Sometimes, the most innovative ideas happen while you’re in the shower, driving or, in the case of Jimmy Day, riding a bike. Jimmy was riding along Old Las Vegas Highway on a Saturday morning in the spring of 2016, when he saw a FOR SALE banner above Bobcat Bite. He memorized the phone number and upon arriving back home, still wearing his Lycra riding suit, announced to his wife, Jennifer, that they were going to buy the iconic Santa Fe burger joint. Accustomed to life with her serial entrepreneur husband—Jimmy has been involved in businesses from real estate to owning auto dealerships for more than 30 years—she took it in stride. “Well, I guess we’re going to buy a restaurant,” she said.
“I called the number, and by Monday, we’d formulated how we were going to buy it,” Jimmy says. Believing in the stone soup fable that calls upon a village to contribute the ingredients to enrich a dish, the Days quickly realized that not only would their proverbial soup be better if they pulled in a team, but it would also be better if they attempted other dishes as well, adding perhaps French wine, a pasta dish and a tamale. As they purchased the former Galisteo Bistro and Georgia, NM Fine Dining was born—in a landscape with a relative paucity of restaurant groups.
They also teamed with Chef Charles Dale, folding Bouche under the umbrella, and putting Chef Charles at the culinary helm. Business broker Michael Greene connected them, and the Days say, in Charles, they had a quintessential restaurateur. “His level of culinary excellence is off the charts,” Jimmy says. “He’s exacting with levels of service and hospitality. We thought if we could leverage the good things we see at Bouche on to these other restaurant concepts, that’s what would make a winning concept.”
Charles immediately found kindred spirits in the Days, too, who, as fellow entrepreneurs, “recognize creative businesses are rough and tumble. We’re optimistic about success, but are prepared for problems,” he says. After a decades-long career during which he’s been part of successful openings in New York, Aspen and Santa Fe, and earned accolades from the likes of Food & Wine Magazine, the James Beard Foundation and Zagat, the chef was considering retirement. “What was I going to do?” he asks. “I’m used to working 12 hours a day, nine of it on my feet. It’s a little pathological. I’ve been doing this for 36 years; I have at least another four in me. Plus, I’m very young at heart, and I have a lot of ideas for food. This gets my energy up,” Charles says.
In the partnership, Jennifer, an artist and American Society of Interior Designers interior designer, would handle the interiors; Jimmy would bring his business acumen. But Charles would handle the food.
His first idea was a concept that Charles has been marinating since his days at the Encantado restaurant, before it was under the Four Seasons mantle, where a menu section called “Sense of Place” offered modern Southwest cuisine. That concept will become Maize, a new restaurant taking the place of gastro pub Georgia. Georgia’s current chef will remain in place. With his Navajo and Hispanic heritage, Leroy Alvarado seems made for the role. Together, Charles and Leroy are developing dishes that call upon 1,000 years of regional culture. Of course, corn, in all its forms, from the tortilla to the tamale, is the menu’s centerpiece—a choice that evokes tradition, while being entirely conscious of contemporary gluten-free trends. The décor will echo that traditional/contemporary blend, pulling in a few rustic elements, like a cholla cactus-wood chandelier. Charles hopes the restaurant will open just after Labor Day.
A Mano, a rustic Northern Italian restaurant, will follow shortly on Maize’s heels, with a projected opening date of October. “We have several Italian restaurants in town, so it’s important to do something unique. We’re going to make our pasta daily. I feel like there’s room for another Italian restaurant,” Charles says. The chef was born on the border of France and Italy, so he holds both cuisines dear and has been playing with introducing Italian elements on Bouche’s menu. Instead of diluting Bouche’s French-focus, he—along with Chef Steve Haskell—has an entire menu to play with Italian flavors north from Rome to the base of the Alps, where the terrain and climate resembles that of Santa Fe. Beyond making its pasta daily, the restaurant will also offer entrees, salads and charcuterie boards. “It will have hearty, real flavors,” Charles says.
The menu will have vegetarian and gluten-free options. Jennifer’s pulling in Tuscan-style ironwork from the Day’s 1923 San Antonio home to give the former Galisteo Bistro space Italian flare.
Bobcat Bite may have been the first restaurant purchased, but it will be the last to re-open in mid-2018 as the space undergoes a massive renovation that repurposes the previous restaurant as merely the entryway/bar, and adds more dining and special-event space. Chef Charles envisions a family-oriented chophouse, with farm-to-table ingredients, and of course, a green-chile cheeseburger that lives up to Bobcat Bite fame. “I’m very particular about when to have a burger. Usually, it’s at my house,” Charles says. So his version will be a chef-driven burger starting with a house-made bun. The beef will come from the Day’s own ranch; they run more than 300 head on land near Vaughn. Bobcat Bite will have its own butchery, so the beef will also be ground in house. “It’s all about being transparent and showing the process,” Charles says.
Jennifer’s design will pay homage to the now five different groups of people who have run the restaurant since it started in 1953. “We’re going to hang pictures of the people who ran the restaurant for 60 years and tell their stories. We’re trying to honor the tradition that is Bobcat Bite,” she says.
The plans also include parking-lot space for a horse corral. There are hundreds of horses stabled within riding distance of the restaurant, Jimmy points out. “Maybe we’ll offer anyone who rides over on horseback a free sarsaparilla at the bar!” he says. There’s also space for a bike rack—just in case any customers decide to take the kind of life-changing ride that led Jimmy this way last year.
No matter which restaurant their guests dine in, the Days say they want to “present Santa Fe diners with an experience that feels special—of the intimacy and quality that Chef Dale has created at Bouche. To provide a good experience, you also just have to be friendly folks. You’re swimming upstream from the start if you’re not doing that,” Jimmy says.
So where does that leave Bouche? “Nothing will change at Bouche,” Chef says. “The quality people have come to expect and the great service will remain the same. I’ll still be around—my office is there, after all.” Plus, with Charles free to explore his other culinary leanings in other restaurants, he says Bouche “will settle into what it really wants to be—a true French restaurant.”
Bouche, 451 W. Alameda St., Santa Fe, 505.982.6297, bouchebistro.com
Story by Ashley M. Biggers