Albuquerque’s newest eatery, the vegan-based burger-and-fries joint Lucky Goose started out with a change meeting. Melissa Timmons is from Los Lunas. Raphael Guillen is from Los Angeles. The two crossed paths when Guillen was on a road trip from LA to Ohio to visit his mom. As he puts it, the two crossed paths in Albuquerque and, “It just kind of worked out.” Timmons eventually moved to Los Angeles where Guillen worked in the solar industry. “I’ve always been into renewables and environment,” says Guillen in the bright an open dining area of his newly opened Nob Hill eatery. “I feel like there’s a lot of opportunity in things that focus on bettering the environment.” But COVID soon hit and killed off Guillen’s solar business. The couple took their savings and moved back to Albuquerque in 2021, living in an RV in Timmons’ parents’ driveway in Bosque Farms. They started thinking about what to do with their saved-up nest egg. “In LA we had originally wanted to start a New Mexican restaurant,” recalls Guillen. “But in LA it’s hard. When you market something as a New Mexican restaurant, they think it’s a ‘new’ Mexican restaurant as opposed to ‘New Mexican’ food.” New Mexico didn’t need any “new” New Mexican restaurants, so the couple decided to go vegan.
“I’ve been vegan/vegitarian for a long time,” says Guillen. “So we found someone who was building trailers custom, and we went out and put a deposit down on one.” Still unclear on what their food truck concept would be, the couple got a lifeline from Timmons’ brother.
“My brother is a big part of Yucca Little League in Bosque Farms,” she says. The Little League park there had experienced problems running its concession stand. Timmons’ brother asked if she and Guillen wanted to try it out. “We took it on in full force,” says Timmons. While selling hot dogs and nachos in Bosque Farms, the couple found themselves inspired. “In that time we started developing the burgers as far as sauce, all the components, the right bread,” says Timmons. The couple “saved, saved, saved” the money they made in Bosque Farms and used it to pay off their custom-built food trailer. Then they refocussed on their idea for a vegan food truck.
“In Los Angels there’s a lot of plant-based foods. It’s very common. It’s not necessarily common here,” says Gullien, who wanted to focus not on salads and wraps, but on burgers and shakes—or as Timmons puts it, “the things that we miss” from back in LA. In general Guillen found the vegetarian/vegan offerings in New Mexico somewhat lacking. “If you go, someone’s making a black bean burger. No offense to a black bean burger, but we wanted to feel like we were eating a greasy, craveable burger. That was the goal.”
“We tasted everything. We tried all the plant-based cheeses we could find, we tried all the burgers,” says Guillen. “We were looking for a certain taste. Me, being from California, the Lucky Burger is basically like a California-style burger. When we made this burger, it was OK, this is the burger that I grew up eating. But just our own version of it. Then, there’s these New Mexico elements. There’s a spicy element and then a sweet element, and then you get some green chile in it, grilled onions in it.” Guillen worked on the “Lucky Sauce” that tops every Lucky Burger “for, like, six months.”
Despite the burgers-and-fries concept, Guillen assures that, “For us it’s plant-based everything from start to finish.” The couple even debuted the Lucky Goose food trailer at a plant-powered event. “In Albuquerque there’s a pretty big vegan community. They have these plant-powered events where everything’s all vegan,” explains Guillen. At its debut event, Lucky Goose “had a line for, like, 45 minutes to an hour long just to order. It was just me and Melissa, flipping burgers. We were exhausted in the end, but we started to build our reputation that way.”
The couple soon rented a warehouse space, installed some tables and added milkshakes to the menu. The food trailer showed up at breweries around the city. Their business—and reputation—only continued to build. According to Timmons, “We were getting calls constantly: Are you open? Do you have milkshakes on the trailer?” Unable to stock enough food in the trailer for demand, the couple sold out on a daily basis.
According to Guillen, “People don’t necessarily understand running a food truck is very labor intensive. It’s a lot of hard work. Have you ever gone camping in a trailer? All the setup for that? That’s basically every single day that you’re going out there. Making sure there’s propane. And then there’s always mechanical issues. You’re always fixing things, always doing something. It’s exhausting.”
That’s what drove the couple to set up a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Nob Hill. Their current space was previously occupied by Elaine’s Restaurant. The couple describes the original space as “dark” and built for fine dining. “We just came in and we gutted it. And we just figured it out as we went along,” says Guillen. “We spent way more money that we thought we would.” Also, “way more time than we thought we would,” adds Timmons
Although the couple has yet to match the salary Guillen saw in California’s burgeoning solar industry, money is no longer their sole goal. According to Timmons it’s about making customers happy. In its opening weekend, just after Thanksgiving, Lucky Goose sold the entire week’s allotment of shakes in just a day and a half. So it looks like there are plenty of happy customers. Guillen is grateful. “It’s very rewarding knowing that what we’re doing, people enjoy it and they appreciate it. And they want to come back and see it succeed.”
Lucky Goose is located at 3503 Central Ave. NE. It’s open Friday through Sunday noon to 8pm and Monday through Tuesday 4 to 8pm. For more info go to facebook.com/luckygoosenm/ or lucky-goose-llc.square.site.