Owner of new Sweet Pea Cafe aims to revive downtown Aztec

James Fenton
The Daily Times

AZTEC — Michelle Shahan hopes her new corner cafe will add an attractive spot to bring everyone in town together.

On Tuesday, Shahan will open the Sweet Pea Cafe at the corner of West Chaco Street and North Main Avenue in Aztec.

"My mom called me Sweet Pea when I was little, and now I have three little Sweet Peas of my own," she said. "This is really for the kids. I want it to be all ages, for everyone to feel welcome."

The cafe is Shahan's way of livening up the city's downtown and giving kids and the community a place to go. Throngs of Aztec High School students pour down Chaco Street just before noon on weekdays in search of something to eat.

Last week, Shahan and her mom opened the cafe for limited hours to give the cafe a trial run.

Joni Frailey, Shahan's mom, has been helping get the cafe ready to open and said her granddaughter spread the word around school about the cafe. Students showed up en masse.

"Oh, I think this is going to be awesome," Frailey said. "We had a ton of kids in (last week), and they were really patient with us."

Shahan said she wants Aztec to have more business options, something her cafe can help accomplish.

"I really wanted to do something for myself and for the community," she said. "We're trying to keep it simple and fresh."

After 15 years as a stay-at-home mom, Shahan said opening a cafe was a dream of hers and a way to strike out on her own. It is also a central meeting point between her three kids so they have a place to check in with mom throughout the day.

"I'm right here in the middle if they need me, so it's nice," she said. "I really wanted somewhere for people to come and hang out and have a cup of coffee, or the high school kids can come down here and have lunch," she said. "If we can get this corner going, maybe it will help revitalize Aztec a little bit."

The cafe's walls are splashed with sherbet colors, and inside customers can enjoy free wi-fi while sitting at alder wood picnic tables or wrought-iron patio chairs and tables painted robin's egg blue.

Shahan said she wants to keep it simple at first, selling sandwiches, hot dogs and ice cream, followed by a roll-out of smoothies, frozen yogurt and hot soup this fall.

"We'll evolve as we go along," she said.

Shahan said the cafe soon will have awnings over the south- and east-facing windows, and an outdoor sign. Ultimately, she envisions giving her sunny, corner spot in the town's historic corridor a true cafe feel by expanding her dining space with patio tables and chairs on the sidewalk.

But that enhancement will have to wait, she said, until the city completes its top infrastructure project.

More than 11 years in the making, the 5-mile bypass road project will divert heavy truck traffic off of Main Avenue — which is also U.S. Highway 550 — and send that traffic east of downtown. The arterial route also is designed to restore Aztec's historic downtown to a closer semblance of its quieter, more pedestrian-friendly past and spare many of the corridor's 100-year-old buildings, including Shahan's cafe, from the constant vibrations from heavy traffic that shake loose the buildings' century-old brick and mortar.

"These trucks come by here, and it's so noisy," she said. "Maybe someday, if I'm still here in a few years, when that truck bypass goes through, I was thinking umbrellas, tables, flower pots. Someday."

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.