Back on the same day that restaurants and breweries were ordered to close their dining rooms and go to takeout orders only, I ventured out to a construction site on the west side of town at Coors and Sequoia. The future Sobremesa Restaurant & Brewery was starting to take shape as I met up with the ownership trio of David Facey, Nicolas Giron, and Ryan Strilich.
At its current pace of construction, Sobremesa will be open well after the current restrictions are lifted, though of course no one knows for sure exactly when that will be.
“I think we all feel for the industry as a whole right now,” Ryan said. “People are hurting, employees are getting laid off, hours aren’t able to be filled. It’s not a fun time to be in the industry. We empathize with all the people going through that, but at the same time we feel somewhat lucky that we are in the situation that we’re in. We can kind of step back and just see how everything pans out. We’re not paying a bunch of employees yet so we don’t have to let people go.”
“On that note, we’ve been in the industry each of us for 15 years, working at different places,” Nicolas said. “We’re eager to create jobs. We’ve got a lot of people that are eager to come work with us. As of now, we’re on schedule, which is nice.”
“Yeah, under this recent climate, there are frustrating days, but at the end of it we take a step back (and tell ourselves), ‘We can only control what we can control,’” David said.
Ryan and Nicolas have known each other since they went to high school just north on Coors at St. Pius. They started Brickyard Pizza together, and met David through contacts in the industry. David’s name might be familiar to some beer geeks, as he has previously worked at Canteen, Chama River, Quarter Celtic (where he remains a part owner), and Steel Bender.
Getting an experienced brewer was just one of the key factors that helped Ryan and Nicolas decide to jump into a crowded local beer market, albeit one has still focused more on taprooms than new breweries on the west side of the Rio Grande.
“I think the general idea was to not just do another brewery,” Ryan said. “But, do something that not all the breweries were doing, which was to offer a full-service restaurant, also. We’ve made that a key focus of what we’re presenting to the public. The west side has historically been neglected for things to do, as it were. We felt that this was a good location with good visibility from a major intersection, a mile away from the freeway, two miles away from Montaño and Coors.
“The (other) nice thing is we’re able to start with a very qualified brewer in David. He’s well known in town, and he knows what he’s doing.”
“I think that’s also something to emphasize, we’re not just opening another brewery, we’re opening a restaurant that also happens to be a brewery,” Nicolas added.
As Nexus and other brewpubs have shown, differentiating your food menu can be just as important as varying up the beers on tap.
“It’s going to a mix of Spanish, traditional Spanish cuisine, traditional New Mexico cuisine,” Ryan said. “We’ll have items that are traditional bar fare, fish and chips, stuff like that. A lot of shareable items. Paella is going to be one of our signature dishes. Not too many places in town are doing paella. We’ll have lots of tapas.”
Shareable might be the key word there, as David explained.
“The idea behind this, not only with the brewery aspect, but being very communal, shareable, people talk to their neighbors, whether you know them or not,” he said. “The name Sobremesa is kind of an indirect Spanish phrase that loosely translates into gathering around a table after a meal. That’s something we try to foster. Obviously, people go out and have beers with a couple buddies, but also go out, enjoy a meal, take your time.”
“Enjoy each other’s company,” Ryan added. “I think it’s something that it’s a brand we love, but it’s something being taken away from our culture temporarily, not being able to gather. We hope to open when it all gets lifted.”
This being a website about craft beer, David was prepared to address his future plans for the brewery, which will consist of a 10-barrel brewhouse, four 10-barrel fermenters, one 20-barrel fermenter and a 20-barrel brite tank, plus 10-barrel servers. David said he will then keg off all the beers for the cooler behind the bar, rather than run a long trunk line from the brewery on the west end of the building to the bar in the center.
“I was extremely fortunate to work with some of the best brewers, not only in the state but the country, that being Zach Guilmette (at Canteen), Brady McKeown (at Quarter Celtic), and Bob Haggerty (at Steel Bender),” David said. “I’ve learned so much working with those guys and those teams. In regards to brewers have this mindset of they almost take brewing almost too seriously, but at the end of the day it’s an item that needs to be very, very communal. I’ve learned a lot from those guys.”
