Rowena and Adolph Baca of the Owl Café took home the win for 2018 Restaurateur of the Year, presented by the New Mexico Restaurant Association at its annual Hospitality Industry Awards banquet in Albuquerque, Monday, Sept. 10.
The award is the highest honor a restaurateur can get in New Mexico.
The NMRA recognized the impact and community involvement of the Owl Bar & Café, a family business that has been continually operating since 1945, the year Frank and Dee Chavez opened up a little bar and grill, in the family-owned grocery store.
During that summer “so called prospectors” had moved into the area. The “prospectors” were actually Manhattan Project scientists who had come down from Los Alamos for the first atomic bomb test at nearby White Sands Bombing Range. They would come in from the desert hungry and thirsty, so Frank began cooking burgers; the birth of the Owl Burger, the green chile cheese burger, the recipe of which remains unchanged to this day.
Rowena and Adolph have earned many awards for their historic restaurant, as it has become quite the tourist destination and has even been showcased on the Travel Channel, Food Network, and in countless print publications.
In presenting the award, the NMRA says the heart of their operation is their employees, some of which have been with them for over 46 years, “and if you have visited the Owl Café, you’ve noticed dollar bills attached to the wall. The story behind these bills says a lot about the Baca Family. They don’t keep that money.”
Every year a few weeks before Christmas, they take down the money and donate to various charities such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, NM Make-A-Wish Foundation, Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital, NM Boys and Girls Ranches, and more.
In addition to Restaurateur of the Year, the Bacas made the list for Restaurant Neighbor Award.
To date, they have donated over $30,000 to the various charities.
The Owl looks to many more years serving the community (and green chile cheeseburgers), and in the family tradition, in the near future the couple’s daughter, Janice Argabright, will take over management of The Owl, giving Rowena and Adolph a well-deserved rest.