Strolling through Green Jeans Farmery is a sensory circus. The aroma of fresh coffee from Epiphany Espresso mingles with that of pies just out of the wood oven at Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria and piquant chile from Chumly’s Burger & Brew. Colorful shipping containers in green, purple, rust and turquoise stack two and three stories high. Conversations from customers dining around ground-floor fire pits and seated on rooftop patios mingle, completing the sensory menagerie.
The shipping-container park follows on the heels of developments in bigger cities, such as Las Vegas, Nevada, that have reused the containers to create permanent shopping and dining districts and pop-up communities. Green Jeans Farmery is the first such structure in New Mexico, perched on a nearly forgotten triangle of land along Cutler Avenue where Carlisle Boulevard spans I-25 in the heart of Albuquerque. The brainchild of founder Roy Solomon, the development represents a new urban model, where small businesses leverage shared resources and customers for a localist experience, rather than drifting alone in the sea of big-box stores. That community vibe draws in like-minded customers who bike and walk to the bustling center.
Project developer Roy has built innovative businesses since 1976. The serial entrepreneur has dipped into the restaurant business with Sunset Grill, Hungry Bear restaurant and 505 Salsa in Albuquerque, and into the fitness realm with a gym in Colorado. (The latter dovetailed into his latest venture at Green Jeans Farmery, but more on that in a minute.) A champion for small, local businesses, Roy saw these types of companies struggling to gain a foothold in a credit-driven real-estate environment. He envisioned a different concept, where multiple businesses would house together, share expenses (such as cleaning and pest control), and “promote each other like a family,” says Roy.
Although the shipping containers were repurposed—an important value to Roy—they certainly weren’t a less expensive route. The shipping containers are stable, right up until you cut windows or doors in them. Once you do so, they have to be reinforced. Plus, they must be insulated, which Roy wanted to accomplish without changing the container aesthetic. They had to be plumbed, wired for electricity, and otherwise transformed into permanent structures that would serve the businesses’ and customers’ needs. While building out the property, Roy thought he was helping future occupants by completing tenant improvements. Doing so, however, violated the City of Albuquerque’s permitting laws, putting the project into a bureaucratic tailspin that delayed the center’s opening for several months. The emphasis on permanency, not to mention the delays and costs associated, forced Roy to rethink a planned aspect of the project: a hydroponic farm that inspired the center’s name. Green Jeans Farmery celebrated its official opening as a commercial center in October 2015. All of the dozen tenants were open by December.
In seeking out tenants, Roy had two qualifications. First, he didn’t want businesses to compete directly. There would be one burger place, one taco shop, one ice cream shop and so on. Secondly, he wanted to draw business owners with a quality product and passion for their businesses. Roy partnered with Santa Fe Brewing Company, the oldest and largest micro-brewery in the state, which opened its first Albuquerque tap room and anchored Green Jeans. He brought on Rustic on the Green and Bocadillos, two businesses with popular food trucks that were devoted to quality cuisine. Each set up its first permanent location at Green Jeans.
Roy also sought out Ryan Fellows who turned a juice truck into three Squeezed Juice Bars (two in Albuquerque and one in Rio Rancho). Ryan felt Green Jeans was too close to an established location of Squeezed Juice for that concept, but he pitched Roy on an ice cream shop. Chill’N borrows the “N” from nitrogen, the substance servers use to create molecular gastronomy ice cream. Customers can watch through the windows that line one wall of Chill’N’s space as servers pour billowing nitrogen into silver mixing bowls of organic cream and toppings. It’s the most decadent witches brew you’ll ever taste—and you can’t get much more local and handcrafted than having the product made before your eyes. “Watching it being prepared is part of the experience. You have a more intimate relationship with it when you see it being made. We’re trying to be artisanal and creative,” Ryan says. He also pulls in ingredients from his neighbors, including rum from Broken Trail Spirit and coffee from Epiphany Espresso for the java chip ice cream.
Partners Tony Lopez and Eric Garcia started the Epiphany brand as a digital marketing company, but when they learned about Green Jeans, they saw an opportunity to pour their hospitality backgrounds into a coffee experience. The shop uses only certified-organic and fair-trade beans. Eric says the start-up has benefited from sharing costs with the other tenants. “We’ve been able to focus on hiring the best baristas and on customer experience. We emphasize quality and hand-crafted drinks,” he says.
Although Green Jeans opened with a personal training gym, that business has since closed and Roy is opening a new venture he feels better fits the community atmosphere. Co-op Fitness will work with instructors from across the city, renting out the second-story, three-shipping-container-wide space for group classes from spinning to kettle bells and TRX. The space opens to the Sandia Mountains, so yoga with a view is also on the menu. Co-op Fitness will be the first such space in the state to offer surf classes. It’s the kind of unique offering that epitomizes the Green Jeans approach. In the classes, surfboards are set on rigs balanced by inflatable balls and participants do surfing moves to build upper body and core strength. Roy envisions students attending classes, then gathering for a smoothie after at Zeus’ Juices.
The reinvigorated fitness space is sure to be a boon to Claudia Lawrence, owner of Fashion Locker. Claudia studied fashion merchandizing, however, she spent years in the construction industry before opening the fitness apparel boutique in November. Fashion Locker carries labels that aren’t found elsewhere in the state, including Beyond Yoga, Phat Buddha, Electric & Rose, and Lorna Jane. All but the last are produced in the US and are so comfortably stylish that most people wear the clothes to workout and about town. Claudia orders only one size of each item and doesn’t repeat styles, so her customers can be confident they have a one-of-a-kind item.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie and collaboration among the tenants. … It has a great community vibe and the people who come there tend to pick on that and embrace it,” says Claudia of Green Jeans. Roy has enjoyed observing that camaraderie emerge naturally among the neighbors. That easy-going vibe seems to flow from the businesses into the shared seating areas, where people will gather for hours, dining at first on lunch, then ice cream, then perhaps a beer as the sunny afternoons on the central patio stretch on.
“We’ve been part of the local, fresh, healthy and small-business sides of Albuquerque for a while. This is a really forward-thinking project,” says Ryan, of Chill’N. “To me, it’s the coolest thing to happen in Albuquerque.”
Green Jeans Farmery, 3600 Cutler NE, Albuquerque, greenjeansfarmery.com
Story by Ashley M. Biggers
Amore Neapolitan Pizzeria
Authentic Neapolitan pizza
Bocadillos New Mexico
Slow-roasted sandwich shop
Broken Trail Spirits and Brew
Formerly Distillery 365, spirits tasting room
Nitrogen ice cream
Southwestern soups, pasta and more
Group fitness facility—from spin classes to yoga
European-style coffee house
Unique and hard-to-find athleisure
Gourmet street tacos
Rustic on the Green
New American burgers and fries
Santa Fe Brewing
New Mexico’s first and largest micro-brewery
Zeus’ Juice & Nutrition
All natural, organic juices and smoothies