David has experienced both pub-style setups and the larger production style brewery at Steel Bender, and he has taken lessons from both.
“I love being a pub brewer,” he said. “Being both at Chama and Quarter Celtic, it really leaves room for experimentation, a big portfolio of rotating seasonals, messing around with new ingredients, hops being grown locally, barley now being grown locally, getting to play around with all that. On the converse, also the understanding of how to really, really organize a production schedule, being at a Steel Bender when they went from a pub system to more of a production brewery. Really kind of understanding the values with that.”
Since Sobremesa will not be jumping into any sort of canning/bottling/distribution game, it gives David a wide berth in terms of designing his beer menu.
“We’re all really looking forward to a wide portfolio of beers,” he said. “Obviously, like many pubs we’ll have our staple house beers. What I would like to do is see them evolve more. We’re very, very interested in listening to our customers. The beer industry changes. One decade, it’s American IPAs, then it’s juicy’s, then it’s fruit sours, it always changes. We look to be malleable in those two regards, both with respect to the industry and where it goes, and to what our customer likes. That’s the benefit of having that pub system.”
Sobremesa marketing director Justin De La Rosa, who was hanging around with his dog, quickly joked: “We also plan on having an Arby’s beef-and-cheddar milkshake stout.”
After everyone had a good laugh mixed with a look of slight disgust on our faces, David continued.
“To Justin’s point, that’s the cool thing, you get to play with stuff like that,” David said. “You look at your production schedule, we’re all stocked up on house beers and seasonals, let’s do something crazy that I heard about a brewery doing in Michigan or something like that.
“And also, it really allows us and what we’d like to do is collaborate more with other breweries around town. We’d like to bring the local industry back to that communal mindset, that even though there are a lot of us, it’s still a tight-knit community.”
As we learned during our Quarter Celtic article in our Look Back/Look Ahead Series, David’s current and former breweries will be working together closely from across town.
“That’s a really cool partnership that we’ve established with the guys at Quarter Celtic,” he said. “The idea right now is I’ll carry too different house strains, both a lager and an ale yeast, that’s different from what they’re carrying. Which, like you said, allows us to have a lot more variety. I think yeast management can be one of the toughest things for any head brewer. You have that hefeweizen season come around and you brew a couple batches, and then you have to dump a bunch of yeast or make something else.
“Even when you’re ordering ingredients, say locally grown barley, I can order a pallet and we can split it. Or, if Brady has a new hop variety and wants to play around with it, sometimes 45 pounds of hops can be difficult to use when you’re dealing with a small system. We’re really looking forward to that partnership. It goes beyond yeast and hops, it goes to fruits and spices, we can really work with each other.”
David also made sure to give a proper shout-out to the folks doing the physical design of Sobremesa.
“We’re really, really excited to be working with Modulus on our design,” he said. “We’ve been working with them for quite some time now. We’re picking up tile and you name it. They’re really going to turn the inside space and also the outside space into a really, really beautiful, fun, relaxed space, not only for the west side, but for all of Albuquerque to really enjoy.
“Kind of going back to what Nic and Ryan were saying, being on the west side, what we’re finding is a lack of a locally-owned and locally-run places. It’s not franchise heaven on the west side, but I think people in the surrounding neighborhoods and the west side in general are really excited to support locally-built, locally-owned, and locally-operated establishment. We don’t take that lightly.”
Sobremesa is on schedule to open this summer, giving us all something to look forward to experiencing for the first time in this age of uncertainty.
“We’re all from here,” Nicolas said. “Ryan and I graduated from St. Pius down the street. We’re all local kids that grew up here. We’re excited to come back to the community and open up something we’re all going to enjoy.”
A big thanks to David, Nicolas, and Ryan for the interview, and to Justin for setting it all up. The Crew will be doing our best to (remotely) check in with all the forthcoming breweries, as well as our existing breweries, even as we all do our best to stay socially distant.