Turtle Mountain taproom inches ever closer toward the finish line

Just use your imagination to see the words Turtle Mountain up there at the future taproom space.

A little while back, a reader asked us if we might make a stop at the future Turtle Mountain Brewing taproom in northern Rio Rancho to check on the progress of one of the few offsite locations still in the works in New Mexico. Since I was headed out in that general direction to talk to someone for a different article, I figured why not double up on interviews, and TMBC owner Nico Ortiz was only too happy to oblige.

The taproom will be located at 7835 Enchanted Hills Blvd., in the Plaza at Enchanted Hills retail center off Highway 528. It is the first red light south of the intersection with Highway 550, though at present the construction on the bridge across the Rio Grande in Bernalillo is still (forever?) a mess, so I drove all the way up the length of 528 from Albuquerque.

Ortiz met me there with a crowler of Hoperation Hanging Garden IPL, and once we filled our glasses, we moved around the taproom as he pointed out where eventually everything will be situated.

The space is sizable, about 7,400 square feet. It certainly feels bigger than the main Turtle Mountain location, though this one has plenty of windows to brighten it up even more. There is a 4,000-square-foot patio outside, as well.

Looking from west to east inside, with the bar on the left, we gotta say this photo doesn’t capture the sheer size of the taproom.

Ortiz and his real estate agent, Kyla Stoker, who has worked with many breweries across the metro area, had been looking for a taproom space since 2018. They found this spot in 2020 and signed the lease last August.

“She was like, it’s probably going to cost you $400,000 to open up,” Ortiz said. “I thought that seemed like an awful lot of money. Then we signed the lease, and COVID came, and post-COVID came, and then the final budget for this will be $1.1 (million) when all is said and done. It went 100 percent-plus over her initial element. I originally thought we could do it for $500,000. It shot way over. The price of steel, the price of wood, the price of all the sub (contractors) who can’t find people to work, it’s like every conceivable bad thing could possibly happen to the construction business did happen in 2021.”

Ortiz said he was originally aiming in a different direction for his taproom’s location.

“I was really looking across the river, I really wanted to go over to Albuquerque, but the rent rates there were ridiculous,” he said. “I didn’t think I was looking for anything that was too specific. I wanted to have an outdoor patio, plenty of parking, lots of windows, and I didn’t think that was that demanding. Albuquerque just does not have a lot of spaces that have huge outdoor space. This (patio) faces west, it wasn’t my optimal choice. The people that built this are from California. They didn’t know anything about the late New Mexico sun, otherwise they would have put it over there.”

At least the lease was favorable.

“The one nice thing about signing a lease in the middle of the pandemic is the landlord was motivated,” Ortiz said. “It was’t like people were beating down the door to sign leases. I got a solid rate with a very good TI (tenant improvement) allowance. Between the TI allowance and the COVID proceeds that I got, it’s probably covering three quarters of the cost of this. My actual out of pocket for this whole project is maybe $250,000, which is huge. I’m willing to suck up a lot of price increases as well as pain-in-the-ass factor, because a lot of this is paid for by funds that I don’t have to repay. It makes me feel a lot better that we’re not opening up with a staggering amount of debt that could sink us.”

The patio still needs to get new fencing, tables, and shade elements.

Ortiz pointed out that there are thousands of residential homes on the north side of Rio Rancho, and to date the only local craft beer option within a reasonable driving distance was Bosque North, but with the ongoing 550 bridge construction, getting in and out of there has been a pain.

The new taproom should draw in plenty of new customers, though Ortiz said he and his staff at the brewery will not mind if it does pull away some of the crowds there.

“We are going to be cannibalizing a bit (but) I’m totally fine with that,” he said. “We have a lot of people coming from Enchanted Hills, Placitas, and Bernalillo. If we can cut them off here, because that place over there, every single day is razor thin with the staff we got. We’re a couple of burnt calzones away from the kitchen crashing because it’s operating at 101 percent. I actually won’t mind if we cannibalize ourselves a little bit. It’s still going into the same bank account.”

Rio Rancho has an estimated population of 100,000 now, so it is far from a small town. Turtle Mountain is an institution, the second oldest local eatery, and Ortiz said the support has been tremendous, though also a bit overwhelming.

