The Warehouse returns, so does James Africano
The last we heard of The Warehouse Restaurant and Gallery (25 W. Cimarron St., thewarehouserestaurant.com) a couple of months ago, it was closing, with business owner and chef Chip Johnson's sudden retirement.
But building owner Raphael Sassower has been working behind the scenes to find a new renter. And it turns out he didn't have to look too far, as James Africano — Warehouse chef from 1997 to early 2007 — reached out with a query.
Since his departure, Africano has been posted at Ted Turner's Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico, a 920-square-mile preserve that hosts the largest buffalo herd in the country and a 30-megawatt solar electric generation plant, one of the largest in the U.S. But for the past few years, he and his wife Shaundy had also been searching for a spot of their own. Backed by Alpha Investments and Food on the Fly LLC, they've reached lease terms with Sassower to reopen the Warehouse around mid-October.
Africano says he plans to "reposition the restaurant as more neighborhood-affordable." He adds, "The term gastropub is so overused. I don't want to use it, but that's the idea: small plates for less money, where people can drink a bit more and enjoy themselves."
Look for game items, including buffalo from Vermejo, but also more fresh plates and some throwbacks to popular Warehouse items from the late '90s and early 2000s. Africano also has some invasivorism (see SimpliCity, Aug. 12) in mind, such as serving Texas wild boar, with which he's made pancetta at Vermejo.
"Whatever it is I'll do, the soul and heart will be there, and instilling that in my staff is incredibly important," he says.
Regarding food sourcing, Africano has an eye toward sustainable choices and has remained well connected with area growers, such as Arkansas Valley Organic Growers members, whom he'll tap when and where possible. But taking a matter-of-fact tone, he notes the realities both in cost and consistency in trying to source all-local, saying he will use big suppliers where needed. "The chain is the chain," he says. "I'm all for [the local] stuff, but I have to be realistic."
Part of that realism will also be deciding what to do with the Warehouse's spacious downstairs area, which two decades ago hosted Palmer Lake Brewing Company. All the equipment remains on site, he says, noting thoughts of potentially subletting to or partnering with a brewer to maximize the space.
And then there's the gallery and banquet area, where, he says, "If people want a $40-per-person, high-end wedding, we are more than capable."
However it all comes together, Africano has one overarching goal in mind: "I want to be relevant."