Todd Spitzer & Jeanna Gienke, Owners of Opuntia Cafe
Todd Spitzer & Jeanna Gienke
Owners of Opuntia Cafe
Todd: Fly fishing, Vinyl Records, Foraging, Cooking
Jeanna: Motherhood, Baking, Gardening, Sewing, Plants, Drawing
Todd: Hudson, WI & Oakland, CA
Jeanna: Oberlin, OH
SFF: Did you always know you wanted to open a restaurant?
TS: No — when I was younger I was a bit more naïve. I thought it’d be a dreamy life to have a coffee shop or a café, just hang out, serve delicious things in a beautiful environment and get paid. Over the years I’ve learned it’s much more difficult and requires a lot more skill. Having an opportunity to work with Jeanna and to meld our visions and passions into one space, I was very excited at the prospect! There’s nobody else I would’ve done this with!
JG: Todd and I both love the experience of creating beautiful spaces for people to enjoy, and we both love to cook. Therefore, I think it was natural for us to go in this direction, but if someone told me 3 years ago that I would soon own a restaurant, I would be very surprised by that!
SFF: What is your personal background, and what was your professional journey to get to where you are today?
TS: Professionally, every few years I like to explore various aspects of my own personality and interests. I’ve done everything from working in restaurants, to helping manage rock bands, to teaching theology, guiding international tours, and importing & roasting coffee, etc. I think the thread that connects all of these is they are all about relationships, experiences and communities. I’m really excited about community building, creating spaces for people to come and exchange ideas, and build off of them.
JG: I am a recovering hairstylist of 20 years, therefore I am an informal therapist, fiber artist, designer, well being-nurturer, and deeply of service by trade. I have learned through years of owning a salon how to care for people and my staff. I’ve enjoyed being surrounded by plants my entire life, and when I introduced more and more living things to the salon (because I found that people enjoyed them so much) the salon slowly grew into PITH- my first plant studio. A lot like Todd, I really enjoy creating spaces for people to share ideas and joy.
SFF: How did you come up with the idea of Opuntia?
TS & JG: It was definitely an intentional collision of Jeanna’s passions and my own. To create something different that reflected our individual personalities, combined with what we drink, what we eat, and what we surround ourselves with. The common thread is plants and beauty… Tea is a fascinating plant that has healing qualities and many social implications throughout history. Healthy, colorful food is needed for us to thrive, and without plants we don’t exist. There is a subtle beauty and powerful connection when you melt them all together. I also think Jeanna and I have a common desire that things have substance to them. Our world is overly processed, overly marketed, overly stimulated, so it’s important create space to enjoy timeless and needed quality.
SFF: Has your vision for Opuntia evolved since it opened, what are your future plans for it?
TS: Everything living evolves… And so too will our business! We started as a simple tea house, offering some botanical curiosities for sale, with a little healthy food on the side… The food part has grown more than we anticipated, which has given this opportunity for more creativity and inclusion of people we love. As far as the café goes, we hope to expand more with our dinner offerings and grow as our community grows.
JG: We have grand ideas of creating more life in our place! I have always wanted to create a living wall that floats above and filters a koi pond. I want giant vivariums with beautiful geckos that children can dream about, as well as projections of calming art. I can go on and on, but it’s only our first year open, and these ideas require lots of resources and space!
SFF: What aspect of Opuntia are you most proud of?
TS & JG: For us, it’s the community that has appeared. We love each member of our staff, and so many of our customers are incredible people. The opportunity to get to know them, know their stories, and be with them most days, is what we are most excited about.
SFF: What makes Opuntia different than other cafés in town?
TS & JG: I think we focused on making a beautiful space, curating the highest quality of teas, interesting plants that you just don’t find anywhere, and clean, healthy, fresh food. I think it’s the attention to detail that matters, every little aspect speaks to the grander vision.
SFF: How did you choose the Baca STreet location?
TS & JG: Friends of ours, who own the Trailhead building in which Opuntia is housed, started planning a vision for their building. We were excited about it so we joined in. As a collaboration, everyone made it special. The Baca Railyard is an interesting location that isn't colored by the building codes of the rest of Santa Fe, so it’s a district becoming defined by interesting architecture and design.
SFF: What was your role in personalizing the physical space?
TS: We were lucky to have an opportunity to speak into the design, and as far as the interior space, we were able to create what we felt was the best fit for our vision.
JG: Todd and I are so blessed to have creative and talented people in our lives that took a great part in helping us build out the interior of our space. We both really wanted our cafe to feel like home for our neighborhood of artists and designers.
SFF: What advice can you give to people aspiring to open a restaurant?
TS: Don’t! Seriously, to open a restaurant or any other passionate business, you need to have a solid vision and a solid business plan. You need to know what the true costs are actually, (financially, energetically, and relationally), and how you’re going to get what is needed to cover all of those. Most people don’t realize all the hidden costs of what it really takes to pull it off. It’s a very complicated endeavor and I only recommend it to those who are extremely passionate about it and have past experience in it.
JG: I have been looking at our business like a new baby. If you have what it takes to hold space, the finances and time to allow it to truly come into fruition and stand on its own without your constant presence, then it’s worth every sleepless night!
SFF: What is your favorite thing about what you do?
TS: I get to come to work with people I love, work side-by-side with like-minded people, and touch base with our amazing customers.
JG: I love to see our staff light up when they have made something special, whether it be latte art, or a special meal, or a custom terrarium.
SFF: What is the most challenging thing about your work?
TS: It’s having enough energy to keep it all going. Balancing the cash flow, managing the myriad of relationships (especially when there’s conflict), and also trying to satisfy that seemingly impossible-to-please person.
JG: Owning a business is all about making choices, and I feel like it’s an opportunity to create a smaller version of how you want the world to be. The most challenging thing I find is when something is happening at work that doesn't align with who we are, and it’s a reminder to change it, but that shift can be really hard!
SFF: What is the best entrepreneurship advice you’ve ever received?
TS: Always count the pennies, because in a business like this, the slightest percentage of margins makes all the difference. That advice was from Alice Waters.
JG: I think mine was from Todd! Allow others to feel an ownership in what you are trying to accomplish — creating a business solely reliant on yourself is unsustainable.
SFF: Why did you decide to live in Santa Fe?
TS: I find the culture, the beauty, the attitude, and the energy of this place draws me here.
JG: It’s the smell of the chile roasting in the fall, the ancient forest that creates our water, the vulnerable yet unstoppable nature of this place, and the independent free-spirited people that keep me here.
SFF: What are you passionate about outside of Opuntia?
TS: I love fly fishing, listening to vinyl records on a vintage tube amp stereo, hunting for Porcini mushrooms, cooking meals for loved ones, and staring up at the sky… I enjoy experiencing beauty and I love when the subtle beauty that I may have missed the first time is pointed out to me.
JG: I love being a mother to my son, baking bread, growing vegetables, sewing clothes, watering plants, finding new music, drawing - all the simple things.
SFF: At the end of the day, why do you do what you do?
TS & JG: Bottom line… We like creating an oasis for people to explore, to experience, and to engage, so it pushes them into a deeper quality of life experience and motivates them to create something new and beautiful for themselves. We enjoy seeing other people rise up, for their true natures to flourish, and we like to create environments for that to happen.