Studio Eight gallery on Lena Street.

On a cold Saturday in early spring, jazz played inside the cozy, minimal interior of Ozu. Out the window and beyond the train tracks to the east, wispy clouds hovered around the foothills. Closer in, couples and groups of friends dressed in parkas and windbreakers walked the sidewalks of the Lena Street Lofts. The area felt safe, homey even, but also urban and fresh.

The Lena Lofts.

Inside, Ozu co-owner Jeffrey Ozawa and a couple of workers prepped for the lunch rush. During a lull, they reheated Pizza Centro slices from the night before, bantering over the allure of reheated versus cold pizza. A few minutes later, Ozawa served a sublimely brothy, oceanic sake ochazuke, its textured surface hash marked with nori strips. A customer curious about how the sleek counter that faces the kitchen had been made waved him over, and they chatted for a few minutes about wood finishes. The place was quiet without feeling lonely, intimate without feeling exclusive, a hard line to walk in Santa Fe.

Down the way at Pith, another local entrepreneur, Jeanna Gienke, opened her doors to the public for a few hours. In a sunny space inside, cactuses for sale that she’d brought back from a recent trip to Tucson offered a verdant respite from the gray day. Gienke’s plant shop is new to Lena Street, but she’s not new to botany and designing with plants: as co-owner of the now-shuttered Opuntia Cafe, she’s the wizard behind the greenery that adorned that dreamy, light-filled space.

Around the corner from there, facing the center of the complex, shop and gallery Living Threads echoes the aesthetic that Dutch baker and former Zen monk Willem Maltem cultivated four decades before down the street at Cloud Cliff Bakery. There he married the industrial with the high end, creating an environment that welcomed both locals and visitors. One of a few couple-led projects in the neighborhood, Living Threads displays sumptuous textiles by Teresa Robinson’s company, Nuraxi, as overhead Eric Mindling’s striking large-scale photographs of Oaxacan women enliven the double-height walls.

The vision of Rick Brenner, who built the complex in the mid-2000s with Santa Fe’s Ellis/Browning architects, the barn-shaped, steel-fronted structures at 1600 Lena Street, a.k.a. the Lena Street Lofts, exemplify organic evolution over time. Rather than hosting any kind of engineered “alternative” housing or office complex, the far end of Lena Street has somehow bypassed trends in favor of something both more traditional and more forward looking. The spaces are 70 percent solar powered, and cisterns capture rainwater to irrigate the landscaping. It all feels contemporary, though the systems have been in service for nearly twenty years. The Coffee Trust and The Trust for Public Land, local sustainability-focused entities that have been in operation for decades, were early tenants.

Left: Sake Onigiri at Ozu. Right: Sake Bento with  salmon, hiyashi salad, and tsukemono at Ozu.

The realtor showing coffee shop spaces to Todd Spitzer, founder of the now nearly ubiquitous local coffee purveyor Iconik Coffee Roasters, thought locating his new shop on Lena Street was a bad idea. It was 2012, and Spitzer and partners Natalie Slade and Darren Berry had come from Oakland to introduce a new kind of coffee experience to New Mexico. The area lacked foot traffic, the agent said. Building a business there could only mean failure.

The space sat at the heart of the Lena Street Lofts. A few neighboring businesses meant some early customers, Iconik’s partners reasoned, and Brenner was flexible and easy to talk with, open to tearing down a wall to accommodate the trio’s vision and their massive vintage coffee roaster. To Spitzer and his partners, the spot felt like a fit with its off-the-beaten-path vibe, a rebuke of tradition in a city whose dominant aesthetic tended toward repetition and fetishizing the past.

While Brenner had infused the land between Second Street and the Railrunner tracks with his taste for the industrial, the neighborhood’s alt-modern feel didn’t begin with him. Twenty years before building began at 1600 Lena Street, Maltem’s Cloud Cliff Bakery gained a cult following by Santa Feans willing to venture beyond the Plaza to hang out in a warehouse space more Soho loft than vintage adobe. Locals lingered over coffee, migas, and other hearty breakfast dishes, and they brought home Maltem’s Nativo bread, which he made with local, organic wheat long before artisan baking became what it is today.

