“Me? I’m in heaven!”
That wasn’t one of the customers at Mangiamo Pronto, that was actually Chef Enrique Gutierrez, who revels in the relaxed atmosphere of this downtown Italian-style bistro. After having proven his chops at Scalo, Casa Sena, O Eating House, the Galisteo Inn and many more premier northern New Mexico landmarks, the seasoned veteran of local eateries now enjoys running his own place with partner Fritz Holland. Enrique notes, “I don’t have to worry about 20 servers, 5 bussers, 6 runners. Instead, it’s very relaxing for me. I mean right now, its three o’clock and I’m having a glass of wine!” If the customers enjoy this little sandwich and espresso shop half as much as the owners do, then we’ve found a new hideaway worth its weight in gold.
Modeled on Italy’s all-day espresso bars, Mangiamo Pronto offers the same pairing of rustic, old-world charm with premier modern design that is so utterly European, yet easily “so Santa Fe” as well. Last summer, when Fritz saw that this building was available, everything seemed to fall into place for him. “A light bulb went off!” he says. He remembered his long-held dream of running a small eatery and coffee bar in a perfect cozy location, and soon that brainchild was born.
The design of the place, as well as the casual atmosphere, makes Mangiamo Pronto a wonderful place for lingering – European style. A couple might come in for a beer with a little appetizer, sit for a while, then go for a bottle of wine, then maybe some dinner. Then again, some couples pop in for a pizza and a glass of wine, then head straight off to the movies. Fritz and Enrique are proud to provide a place where folks can either stay or go, whichever they prefer. And when the weather improves and they can open the lovely patio, the bistro will even be able to offer that most European of delights – sidewalk dining.
Says Fritz of his own experiences in Italy, “I can still remember, in Sienna, walking into a typical espresso bar. It was really small, about this size.” In Italy, he says, people are always sitting around drinking espresso, having some kind of little dessert or pastry. But most importantly, an Italian espresso shop is not just seen as a morning stopover. It is frequented all day long – in the morning, for coffee; after dinner, for a biscotti and a glass of vencato. There, coffee houses are combined with liquor sales. Mangiamo Pronto, which just received its beer and wine license, also manages to offer the best of both worlds. The restaurant’s intimate living-room layout and its friendly, owner-operated ambiance lends itself to chatting over coffee with friends just as easily as drinking fine wine with a romantic date. Their Agapao coffee is a unique blend you can’t find anywhere else. Fritz mentions, “We get at least one compliment a day on the coffee. It’s really the best.”
Says Fritz of the bistro’s inviting decor, “I enjoy interior decorating. My wife, Kathy, is the same way. We just thought this is going to be fun, trying to create a certain feeling, a certain ambiance.” Indeed, the central space displays beautiful photos of Italy throughout, a wall of wines and brightly colored posters of Italian scooters and other purely European elements. But the second room in the converted adobe house, with its floor-to-ceiling wooden bookcase and its built-in bancos, presents a carefully chosen assortment of handmade pottery, fat art books and a wire sculpture of a pleasingly plump cat that looks like it could jump into your lap at any moment. It doesn’t look like a professional decorating job; it looks like a very tasteful person invited you into his own home. The ceiling is typically low, the atmosphere is inescapably friendly, and the light is naturally gorgeous in that Santa Fe way that comes so easily to the old homes. Windows look out on the neighborhood and beautiful, modern bentwood chairs await reunions of old friends.
Since it opened in October, this café with unique individual pizzes, delectable panini sandwiches, homemade soups, and authentic pastas, provides the upscale counter service and top-tier “fast food” offerings that on-the-go locals have been looking for. Tucked away on quiet but very central Read Street, it presents a delicious gourmet experience for downtown gallery as well as government workers; for movie-goers on their way to the DeVargas; for book shoppers, window shoppers, Rail Runner riders and antique buffs setting out to stroll the Design Center. Mangiamo Pronto’s charming location, just east of the railyard, is ideally close to Sanbusco-area hustle and bustle, yet perfectly secluded in an enclave that has not yet turned into a retail mecca.
“I think people like coming in here for one reason: they like engaging with the people who are here,” Fritz comments. After all, he reasons, he has retired from a career in commercial roofing and isn’t looking to do anything fast-paced or overly ambitious. “Let’s make the whole experience enjoyable!” he declares. Enrique adds, “We have a few other people that work here, but we all wash dishes, take food to the tables, make coffee…do everything.” Lavanya, Brian, and Moriah, who help the partners out, also suggest menu items and new salad ideas. “We don’t call them servers,” says Chef Gutierrez. “They’re dudes!”
Fritz and Enrique work hard to create this combination of relaxing atmosphere, gourmet treats, and quick, friendly service. But most of all, they feel they have been successful in their endeavor because they really like doing what they do, and it shows. It’s wonderful, and increasingly rare, to go into a shop and find the owner working behind the counter, to find the owner wiping tables. It makes you realize that this fellow cares about you. He wants you to have a nice time in this place, which is his baby. That’s why Fritz and Enrique don’t aspire to anything fancy, but they do feel they offer an excellent product that people will enjoy consuming again and again.
With panini sandwiches at $7.50 and individual pizzas at eight or nine dollars, folks walk out feeling like neither their bellies nor their wallets are empty. “You come for lunch and you order an ice tea and a sandwich, which comes with a little salad, and it’s nine bucks!” says Enrique. Even pairing your meal with a glass of wine, you won’t be out more than thirteen dollars. It’s a real downtown bargain. Dinner – offered Wednesday through Saturday, 5:30 to 9:00 – consists of fresh fish, pizza, and other simple but delectable offerings. Best of all, you will be served within fifteen minutes. No problem.
Building the business by little more than word-of-mouth recommendations, the owners of Mangiamo Pronto have already done well for themselves. They even have customers who come every day, some even twice a day. The coffee is that good, the service that friendly. And with a name like Mangiamo Pronto, which literally means “eat now,” you know that lingering will be an option, not an obligation.