AS A KID, ONE OF LEONARDO RAZATOS’S jobs was to stand on a milk crate and make toast all day for customers of his family’s restaurant, the Plaza Café—a Santa Fe Plaza landmark celebrating 75 years. Today, Razatos owns the city’s oldest restaurant, which his Greek immigrant father, Dan Razatos, bought in 1947. Dan married a local woman, Beneranda Maria Montoya Saiz, and the couple’s six children all grew up working there. The family has since branched out, opening the Plaza Café Southside in 2003 and launching a new line of products, including red and green chile sauce, this year. While the menu and decor have changed over the decades, one thing remains constant: the restaurant’s longtime tradition of warmly greeting regulars and first-timers like family, whether they stop in for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
The Plaza Café is just one of those places that, for a lot of Santa Feans, has always been there. It’s hard to imagine downtown without the Plaza Café.
You have to be tenacious. We’ve survived a fire that closed the restaurant for two years, recessions, a pandemic, all those things.
You also have to be adaptable. The downtown Plaza Café many years ago went through a “Santa Fe Style” sort of phase, when the interior was all blue and coffee-colored, and then we renovated to take it back to the retro-diner look.
Even the food is always changing. When we look at the menus of the thirties and forties, it was pork chops, steaks, and an American breakfast. Then we started having New Mexican, Mexican, and a little Greek food.
Now we’re going back to being a regional New Mexico diner. We really are concentrating on red and green chile.
The person most influential in our red chile was my mom, who passed away last year. It’s been very hard without her. She was such a fixture of the Plaza Café.
I would endlessly have her taste the chile and see how she liked it. We are always trying to make the red chile like hers, which gets its rich flavor from the pods more than the powder.
My father was born in Greece, and he was a hard worker. He was one of those guys that just had to work every single day.
Now that I’m close to his age, I wonder, How did he do that every day?
We lived in Tesuque, and we would have family meals that were pretty normal. We liked spaghetti and stuff like that. The holidays were interesting because my mom cooked a great Greek leg of lamb, which my father loved, so our spread would be leg of lamb with feta cheese and red or green chile.
As young kids, we took the restaurant for granted.
I didn’t realize how much it was in my blood. When I went away to college, I was hell-bent on going as far away as I could. I went to the Parsons School of Design, in New York, studying architecture, and never thought that I’d be back in the restaurant business. But it was very easy for me to do.
I get a lot of pleasure out of feeding people and making great food. It’s part of the Greek and Hispanic cultures. Whether we’re mourning or celebrating, a lot of food is involved.
I have this desire to always be improving, trying to do things a little bit better every day. It drives my employees crazy, because I tell them, “The only constant is, there will be change.”