Interview with New Mexico Restaurant Week’s Organizer Michele Ostrove

"Restaurant Week brings Santa Fe into the national spotlight for leisure travel"

Date February 27, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Author Greta Chapin McGill

Publication SantaFe.com

Categories Business Food

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New Mexico Restaurant Week, a statewide celebration of diverse and delicious cuisine, begins March 4.  Part of a national phenomenon started in New York City, Restaurant Week in Santa Fe will feature  56 different local restaurants as well as engaging all major hotels in the City Different.

National Attention for Santa Fe

Not limited to Santa Fe, Restaurant Week begins a four-week gastronomical tour of the entire state.  Restaurants in Las Cruces, Taos, and Albuquerque participate, making this third year of Restaurant Week the most successful to date. Restaurant Week brings Santa Fe into the national spotlight for leisure travel.  Supported by both the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce, this event is quickly claiming the position as the kickoff for the spring and summer tourist season. Advertised nationally as a destination, every business in Santa Fe stands to benefit from a highly structured public relations campaign. Participating restaurant venues get a boost from national attention and  hotels and spas offer lodging specials making it attractive for visitors to chase away the winter blahs in sunny Santa Fe.

Benefit for Business Statewide

The organizers of Restaurant week have a vision for growth. New Mexico as a gastronomical destination is a huge ambition. The inclusion of four cities is just the beginning. Filling hotel space in any of the venue cities has a measurable economic affect.  Resources are distributed throughout the city. Restaurants and hotels certainly benefit, and spas and spa employees, service staff, boutiques and museums see increased productive capacity. Venue cities reap the rewards of added tax revenue which translates into helping fire, police, transportation and education entities. Surrounding areas become destinations for attendees to take day trips and explore further the culture and people of New Mexico. Restaurant Week is an important event statewide.

History and Growth

Restaurant Week started in New York City in 1992 as a lunch-only promotion for participating restaurants.  The event grew steadily and attracted innovative entrepreneurs to institute their own version of Restaurant Week in cities world wide. The idea is simple and unique. Guided by the entrepreneurs and with the help of convention and visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce, restaurants join forces to fill seats for the specified weeks of the event. More than 26 cities nationwide have adopted Restaurant Week as part of their sustainable tourism revenue. Smaller communities can benefit as well when this business module is scaled to fit their needs. Restaurant Week in New Mexico is organized by Lucien Bonnafoux and Michele Ostrove.  Meeting in San Diego, they visited Santa Fe and were enchanted by the City Different. Santafe.com got a chance to sit down with Michele Ostrove over tea. She spoke candidly about the couples conception of New Mexico Restaurant week and their plans for the future of the event.

SFCD: What brought you Santa Fe?

OSTROVE: Lucien and I were living in San Diego and were ready for a change. I think thatʼs what every says when they come here. Santa Fe is a city where you can make something new happen in your life. We moved here on a leap of faith, rented a house sight unseen and headed from California to our new life in New Mexico.

SFDC: Was Restaurant Week something you had plans to institute in New Mexico?

OSTROVE: No, not initially. I have a background in PR and marketing and one of my projects in San Diego was a wine magazine for women. I really thought since women buy most of the wine sold in this country, it was a niche ready to be tapped. Women are by nature sharers. I wanted to focus on educating women about wine pairings, using different wines in recipes and tabletop fashion, things like that. I launched the magazine nationally. Wine Adventure it was called. It lasted one year. So I found myself out of a job and looking.  Lucien and I had watched San Diego Restaurant Week become a critical and financial success while we were there and decided to try it in Santa Fe. We moved to Santa Fe in December 2008, two years after we closed the magazine. Here I launched Wings Media Network, my PR and marketing firm, and did some freelance writing for New Mexico Magazine.  In Sept. 2009, we began organizing Restaurant Week.

SFDC: How did you introduce the idea to Santa Fe business?

OSTROVE: We held an initial meeting with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and included key restaurants we felt would be receptive. Attending that initial meeting were Simon Brackley from the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, Jen Hobson, who at that time was the deputy secretary of tourism, and others who we felt could have an impact on what we were trying to achieve. We proposed this event for the “shoulder season”. 

SFDC:  For our readers not in the tourism business, what is the “shoulder season?” 

OSTROVE:  The “shoulder season” is the time between the really slow season in January and the super busy season in the spring and summer. In other words, just when your cabin fever is really kicking in!

SFDC:  This is the third year for Restaurant Week in New Mexico. Can you see trends in measuring the success of your venture?

OSTROVE:  We are extremely pleased with the success we have had in Santa Fe and in our other New Mexico venues. Our plan is to reach out nationally and internationally to fill restaurant seats in Santa Fe and all over the state. We get national press attention and we advertise in airline magazines, high-profile city newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, and city magazines across the country. We persuaded hotels to offer lodging specials during the time of the event. This approach  resulted in a 29% out-of-town attendance for the event. We believe this number can only grow and insure a time when traditionally toursim feels an economic pinch turns into a time of measurable profit.

SFDC: Growth and vision seem huge on your plate. Whatʼs the future look like?

OSTROVE: Of course statewide growth is what we want to see. We want to begin to incorporate smaller communities and guide their focus on a local level. Statewide participation is really one of our important objectives. In the future, we see building our Internet presence into a year-round dining portal for New Mexico statewide. We want the world to know New Mexico is not only red or green chile. The depth of dining experience in our adopted state is incredible and we want everyone to enjoy the diverse cuisines offered here.

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