When Brenner and Rachel Watson, his wife and business partner, first opened the Lena Street Lofts to tenants, he told the New Mexican he liked the area because it was gritty and rugged. But inside, the spaces he created were anything but, with sleek lines, high ceilings, and white walls. Outside, he chose an untreated steel siding that would rust over time. That the train ran just beyond the dumpsters fit perfectly with the urban sensibility he was going for.

Left: Bread Shop ham sandwich on baguette with Comté, cornichons, and dijon and roasted broccolini sandwich on focaccia. Right: Pantry items on the shelves at Bread Shop.

Kimmy Rohrs was looking for space for her pottery studio and shop in early 2020 when she connected with Watson. Rohrs had been sharing space on Hickox and considered nearby Baca Street as a home for her business, Whiskey & Clay, but the area felt too car heavy, and Canyon Road and downtown were beyond her budget. When a Lena Street space opened up, she listened as Watson talked about how invested she was in her tenants’ success. Rohrs could see how Watson and Brenner valued business owners like her—entrepreneurs whose ethos was more about community and integrity than conventional ideas of commercial success. Soon she was setting up her shop and studio in a spot with good visibility to the street and an unfinished interior she didn’t have to be too precious about.

When the pandemic hit not long after that, Rohrs and a few of the other businesses created Lena Love, a package of locally made goodies from Bread Shop, Iconik, and Whiskey & Clay that shoppers could safely buy and take home. “We all bonded together,” Rohrs says of her new neighbors. Later, when she needed a place to live, Watson and Brenner helped her make a temporary home in a space nearby. “I feel honored to be here,” Rohrs says.

Like Whiskey & Clay, Bread Shop was a young business when the pandemic struck. Owned by Watson and Brenner’s son Jacob Brenner and his partner, Mayme Berman, the bakery occupied a tiny space on the north side of the street that previously housed local artisan ice cream shop La Lecheria. The space ended up serving Bread Shop well through the lockdowns with a pickup window for passing their sourdough boules and other baked goods through to customers.

Around that time, vegan pop-up bakery Plantita opened in a space on Lena just outside the Lofts, serving vegan pizzas and offering local delivery from their menu of baked goods. (Plantita closed its doors in early 2024, citing high food costs and a rent increase.) Root 66 Cafe also set up shop there, serving organic vegan fare like plant-based egg salad sandwiches and curried tofu. Meanwhile, Iconik kept growing, becoming a gathering space for tenants old and new while bringing locals and tourists to the neighborhood. The business changed hands when customer and fan Sean Ham, with Brenner and Watson, who wanted the business to stay at Lena, took ownership.

Left: Inside Living Threads. Right: Patio at Root 66.

Other businesses came and went with economic and life fluctuations. Bread Shop moved across the street, allowing the owners to expand their menu to sandwiches, a variety of focaccias, and pastries like the hearty Adventure Bar and savory gruyère and buckwheat scones. The change shifted the bakery into a gathering spot and allowed for shelves of specialty groceries like Fishwife tinned fish, Spanish olive oils, and Rancho Gordo beans. Changes that might have felt like instability elsewhere felt more forgiving at Lena Street with its pop-ups and open-air sales, micro spaces and casual studio/shop hybrids. All of it feels refreshingly organic, mirroring the patina that, over the years, has crept across the buildings’ steel walls, blanketing the cool silver exteriors with a warm, reddish shimmer even on the coldest days.

Ozawa says the tiny space is working out for him. “You get a nice amount of foot traffic,” he says of the location, noting that people come to Lena Street to experience something new and fresh—just the kind of customer he’s looking for. The small counter and six or so tables, if you count the outdoor area, has gained a devoted following, and it’s no wonder given the careful crafting of the bento boxes, including a vegan option, and other flavorful and well-calibrated dishes like temaki and onigiri that come in the paper containers he passes across the counter.

