Rebooting F&B at The Taos Inn

Not everybody views working in the service industry as a life path – often it’s seen as a waypoint between gigs, or as the starving-actor backup plan – but Taos Inn Food and Beverage manager Adam Kerr discovered at an early age that it was a life path he wanted to be on.  “It isn’t a joke. It’s a real business. You can have a lot of fun, and you can work in London, Paris, Taos – you always have a job. It’s a trade. If you learn it, and you learn it well, you’re always employable. You’re always gonna work. You can make a life, and a living. It’s a big open sky.”

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Kerr, a sommelier and operational manager, first lived and worked in Taos 5 years ago, coming inland from Hawaii to manage the restaurant at El Monte. There he met Erin Bad Hand, now his wife; the two subsequently moved to Napa for several years. When they started to talk about having a family and laying down some roots, they decided to return to northern New Mexico. After a brief stint at the Four Seasons in Santa Fe, and thanks to a series of coincidences and accidents of good timing which he refers to as “kismet,” Kerr got the Taos Inn offer. He moved back north more or less overnight to hit the ground running at what he describes as a dream position.

“I mean, I walk to work. I love the town, I love the hotel, I love the community, I love the staff, I love my program,” Adam enthused. “I took the majority of my career to learn how to be an operational director, then stepped out and became a sommelier. I’ve always wanted to return to management, but my passion is wine. So it’s been a truly amazing experience, to walk in and take over a program with such a pedigree and really help lift it, revive it, bring it a little more into modern day. For a guy like me, a place like this allows me to do every facet of what I love.”

As you’re beginning to witness, Kerr appears to be a bottomless well of positivity and drive. When I sat down in the fall to chat with him, along with Entertainment Director Peggy Nykamp and assistant F&B Director Holly Suazo, I was struck over and over again by his obvious passion for helping the Historic Taos Inn, and specifically his F&B staff of 40+, reach their full potential.

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“You know, I had been a patron here for years. And we all have our own insights into what we think the Inn is, and what we think it can be, so it really took some buckling down – you know, What is the Inn? What’s the vibe of the Inn? And how do we make that a positive entity throughout the community – how do we bring the community back to it? That was really what we did my first three months.”

So, I asked, what did you decide? What is the vibe of the Inn? He smiled, tickled at how clear it all is. “Easy. The vibe of the Inn is in its quintessential framing as The Living Room of Taos. This is Taos’s home. And I think it’s gone in and out of that over the years, and I just wanted to make sure that was accentuated. ‘This is where you as a local are meant to be, and this is where you as a local will be treated like that,’” said Kerr, gesturing around at the Adobe Bar. “I’ve lived in a lot of tourist-industry areas, and one thing I learned is that you can’t build a business based only on tourists, even in that kind of economy. So the number one goal was making sure to return to the locals. And that was gonna take some time, but that’s what happens.”

At this point Peggy, an 11-year Inn veteran, chimed in. “He won me over during our introductory meeting. This was the seventh manager that I’ve worked under, here, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, great, another guy who I have to prove that I’m a hard worker to.’ He said, ‘We’ve got a lot of hard work to do, but you guys have got heart, and you can’t teach that.’”

The Taos Inn’s core of long-time employees is an impressive one, in an industry with a notoriously-revolving door. “Holly’s been in and out of the Inn for about 9 years. Laura’s got nearly 15 under her belt, Doan’s working on fifteen or twenty, Doug’s going on 25 – there are ten or twelve individuals here that have all been here decade-plus,” said Adam. And, as Peggy mentioned, those long-time employees have watched managers come, and watched managers go, and it can’t have been easy to step into the job and rally the team around. Adam approached the challenge by applying one of his favorite service-industry philosophies – one that, frankly, applies to good management in any industry.

“First and foremost, you recognize individuals and where they’re at and where they wanna be. From the first day I came in here I said, ‘Figure out what you wanna be. If you wanna be a general manager, you wanna be an F&B director, if you wanna be a bartender, if you wanna move from dishwashing to tending bar, cool, I’m here to teach you. We’ll show you how to get there,’” he said. “I’ve been in this industry for 23 years. The only way you’re gonna make a place great and make people great is if you give them the opportunity to make themselves great. I mean, Peggy stepped up – she was just looking for that chance. I remember our first conversations about the music department – she was ready to give up.”

Peggy nodded. “It was frustrating, and it was like, ‘This is not a life path,’” she said. “This is for a 20-something that doesn’t need to make money, not a mom. It’s different now than it was. I have so much freedom – every idea I bring Adam, he’s very open.”

You’ve probably noticed some of those ideas in action, if you pay attention to their music schedule. They’ve shifted heavily in favor of local artists – “I mean, I can have these amazing bands from out of town, and it costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time, and nobody comes to see them,” explained Peggy – but people are coming back week after week to support local musicians like Kim and Chipper, Brent Berry, Jennifer Peterson, and Kate Mann. They’ve instituted a monthly musician-in-residence schedule, where a different local musician or group gets a weekly slot each month, and the houses have been packed.

“We’ve also added the early show, the 4:30 happy hour show, which has been great, especially for musicians traveling through town. They get a meal and a drink, and put out a tip jar and sell their merch. The happy hour’s pretty rocking, so it’s nice to have entertainment for that. And that’s something I never could have done before,” said Peggy.

It’s not just the entertainment department that’s been overhauled. Adam and Holly have been working hard to tighten up their systems, from cross-training between Doc’s and the Adobe Bar to decentralizing the food menus so that each one – lunch, Doc’s bar – has its own identity. Over the course of our hour together, Adam talked about seasonal, local, farm-to-table style food; he talked about the employee wine classes he’s been offering; he talked about growing and changing and playing and catching up with the times. If you have a chance to chat with him about his plans, his philosophies, and his passions, I highly recommend it. He’s blazing a trail for a not-so-new but definitely-improved Taos Inn, and it’s lovely to see some good old-fashioned enthusiasm at the heart of a community institution.

“And,” added Peggy, “you can get huevos rancheros all day long now!”

 

 

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