Jemez Springs restaurant remains the hub for its community

From the left is Los Ojos General Manager Rachael Montaño and Los Ojos Owner Monique Alton . This over 100-year-old structure has seen its share of ups and downs but nothing like the restaurant shut down of 2020. Los Ojos had to act as a makeshift grocery store for its survival.


Jemez Springs – One Sandoval County restaurant with over 100 years of history is still thriving after facing the uncertainty of a global pandemic.

With a recent change in leadership, the Los Ojos Restaurant and Saloon is busier than ever said new owner Monique Alton.

Alton, who took over this bustling restaurant from her parents in June of 2021, said she is happy to see the business is still thriving despite the uncertainty Covid presented to many local restaurants.  

“We did what we could when times were tough,” she said. “We even acted as a grocery store offering supplies to local residents in need when we had to close down.”

According to Alton, her family bought Los Ojos 13 years ago and had a great time running the restaurant. However, she said the day-to-day operations took its toll on her parent’s health.

“This is a tough gig,” Alton said. “So I started helping out in the back end of things and then I became more and more involved until I moved up to helping out with everything.”

About a year before Alton took the reins of this historical saloon and eatery, she and her staff had to learn to adapt to social distancing policies and supply chain issues.

“The state shut us down completely in March of 2020, but we have a package liquor license so we stayed open to sell alcohol,” she said.

On top the package liquor sales, Alton said Los Ojos began selling items like beans, ground beef, toilet paper, gloves etc.

“This was kind of a point of contention because I didn’t know we had to have grocer’s license to sell these items, but since it was Covid, no one was in their office to answer these questions,” she said.

Alton said there is a huge senior community in Jemez Springs, and in lieu of them making the hour long drive to get supplies, Los Ojos did what it could to help fill their needs by offering these supplies.

“Everyone was really grateful that we offered these things and so we continued; in some way keeping our business relevant in these uncertain times,” Alton said.

The next step was to evolve what the restaurant offered to its customers in the form of cuisine, she said.

“We started offering family enchilada casseroles, taco meal prep kits, margaritas to go…,” she said. “It was a real struggle of creativity to see how far we could push what we could serve.”

The grey area of the rules was tough on Alton, who said she likes knowing her boundaries.

The hardest part of this era for Alton, was asking members of her staff to voluntarily take time off.

“We have the greatest staff,” she said with tears in her eyes. “But half of the staff had to make that tough decision either to stay on or find work elsewhere.”

Just a few months later Los Ojos was reopened to limited seating, which in turn made the restaurant one of the only options for people traveling to Jemez Springs to find food.

“At this point we were slammed,” Alton said. “It was insanity, with limited seating we were busting at the seams every day.”

Because of the demand at Los Ojos due to reopening, Alton said she was able to bring some of her staff back.

“Since then we have stayed busy,” she said. “We didn’t even have a slow season, which lasts from November through March. We have stayed steady this year and we are so pleased.”

Now Los Ojos has 18 full-time employees that help run the operation seven days a week.

“We are grateful to our community for helping us make it through a rough patch,” Alton said. “We all kind of helped each other out during this time and we hope to be here for a while longer.”