.
The pair hit it off immediately, and Franzone-Davis formed Rawoman, her own culinary school for raw foods at Crystal Mesa.
Bartels said she got drawn to raw foods "by default," when Franzone-Davis' assistants couldn't make it to a class one day.
"She asked me to step in, and we had such a great rapport, everyone asked us to keep teaching together," Bartels said.
"Actually, a lot of women especially want to get into raw food, but it can be very daunting. We said, 'We'll meet you wherever you are in the process and go from there.' "
The pair intend to continue introducing more raw food dishes into the menu over time.
"We do have some of the previous staff from the Aztec Cafe," Franzone-Davis noted, "and they have been very open to our recipes. They are intrigued and surprised and are really expanding their repertoires."
IF YOU GO
What: 317 Aztec
Where: 317 Aztec St.
When: 7 a.m. to
5 p.m. Monday
through Saturday, and
8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Sunday. Friday and
Saturday dinners will
start June 1
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