Ozu was born a couple of years ago by word of mouth: Ozawa and partner Jaimie Lewis heard from Bread Shop’s owners that they were moving. The couple had cofounded the online kitchen and lifestyle shop Tenzo, and Ozawa was playing with a restaurant concept inspired by his father’s taste for the food he ate as a child in Japan. He wasn’t sure he’d ever make a go of the idea, but the micro scale of the space appealed to him. Soon he was developing the menu while Lewis set to work crafting the furnishings.

Today artist studios, retail shops, clothing designers, galleries, and small businesses dot the complex. Iconik hosts events from poetry readings and knitting nights to tango and improv. Cloud Cliff’s bakery still produces breads sold at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market while its back wall running along Lena has become a public art space, courtesy of Matthew Chase-Daniel of Axle Contemporary. Some tenants are established businesses shifting away from downtown; others, like La Lecheria, have incubated at Lena before expanding to other parts of the city. This summer Lewis and Ozawa will unveil a brick-and-mortar version of Tenzo, with a curated selection of kitchen supplies and housewares. Meanwhile, the mountain mahogany and pampas grass have matured, filling in the Lofts’ outdoor paths and patio spaces.

Left: Iconik’s antique coffee roaster. Right: Latte on the patio at Iconik.

While Lena Street still stands out as an alternative to traditional local neighborhoods with their quaint architectural sameness, the area’s spirit of urban revival is both a model for and an analog to other complexes across the city. The Baca Railyard District’s contemporary feel and blend of retail, office, and dining, with Cafecito at center, echoes Brenner and Watson’s project. Similarly, Pacheco Park, with airy Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen as its culinary hub, offers contemporary architecture away from downtown, appealing to businesses that lean modern. With the revitalization of the old College of Santa Fe campus, planners might consider the ingredients that have made Lena and others like it successful, including local ownership and management that fosters entrepreneurship, and spaces that are welcoming not just to businesses but to the humans who make them what they are.

Today Iconik’s antique coffee roaster still sits in the same spot where Spitzer and his partners—with the help of Watson, Brenner, and neighbor John Morris of New Mexico Stone—set it up more than a decade ago. Under Ham’s management, the shop’s menu has morphed and changed, and now lettuce wraps, Malaysian laksa, and cheese and toast with harissa sit alongside breakfast staples. Branded mugs and worn carpets predominate as kids munch cookies and friends catch up over a shared scone. By the door, a massive bulletin board captures the texture of Lena Street with ads for artwork for sale, models wanted, Portuguese lessons, memoir workshops, art film showings, and improv classes.

The design of Lena Street Lofts invites community making, and the community makers have found a home there. As Spitzer tells it, Maltem, impish with his Dutch-infused English, used to stop by the coffee shop to offer bags of his artisan flour. Another customer came by too, a realtor. The man sipped his single-origin coffee while he chatted with the owners, watching as baristas performed their frothing and pouring. The place was different than the cafés downtown, livelier and busier and louder. He watched the staff serve cup after steaming cup as the customers he’d sworn would never come made their way to the counter.

More to Explore

No mention of Lena Street would be complete without a bit about the adjacent Second Street neighborhood and its vibrant and varied culinary landscape. To the west from Lena, Santa Fe institution Ramblin’ Cafe offers authentic New Mexican dishes, while east toward St Francis Drive sit locals’ favorite Back Road Pizza and the newer Lotus Dumpling House, a source for Korean dishes and boba tea. A stone’s throw from there you’ll find the upscale but low-key Back Street Bistro, venerated and prolific bakery and restaurant Chocolate Maven, and vegan-friendly Sweetwater Harvest Kitchen. Second Street Brewery recently pulled up stakes from its sprawling original location by the train tracks on its namesake street to focus on its more visible Railyard location, and the new Casa Bonita, a source for New Mexican, has taken over the brewery’s old spot. Also of note: adjacent to Lena on the east side of Second lies a quiet residential enclave surrounding the old Kaune Elementary School and Young Park, an area just right for a post-lunch stroll.

Susanna Space

Susanna Space is a writer and former associate editor of edible New Mexico and The Bite. Her essays have appeared in Guernica, Longreads, The Rumpus, the Los Angeles Review, and many other literary outlets. She lives in Santa Fe.