“WE’RE 30 FEET OFF THE TRACKS,” says Tate Nichols, co-owner of The Rails, the restaurant occupying Clovis’s historic train depot. “That’s a live rail that runs through there.”
While trains might refrain from blowing their horns near the restaurant, they still roll through Clovis the same way they have for more than a century. The Rails even features trackside seating, so patrons can get a good look as the trains pass. “It’s an incredible building,” says Nichols, who co-owns the West First Street eatery with his wife, Libby, and brother, Jordan.
The story of the railroad and the town are intertwined. In 1907, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway began its transcontinental routes through the prairie land that would become Clovis. The town was given its name by a railroad official’s daughter, who had studied King Clovis, a ruler from antiquity who united Frankish tribes during the fifth century.
“It’s the reason the town existed,” Nichols says. “It just seems like the perfect place to put a restaurant—to celebrate the history and heritage of what Clovis does.”
Built in 1907, the Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival building is the oldest structure still standing in Clovis. After the depot closed, the concrete structure spent 20 years as a model train museum before Nichols and his partners purchased the property in 2016. When the new owners began renovating, they were careful to maintain the historic aspects, with the goal of restoring the building to its original appearance. “We kept the same color scheme,” Nichols says. “We picked up all the tile that’s out on the patio, washed it, cleaned it, and placed it back.”
Renovating the century-old building came with challenges. “Everything becomes a little more difficult,” he says. But the owners paid special care to the building’s roots. When patrons stand at the bar, Nichols says, they are standing over the place where the depot’s scale used to sit, where cargo traveling across the country would be weighed. The pandemic created issues, too, and construction took longer. But their hard work and dedication paid off.
Under the direction of French-trained chefs Francois Faure and Ashven Obeegadoo, The Rails opened in September 2022 with a menu and environment that allows diners to either hang out with a beer and a burger (try the Hatch green chile cheeseburger) or to celebrate special occasions with a rib eye and a glass of wine.
A rotating list of specials, which might include red snapper with blackened prawns or truffle mushroom soup with garlic confit, adds to the variety. Guests sit on the patio for live music from local singer-songwriters; on Sunday, the brunch menu includes chicken and waffles, Rails Benedict, and a smoked salmon bagel.
“We have customers come in whose parents worked on the railroad,” Nichols says, reflecting on the place’s past. “We took a piece of history and restored it back to its original state—with an energetic vibe.”