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Owners continue to expand Spa City restaurant – and its community outreach

Outlook

Owners continue to expand Spa City restaurant – and its community outreach

Cantina continues to evolve
Owners continue to expand Spa City restaurant – and its community outreach
Cantina Restaurant owners Jeff and Heath Ames inside their restaurant on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, February 7, 2019.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

2018 was a big year for Heath and Jeff Ames, owners of the Saratoga Springs-based Mexican restaurant, Cantina.

The couple doubled the size of their business by relocating it from the original 4,000-square-foot location at 430 Broadway to the former space of Lillian’s restaurant, which closed at the end of 2015 following a more than 40-year run.

“We had nothing but success at the original location, but we had outgrown it,” Jeff said. “We wanted to be able to offer more, do more with the menu and provide a better experience for our valued customers.”

He added that the stars aligned when the former Lillian’s space at 408 Broadway became available just 100 feet away.

“Since it was previously a restaurant, the footprint scaled well with what we wanted to do,” Jeff said. “It gave us more functionality across the board and the functioning space of Cantina doubled.”

Not only is the new location able to accommodate more customers, but the size of the bar has also doubled, giving the couple the opportunity to offer 150 different tequilas and mezcals, a distilled alcoholic beverage made from agave.

ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER  
Cantina Restaurant owners Jeff and Heath Ames inside their restaurant on Broadway in Saratoga Springs on Thursday, February 7, 2019.
ERICA MILLER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Cantina Restaurant owners Jeff and Heath Ames inside their restaurant on Broadway in Saratoga Springs on Thursday, February 7, 2019.

“The old Cantina space was an English pub before and we redesigned it to look like a Mexican restaurant, but we got to build this from the ground up,” he said of the new location. “It’s much more thoughtful and stylized like the Mexican restaurants we loved on the West Coast.”

Jeff and Heath met in San Francisco at Jeff’s restaurant, The Blue Light, in 1993. They moved to New Zealand after their first child was born and eventually settled in Heath’s hometown of Saratoga Springs to be closer to family.

“We noticed a lack of Mexican restaurants and with my background managing restaurants and Heath’s marketing background, [going into business together] was doable for us,” Jeff said. “I always tell couples contemplating going into the restaurant business together that there’s an art to it.

“It takes practice, patience and daily diligence, and for us it’s worked out fantastically.”

Jeff said he’s drawn to the day-to-day grind of the restaurant business.

“There’s so much that goes into it – finding quality people and keeping them happy, offering fresh, high-quality food and keeping the space in top-notch condition,” he said.

Heath added, “And you’re doing it all in the public eye, because we’re open seven days a week, so it’s like having 1,000 of your closest friends stopping by every day.”

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Aside from the daily grind of the restaurant business, the couple is also active in the community.

Jeff is active with Jake’s Help from Heaven, an organization that assists children and their families who are affected by serious illnesses, and serves on the board of trustees for the Saratoga Regional YMCA as well as the city’s Downtown Special Assessment District Board.

Heath is on the Saratoga Hospital Foundation Board as well as its Flower and Fruit Mission, which supports women’s health services at the hospital.

Together, they’ve raised approximately $500,000 for the pediatrics department at Saratoga Hospital by hosting the Cantina Kids Fun Run every June for nearly 12 years.

Their passion for helping the hospital stems from their daughter, who has special needs.

“We feel passionate about giving back to the community that has supported us,” she said.

The couple also hosts “Cantina For A Cause,” which lets local nonprofit organizations net 33 percent of the sales garnered throughout one day during the winter months.

“We’re closing in on $100,000 given to local organizations,” Heath said.

This year has given the Ames’ new opportunities to look forward to as the new restaurant space has allowed them to reinvent their business.

“It’s reengaged us with new challenges and a bigger staff,” Heath said. “We’re learning through this first year what this business is now evolving into.”

The next phase of Cantina, according to the couple, is to open an event space on second floor and a rooftop bar on the top deck.

“We’re learning through this first year what this business is now evolving into,” Heath said. “It’ll keep us engaged with new challenges and aspects to the business that we didn’t have the potential for before.”

The Ames’ said one of their biggest challenges is keeping the business fun and fresh.

“We’re always trying to improve and we’re always tweaking it to make the experience better for our customers and employees,” Jeff said. “It’s one of those businesses that is never finished.”

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