“We’ve had crushing business since July 1, since all the restrictions dropped,” he said. “It was busy prior to that. Once we actually got the stools back at the bar, at 11 a.m. on the first day we had the stools back, people just flooded in and went right to the bar.”

The bar area is taking shape. Those two beers are the first ever consumed inside this space.

The new taproom will accommodate plenty of customers, new and old. The bar itself is gigantic, wrapping around much of the main dining area. Ortiz also made sure that it will have some modern amenities, including electrical outlets and USB ports for customers to plug in their phones and other devices. The top of the bar, however, will be strictly old fashioned.

“I’m going to get a whole bunch of coasters, like hundreds of coasters, and we’re going to tap them down under the bar service and pour a quarter-inch of epoxy,” Ortiz said. “It’s going to be the old-school style epoxy bar with stuff buried in it. … It’s just going to be memorabilia, bottle caps, coasters, whatever people donate, forever enshrined in epoxy.”

Behind the bar will be two separate stations of taps, plus even more features.

“The bar itself is sort of ridiculously large,” Ortiz said. “We’re going to have two banks of taps. There’s going to be a glass display door. This will be where the lines and bottled beers will be displayed. We’re going to have two crowler machines, one on this side, one on that side. Second bank of taps will be here. There will be, I think, 18 on one side, 16 on the other. Not pouring the same thing, obviously. They’ll pour a common eight or 10 beers. Hopefully we’ll have space to do some guest taps.”

There will be a large walk-in cooler behind the bar that can fit around 70 kegs. Head brewer David Pacheco will be a busy man, it seems.

The pizza oven has already arrived and will dominate the kitchen area.

While the bar dominates the center of the taproom, the east side will be where the open kitchen is located. The pizza oven is a beast, and it will be next to a grill with a 20-foot wide hood (the one at the original is about 10 feet). There will be a full menu featuring all the TMBC favorites.

Between the kitchen and the bar is an area toward the north end of the building for customers to enjoy.

“This is going to be a little (special) bar area,” Ortiz said. “We’re borrowing that triangular stage concept from Brew Lab. We’re going to put a triangular stage right there. It’s not going to be big enough for full bands, but it’s going to be big enough for some live music. We’re going to have some tables, some TVs, a big screen right there, this area is going to be a little sports den, bar. There’s going to be a triangular table right there in front of the stage.”

There will be a large garage door there to open onto the patio when the weather is nice. The patio will get some new fencing and tables in the near future, plus shade elements to help folks survive those blasts of late afternoon sun.

The main dining area will require a bit of help bringing the noise down, so Ortiz took a page from another local establishment to help with that.

“We borrowed some design elements from Hollow Spirits,” he said. “They have those pallets hanging up top. I saw it and I liked it. We’re going to run a bunch of pallets with lighting and sound deadening inside of them. We’re doing stained concrete and this is a big, open space. It’s going to be very loud.”

The future “side bar,” which will feature a music stage and more.

The plan is to have around 150 total seats, between the tables and bar stools, to start out.

“We didn’t want to make it seem too crowded off the bat,” Ortiz said. “There’s (also) a staffing shortage that we’re aware of, so that’s a big concern to me.”

Overall, if things go according to plan, the construction phase should be done in about two months. Ortiz will keep us up to date on the final progress, and while there is a good chance that the taproom will open this fall, it is still too soon to set a grand opening date.

While it does take a little imagination when looking at these photos to see what it will look like in the end, we really feel that it has the potential to be one of the nicest taprooms in the metro area when all is said and done.

A big thanks to Nico for the tour, and the beer, especially on fairly short notice.

If you have not been to the original Turtle Mountain in a while, swing on by and enjoy the beers and food. Just remember, if you go at peak hours, please be kind and patient with the staff, there and at every brewery in New Mexico.

Keep supporting local!

— Chris

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Randy says:

    Am much looking forward to becoming a “regular” when you get opened up!

    A word of advice – enlarge the stage just a bit more so as to accommodate a full band; you won’t regret it…

  2. Alexander says:

    I really appreciate you guys doing this update! Awesome article as always.

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