La Reforma enjoys a year of relative normalcy after past ups and downs

La Reforma co-owners Jeff Jinnett, left, and John Gozigian are all smiles after a successful 2022.

It’s business as usual over at La Reforma, which is interesting in that business as usual has never really existed since it opened in mid-2019.

I sat down with co-owner John Gozigian for our Look Back/Look Ahead Series to go over what amounted to 12 months of normalcy, and what the plans are for another hopefully stable year here in 2023.

“Yeah, we had a great year, man,” Gozigian said. “A really good year, sales were great. It was our first full year since we opened, basically, that we didn’t have any sort of restrictions for capacity, indoor/outdoor, et cetera. All that stuff was gone. The supply chain is pretty much back to normal.

“But, the new challenge that’s hurt us a lot is inflation. Inflation has been really tough, our costs have gone way up.”

While other restaurants have struggled to maintain their staffs in the kitchen and out on the floor, La Reforma has endured, for the most part.

“We’re fully staffed, and we have been for the full year, so that’s been great,” Gozigian said. “We haven’t had any unexpected closures because of lack of staffing. We haven’t had to curtail our hours of operation. We’re open seven days a week, normal hours for the entire year.”

There’s a new boss in the brewery … who of course was off on the day that we visited.

The only major change was in the brewery, where founding brewer Robert Buskirk-Lechner departed, opening the door for former Blue Corn head brewer James Warren to take the reins.

“(Robert) put in his notice in early 2022 that he would be leaving in May,” Gozigian said. “He timed it so when his notice was done, he and his wife got married, then they could do their honeymoon and stuff. Then they moved to North Carolina. She had gotten her PhD here and got a position at UNC in Raleigh. That’s where they ended up going.”

Gozigian said that he put out the word that La Reforma was hiring, but the local market had few candidates with much distilling experience to go along with brewing experience. Then Gozigian bumped into one of the co-owners of Tractor Brewing, Skye Devore, who was having lunch at La Reforma. She informed him that Warren was moving back to New Mexico and looking for a job.

“His wife was finishing her last residency in, coincidentally, Raleigh, North Carolina,” Gozigian said. “They were moving back here to Albuquerque because she’d taken a job at a veterinary clinic here.”

Raleigh taketh away, and Raleigh giveth, or something like that.

“James and I have known each other for a long time,” Gozigian said, referring to their time with the New Mexico Brewers Guild. “He was a board member when I was the executive director. We did a lot of stuff together, and we’re good buddies. We both used to work for Santa Fe Dining, though not at the same time, but we had that in common.”

Assistant brewer/distiller Marisa Sandoval held down the fort in between the departure of Buskirk-Lechner and Warren’s return to New Mexico, with Gozigian praising her for “obviously (doing) a great job.”

In the six months since Warren took over, Gozigian said their distilling program has moved forward.

That little still back there in the corner has been working hard.

“It’s been really good,” Gozigian said. :He obviously brings a lot of brewing experience to the table. He also has the distilling education from the Sybil Institute. He has that, and while he was traveling around with his wife while she was doing residencies around the country, they were in the Phoenix area for at least a year. During that time he was the R&D distiller at SanTan. He got a lot of hands-on experience there.”

Distilling will be a primary focus for La Reforma this year.

“For 2023, we’re going to maintain the status quo as far as taproom operations are concerned,” Gozigian said. “This is a full-blown, full-service restaurant so it requires a lot of time and attention. We don’t have plans to open any other locations. Our focus for 2023 will be expanding the wholesale sales for our spirits. We received our wholesalers permit last year, and it will allow us to sell to places other than other breweries and wineries, which we currently do.”

La Reforma is currently at breweries near — Bosque, Brew Lab 101, Downshift in Old Town, Turtle Mountain — and far, such as Icebox in Las Cruces. The goal now will be to get into liquor stores, grocery stores, and traditional bars and restaurants. That will be with bottles of spirits, and not the ready-to-drink canned cocktails that are becoming more popular.

“We don’t have any plans to do RTDs,” Gozigian said. :It’s not really cost effective to start canning. We’d have to start a canning operation here. We don’t really have any interest in doing that. On top of that, our distilling is fairly limited. We upgraded our still in the middle of last year. We got a new boiler, which increased our capacity by 170 percent, but it’s still not huge. Really, that’s an interesting part of the market, and I’m interested by it, but I’m not interested in doing it.”

The taproom was mere minutes from being packed by the lunch crowd, which is pretty standard for La Reforma.

The status quo is a go for La Reforma to start 2023. Oh, and Gozigian added that they did get one extra bit of national praise.

“It turns we’re one of the top 100 taquerias in the country according to Yelp,” he said. “We found out about a month ago.”

After everything they had to endure with the COVID pandemic lockdown so early into their run, the staff at La Reforma certainly deserves to feel a sense of security, and a little extra praise does not hurt.

A big thanks to John for the interview.

Keep supporting local!

— Stoutmeister

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