The easel sign that appears daily along the shoulder of Paseo del Pueblo Sur in front of Orlando's sister restaurant, Station 316 Café, has been chalked with witty one-liners advertising happy hour and menu specials countless times over the past four years. But at the beginning of September, the sign announced that the local bar and restaurant will close its doors at the end of the month.
"The time has come," said Orlando Ortega, owner of both locations, as he joined his wife and business partner, Yvette Ortega, for an interview last week in the small office space that sits behind the soon-to-close restaurant. "Our son has graduated and is going to college in Durango. We're pretty much shutting the doors because we don't want to have so many responsibilities."
They opened Station 316 Café on May 8, 2013, not out of any business necessity, but because they had hit a rocky point in their marriage and were seeking a new challenge they could tackle together. "To be honest with you, we went through a really tough time in our relationship, and when we came out of it, we needed something to boost our lives again," Orlando Ortega said.
They converted an old gas station that had seen a few businesses come and go into a food joint that offered something new and yet familiar to locals: the grungy vibe of the layout, which was largely the work of Yvette Ortega, and the menu, Orlando Ortega's domain.
But the menu, with its imaginative burger offerings and Southwest-inspired salads and wraps, quickly gained some additions by popular demand, making the restaurant less of a sibling and more the progeny of Orlando's. "We were not going to put anything from Orlando's on this menu when we first opened up," Orlando Ortega said. "It was going to be strictly completely different from Orlando's. But the locals wouldn't have it."
First, the Ortegas conceded with a burrito, then an enchilada, but soon an entire page from Orlando's was added to the menu.
But the blend of food offerings and the unique addition of a small bar that served 10 rotating taps of draft beers, with wine at the ready under the counter, contributed to Station 316 Café's unique identity. Locals on the south side of Taos Plaza became regulars, Orlando's loyalists on the north side became intrigued and the Ortegas found themselves re-energized by the venture.
It was just the type of relationship fix you might expect two restaurateurs to make, and it's reminiscent of how they first met.
Orlando Ortega grew up in Washington state and moved to Taos in the late 1980s. After working in the kitchens of other local restaurants for some time, he purchased a hot dog cart on Bent Street and hired Yvette, a local Taoseña, as one of his first employees.
Steeped in local food traditions and with a menu of family recipes at their disposal, they opened Orlando's in El Prado in 1996 to great success, which was boosted by a TV spot on The Food Network's "Food Nation with Bobby Flay" in 2005.
They had two children, a daughter and one son, who both grew up under the roof of the restaurant.
While Orlando and Yvette Ortega unharness the responsibilities of a second restaurant and look toward more time to travel and focus on each other, their son has expressed some interest in picking up the family business.
"Our son has always talked about taking Orlando's to the next level," Orlando Ortega said. "Maybe not franchising, but maybe putting one in Santa Fe or in Albuquerque. He's young enough and has the energy enough to go and do something like that."
In the meantime, however, Orlando and Yvette Ortega are always on the lookout for their next adventure - perhaps a new restaurant, maybe the addition of breakfast items at Orlando's - whatever they might have cookin', locals and tourists are likely to come out for a taste.