ABQ coffee shop owner tries to cultivate ‘gathering place’

ABQ coffee shop owner tries to cultivate ‘gathering place’

Paul Gallegos, owner of Cutbow Coffee Roastology. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

At Cutbow Coffee Roastology, Bibiana is always treated with respect.

Store owner Paul Gallegos calls her “Bibi” for short and will, upon occasion, bring her a bouquet of flowers.

It’s a little odd because Bibi is actually a giant coffee roaster, and she’s named after one of Gallegos’ ancestors, and symbolizes the reverence he shows for family throughout his 4-year-old business.

The name of the shop, located near Rio Grande and Interstate 40, is a blend of “rainbow” and “cutthroat” trout, representing Gallegos’ years as a youth fishing the rivers of northern New Mexico.

“My influence was my father, who passed away in 2006,” Gallegos says. “He inspired me, he encouraged me and one of his great passions was fishing.”

In fact, Gallegos gives a percentage of his packaged coffee sales to Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance, which works to protect watersheds in northern New Mexico.

Paul Gallegos roasts coffee beans at Cutbow Coffee Roastology in the North Valley. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Born in Mora, Gallegos grew up in Albuquerque’s South Valley but left for California with his wife in the late 1980s so she could attend fashion school in the San Francisco Bay Area.

By chance, he ended up working for Peet’s Coffee with founder Alfred Peet, known as a pioneer in the specialty coffee craze that started in California and swept the country.

Gallegos boasts that he roasted over 70 million pounds of coffee in small batches for Peet’s in his nearly 30 years there, so he knows what he’s doing when he works with Bibi.

And his ability to do so has acquired something of a cult following among his customers, some of whom arranged to have cups of their favorite brew delivered to them directly while the shop was closed during the pandemic. “One thing I realized is that coffee is pandemic-proof,” Gallegos says. “Coffee and maybe beer and liquor.”

What’s your favorite kind of coffee?

“That’s always hard for me to answer, and I always give the same answer. It sounds kind of cheeky, but it’s true. I have two children, and I love them both dearly, but sometimes I like one more than the other. So it depends.”

Is roasting coffee an art or a science?

“A little bit of both. There’s definitely science involved, but I think the art is where the fun is. It’s very much a sensory approach, where we’re watching the coffee, we’re listening to the coffee, and the coffee is communicating. There’s a rhythm that occurs, and if you’re listening intently to the sound of the cold, hard beans as they hit the hot drum of the roaster, it’s very percussive. As the roast starts to change, as science starts to take place, the sound changes when the beans start to come to life. And it’s not only the coffee that makes a sound, but the sound of the coffee rotating in the steel drum changes. So that’s what I”m talking about — the poetry of it.”

What’s the best part of your business?

“Coffee shops, traditionally, have been this gathering place, this community center — a place where revolutions are discussed. It’s neat to provide a space for that … social discourse. It’s the conversations that customers have, that they start with me or have with each other. Coffee is such a stimulant.”

What’s your least favorite aspect?

“It requires a lot of time away from my family. That’s difficult.”

As a kid, what did you want to be?

“I wanted to be a priest. Then I found out the meaning of celibacy. Deal breaker.”

Was there ever a time when you thought Cutbow wouldn’t make it?

“Yes. Early on when we first opened, it was really touch and go. We tried to hire a staff that we wanted to build, and we had a little bit of turnover and that … made me question my leadership. That was the first time I had ever been a manager. I was an employee at a corporation for 30 years, and there were times when I didn’t feel like I was treated with respect. So I’m really intent on remembering how I felt as an employee. Some of that dynamic has been difficult for me to navigate. We had some employees who I wouldn’t say revolted, but they left. It really caused a little bit of introspection for me. Am I doing this right? So I’ve perhaps made some adjustments and at the same time, held my ground. It’s been difficult for me, but I think I’m getting through it. And it’s a learning process, too. So I’m remembering to be gentle with myself, allow myself to make mistakes.”

How do you spend your free time?

“When the doors open at 8, I’m front of house. I am greeting and I am talking, I am jovial. I’m interacting and it’s fun, but it’s exhausting sometimes. I find that my respite is solitude. I like to read, I like to play the guitar for myself. I like to ride my motorcycle. That is where I kind of decompress.”

What has made you successful?

“I think the community has really responded to the quality of our coffee. I learned at Peet’s the importance of buying the best green coffee that you can afford. Unfortunately for my accountant — that’s my wife — I’m the coffee buyer, so I have a budget, but I don’t really follow it. I just buy the best coffees available. In turn, our customers are treated to the best coffees on the planet, in my opinion. But also there’s this ambiance that we created here that … has resonated with people. During COVID, when we were able to open our doors again, I had several instances of grown men walking in and weeping. It just made me realize how special this place is.”

Do you have any quirks?

“Ah. I’ve got tons of quirks. I whistle, and I hum constantly. I wake up whistling. I come to work and the baristas say, ‘Is that a song?’ I don’t know what it is. I like to think there’s a song in my heart, and it comes out. It’s a little annoying to some people.”

What’s on your bucket list?

“I always wanted to ride a unicycle and juggle. You can’t not laugh. If you would see somebody doing that, it would bring such joy, wouldn’t it?”

THE BASICS: Paul Adam Gallegos, 56, born in Las Vegas, N.M.; married to Sylvia Llamas Gallegos since 1987; two children, Amadeo, 20, and Sabella, 16; two black cats, Luna and Polilla, and one chicken, Java; graduate, Rio Grande High School, 1984; attended Highlands University.

POSITIONS: Owner, coffee buyer, roaster of Cutbow Coffee Roastology, since 2018; coffee roaster, Peet’s Coffee, Emeryville, Calif., 1989-2016.

COMMUNITY SERVICE: A portion of every bag of retail coffee sold is donated to Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance in northern New Mexico; Cutbow Coffee is official coffee sponsor of the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s annual Maravilla fundraiser.


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