Pueblo Chieftan, August 14, 2014
by Matt Hildner
Landmark Comes Back to Life
DEL NORTE – When Kodi Whitehead left his hometown in 2001 to go to college, the nearly un-ending process of restoring the historic Windsor Hotel had just shown its first signs of getting underway. “I think they had painted it by the time I left,” he said.
Flash forward to 2013 and the 1874 hotel that had been saved from the wrecking ball stood fully restored but lacked someone to manage its 20 rooms and stately restaurant after previous management had moved on.
Enter Whitehead and his wife Regan, who both worked in the hospitality industry in Southern California for seven years and dreamed of running their own restaurant.
Whitehead was on his way to the Four Seasons Santa Fe to interview for a job when the nonprofit group that owns the Windsor contacted him about the opening. He never made it to New Mexico.
“The restoration was so unbelievable and amazing,” he said. “It’s such a special place and the town rallied around it so much that we bet on ourselves.” Since then, the Windsor has become a Whitehead family affair.
Whiteheads father Steve, who also was a member of the nonprofit that bought and restored the hotel, manages its 20 rooms. His mother sometimes hosts diners and his grandfather often helps set up the dining room.
Regan runs the kitchen as head chef at the Windsor. After training as a pastry chef, she went on to work in San Diego and Los Angeles as a sous-chef and as somewhat of a sommelier for cheese.
Over the last year, the Whiteheads have tried to reach out to locals. “Tourists will make you money, but locals will keep you open,” Kodi said. “So we really have something for everyone.”
That has meant keeping a burger on their menu, which is ground for the restaurant by an Alamosa butcher.
And for Kodi, who worked as a sommelier while in Los Angeles, it’s meant pinpointing wines for diners who might not be drinking on the same budget as those in southern California. “It’s been really cool to me to find those little gems that don’t cost you an arm or a leg but are just out of this world,” he said.
In addition to pairing select wines with their menu, the Windsor also hosts wine and beer tastings.
But the Whiteheads also have had luck turning locals on to some of their favorites. “I get ranchers in here; they come in and the first thing they order is my blue cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates,” Kodi said.
The couple also has started a reservation-only Sunday night dinner that usually features one menu item and family-style seating. “I’m not a Del Norte native,” Regan said. “It’s kind of my way for thanking the community for letting us into their’s.”
The dinner menu, which ranges in price from the $12 Windsor Burger to the $28 bone-in lamb, gets tweaked often but leans heavily on local ingredients.
The lamb, beef and sausage come from nearby ranches; the coffee is roasted by neighboring San Juan Roasters.
And while Regan describes running her own kitchen as a day-by-day learning experience, she lights up when talking about the hotel’s place in Del Norte’s economy and the town’s economic potential.
She ticks off projects completed – like the new trail system above town – and those on the drawing board like the construction of a whitewater park on the Rio Grande and the restoration of other historic buildings in town.
“There’s so much happening here,” she said. “In five years, people aren’t going to recognize Del Norte.”