Main Avenue institution Francisco’s Restaurante y Cantina has been sold after 45 years of a family legacy.
Francis and Claudine Garcia sold the restaurant to Michelle and Dan Featheringill from Santa Fe on Tuesday.
The Featheringills told the Garcias they would maintain the tradition and name of Francisco’s.
Skip Garcia, the Garcias’ son, said his father felt it was time to sell and felt good about the new owners.
The Featheringills declined to release the purchase price but said they are excited to build on the Garcias’ traditions.
“We had been wanting to move here,” Michelle Featheringill said Wednesday. “When we heard about Francisco’s, it was like a lighting bolt. It was 100 percent the key to getting here – so perfect for what we wanted.”
Dan Featheringill, an architect, will keep his firm in Santa Fe and run a virtual office from Durango. His wife, who has a background in business administration, will serve as general manager and handle the business side of Francisco’s, at 619 Main Ave., just a block from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad depot.
The couple’s daughter Erika Seablom and her partner, Gabe C. de Baca, will run the restaurant. Both have restaurant experience. Seablom will manage the front of the house, and de Baca, who has 12 years of corporate restaurant management under his belt, will manage the kitchen.
De Baca is a descendant of one of Santa Fe’s early families, Michelle Featheringill said.
“He has recipes he learned from his grandmother,” she said. “They’re definitely old, established recipes of New Mexico cuisine. We’ll be adding some items that have to do with New Mexico’s red and green chile.”
Francisco’s once employed as many as 90 people but averages about 50 to 75 employees, some of whom have been working at the restaurant for as long as 30 years, Skip Garcia said. He said it was important to the Garcias that the new owners keep these employees who have relied so heavily on their family.
The restaurant now can seat up to 250 people, but when the Garcias started it by buying Joe’s Place in 1968, it had only seven tables.
The Garcias started the restaurant on a shoestring. Francis Garcia sold a favorite mare to come up with the down payment, and Claudine Garcia used the change from the bottom of her purse to stock their cash register the first night. She handled the cooking, specializing in traditional Mexican food.
Later, their son Ted took over the kitchen, Skip Garcia said. Ted Garcia was a culinary-trained chef who expanded his mother’s original menu to include Southwestern continental cuisine. Some of his menu additions included tequila shrimp, steak, various pastas and salads.
The new owners don’t intend to make any major menu changes soon.
“We want to have a bit of time to evaluate what people are liking,” Featheringill said. “The customers are the ones who drive the train. While it’s great to have the tourism trade, and we’re well-positioned location-wise for that, in my estimation, it’s the locals we want to attract. In a town like Durango, you have to be superior for folks to want to choose to come.”
In addition to the New Mexico cuisine additions to the menu, Featheringill said they plan to add some lighter, healthier fare, and margarita fans will have a treat in store.
“We’ll still have the house margarita,” she said, “but we’re also adding a margarita menu, with more upscale margaritas, including higher-end tequilas.”
The Garcias have spent the last few years dealing with a family tragedy. Ted Garcia was killed by his brother-in-law, Joseph Dernoga, in July 2010. Dernoga was sentenced to a 16-year prison term two years later. In April, Suzanne Garcia, Ted’s wife, was sentenced to prison for six years for perjury after lying to the grand jury in the case.
While the Garcias sold the restaurant, they will continue to own the building. Skip Garcia will help train the new owners for the next couple of weeks, and Francis Garcia has told them he will always be available for advice.
For Durango, it’s the end of an era.
“There are only two or three families left in Durango with family-owned businesses that have been around for a while,” Skip Garcia said.