Want chips with that? Mayors redefine public service, help another mayor during lunch rush

Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett joins a small group of “roving mayors” who decided to pitch in at businesses impacted by the pandemic

Robert Trapp
Rio Grande SUN
Raton Mayor Neil Segotta (left in hat) and Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett sing happy birthday to Clyde Vigil at the end of a lunch shift Oct. 6 in Española Mayor Javier Sanchez’s La Cocina restaurant.

ESPAÑOLA — Española Mayor Javier Sanchez decided if he can’t hire wait staff and bus boys for his busy restaurant La Cocina, he’d try to get by with a little help from his friends.

He has experienced the labor struggle since the pandemic began. He and partner Phil Maestas have laid people off, hired them back, bought food stuffs and thrown them away after New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham went back and forth from closing to re-opening and closing again.

Restaurants and bars have been hit especially hard because of the close proximity required to sit, serve and eat or drink. 

Many of Sanchez’s stalwart employees tired of the yoyo-like hiring practice, moved on and got other jobs. They’re not returning to the current roller coaster ride that is the restaurant business.

At a recent municipal league meeting in Albuquerque he brought up the subject to other mayors around the state.

Sanchez said the mayors were discussing the impact of COVID and the labor shortage.

“I told them I don’t know how to find workers,” he said. “I don’t know who came up with it, but we agreed we should go around the state and help businesses.”

The first place they chose was La Cocina. Sanchez said they’ll pick another city and go help a business there.

“We’ll head out there and ask the mayor to help whether it’s a restaurant or call center or what have you,” he said.

His fellow mayors felt his pain. So much so four of them agreed to get in their cars, drive to Española and work for the mayor for a Saturday lunch shift, his busiest.

Mayor Gregg Hull, Rio Rancho; Mayor Neil Segotta, Raton and Mayor Nate Duckett, Farmington met at La Cocina late in the morning Oct. 9 ready for duty. Clovis Mayor Mike Morris agreed to come but could not make it at the last minute.

Hull is a full-time, paid mayor. He said Sanchez told them about his dilemma and that an upcoming large party was going to be a struggle.

Bus boys-in-training take a very quick break from their duties. Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett (left), Raton Mayor Neil Segotta and Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull came to work at Española Mayor Javier Sanchez's restaurant Oct. 9 during the lunch rush.

“We were in a caucus meeting and decided we’d go,” he said. 

Mayor Neil Segotta, Raton, oversees several non-profit senior centers in Colfax County. He was taking iced tea and chips to a table of two women. He spoke as he worked.

“Javier said he needed help and we thought it would be a good idea to help him,” he said. 

He’d never experienced working tables before. He said it was hard work and makes you appreciate the staff when you go into a restaurant.

Mayor Nate Duckett, Farmington, is an insurance agent. He’s larger than life and has a booming voice and an easy laugh. More than once, just for fun he’d yell, “Mayor,” presumably just to see who would turn around.

He too is a full-time mayor.

Duckett said he’s had Sanchez on his show in Farmington to talk issues.

Sanchez said Monday he’s been on Duckett’s podcast a few times. The mayors shared similar issues with the governor changing policies almost weekly during the early days of the pandemic.

“This issue comes up quite a bit (post-COVID economy),” he said. “We talk about COVID’s impact on our economies, local events, how people can help.”

Sanchez said he heard from Duckett after his busing stint. Duckett reported he hurt in places he didn’t know he had.

“It’s hard work,” Sanchez said.

There was a group of 30 for lunch so it was trial by fire. It was the extended family celebrating Clyde Vigil’s 87th birthday. The mayors got high praise from the group. Their lunch was punctuated by having happy birthday sung by four mayors and the wait staff.

As the party wrapped, Hull said he needed to get back to Rio Rancho and the mayors chided him for having the shortest drive and leaving the earliest.

“I was here at nine,” he said, defending himself.

Sanchez said Monday, Duckett and Segotta didn’t leave until after 3 p.m.

With the recent closure of Big Dawgs, Española is down to a handful of restaurants. Even smaller is the number of independently owned restaurants. Outside of the labor shortage, owners everywhere are citing uncertain supply delivery and a population of people still wary of eating at a public place.

Sanchez said they haven’t planned their next excursion. However, the “roving mayors” will go from city to city helping businesses with their labor shortage.

This story was originally published in the Rio Grande SUN. It is reprinted here with permission.