Dining with a view: At the top of the tram, Ten 3 restaurant brings in a new executive chef

Benny Abruzzo has seen his fair share of business challenges, but nothing compared to 2020.

“We’ve had lots of challenges, if you can imagine, I mean, we’ve had a recession, and we had the savings and loan crisis that was some time ago,” he said. “You know, we’ve had 9/11, that really affected businesses. This (pandemic) has been the single most devastating thing we’ve ever seen because it was so fast, so abrupt.

“And, you basically went from having open, thriving businesses, our ski area in Santa Fe was doing fantastic, Ten 3 (restaurant) was doing fantastic, the (Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway) was fantastic, and in basically 24 hours we closed. All the operations.”

Abruzzo’s team took to the drawing board and developed creative ways to survive including its Cliffside To-Go concept at Ten 3 restaurant when takeout service was the only option allowed by the state’s health order. The concept offered handhelds, including a popular carne adovada wrap, soups, salads and other easy grab-and-go offerings.

It was a hit with skiers, snowboarders, hikers, and others who stopped by the restaurant located at the top of the Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway. The Cliffside To-Go menu remains available from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Monday.

“It was fortunate for all of us that the government did come in and help so many of our staff members,” Abruzzo said. “And so we really, I’ll say we streamlined operations. The people who were part of our upper management teams kept busy. They worked hard. They worked on new creative ideas for the day when we would open. Fine tuning menus, trying to hire new people, as we started coming back online, and it’s been quite the evolution.”

It took more than a year, but the restaurant and the tramway are now allowed to operate at 75% capacity.

“From a business standpoint, we’ve never seen anything like that, and I’ve been doing this for a good 40-some years,” Abruzzo said. “And that was crazy. The nice thing is we’ve been able to build it back up.”

Ten 3 used the downtime from the pandemic to make some big changes.

“We brought in a new executive chef, Mr. J. Martin Torrez, and that was the best thing to come out of COVID,” Abruzzo said. “Seriously, he’s brought a whole new energy and taste to our food and it’s fantastic”

Abruzzo credits Torrez’s ever-changing menu.

“He gets to find the best foods available, the best ingredients, and he gets to make the magic happen,” Abruzzo said. “And my job is to support him and give him that freedom, encourage him and make sure I go up there and taste all those wonderful dishes.”

Abruzzo said the challenge now is to get fully staffed and get the restaurant back to a six-day a week operation. Its casual dining room is currently open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday through Monday. The fine dining room is open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 505-764-8363 or visiting ten3tram.com. The Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Tram tickets must be purchased online at sandiapeak.com.

The elevated experience from tram ride to dining at Ten 3 is above and beyond at 10,300 feet above Albuquerque. Abruzzo played a big part in the Ten 3 built out including constructing its wine room and the bar.

“I did a lot of the other interior finishes myself, which I take great pride in,” he said. “And so that is a very special feature. And then the bar that we put a lot of energy into, and we also built that beautiful bar all the walnut and steel. It’s a very special bar. I think the first thing that strikes our guests, is when they walk through the doors into the restaurant, they see this very unusual, very kind of modern looking bar. But you see through it, and you see the beautiful east side of the Sandia Mountains and the Ortiz Mountains behind it. And the Sangre de Cristo (Mountains). And you have this spectacular view that just invites you in.”