Aug. 6—When Michelle La Meres saw that the historic Casa de Armijo was up for sale this January, she knew she was meant to have it.
"I just knew I had to keep it a restaurant," La Meres said. The 316-year-old building had housed La Placita Dining Rooms, known for the tree growing in its dining room, since 1931. As of Tuesday, it now houses Old Town Cafe, La Meres' fourth business in Old Town.
"Old Town has me hooked," the restaurateur said.
La Meres worked as a fused glass artist before getting into the restaurant business five years ago when she opened Blackbird Coffeehouse. Now, she owns a gallery in Old Town and has fostered friendships with other artists, many of whom helped her set up her newest business. A team of local artists lined the walls with punched tin and sacred heart sculptures. At the heart of the restaurant is a mural of Lady Guadalupe, painted by local artist Nikki Zabicki.
Dozens of license plates make a mosaic in the dining room. La Meres said she hopes that people will recognize their home states when they visit Old Town Cafe.
"I kind of wanted them to feel part of the restaurant and part of Old Town," La Meres said.
Juan Nepomuceno Armijo built the family house in 1706; serendipitously, one of La Meres' employees is a descendant of the original Armijo family. La Meres, a history buff, spent months researching the family.
"I feel like I knew them," La Meres said.
The building has stood under five flags: the Spanish, the Mexican, the Confederate, the Union, and finally, the New Mexican.
Although La Meres has opened restaurants before — she owns Blackbird Coffeehouse next door and Raven Blues across the street — Old Town Cafe is her largest project yet. The menu features New Mexican comfort food, including fry bread that La Meres has delivered daily, frito pie and pastries concocted by Le Chantilly owner Laura Shirley.
"I've lived for this day," La Meres said before her grand opening.