Horno Restaurant, A Place For Family

The Spanish word for oven is horno. For those who have spent significant time in the Southwest, adobe hornos can be spotted outside family homes, largely dormant throughout the year until it’s time to bake traditional pueblo bread for feast or holidays. 

Like many cultures around the world, the oven, the hearth, or the kitchen are the center of family activity and gathering. For Heather and David Sellers, owners of Horno Restaurant, who have spent their lives in kitchens and restaurants, it’s also a place of inclusivity and access to exceptionally crafted food.    

Chef David prepares the fried chicken at a kitchen station for the staff meal.

How It All Started

Many may remember David from his tenure as chef at Santa Café before opening restaurant Amavi with his wife, Heather. Eventually, David would establish and run the Street Food Institute, a small-business incubator and social enterprise for food entrepreneurs. Heather received her degree in social work and worked with kids in Santa Fe schools. The couple opened Horno in June 2021. With their background in high-end restaurants and helping others through nonprofit work in New Mexico, the name perfectly captures their life’s work.   

“When we came up with the concept of Horno, we wanted to create a different model for Santa Fe: excellent quality food without being crushingly expensive. We have a lot of fine-dining experience, but we wanted it to be accessible to everyone,” says David. 

The Marcy Street restaurant, whose motto is “Food for the People,” is located in the former home of Il Piatto, which shuttered permanently after the pandemic. The interior transformed into bright uniformity with spare décor and warm wood accents. In simple terms, it can be described as inviting without pretension.

“We want the customer to feel like they’re walking into somebody’s house, have a family experience, and feel the love of the household,” says David.  

The Atmosphere of Horno

It is a vibe that matches its playful menu: grilled octopus and Iberico ham, burrata Panzanella salad, fish sandwich, bouillabaisse for two, and lemon curd cake. “I crafted my ability to make great food at a not very expensive price. The fine dining scene has changed over time. It’s not what it used to be.”

A kitchen staff member prepares a salad at the kitchen station.

Like most professional kitchens, where the outside world is tuned out by cascading voices, printing order tickets, and music, staff often becomes family by proximity, fate, or choice. And as one would imagine, Horno’s family meal is central to its culture.

The Horno Family Meal

“Family meal is super important to us,” says David. “Creating a family culture in the restaurant with the front and the back of the house is one of the most important things to have. I put a lot of effort into making that food good and nourishing. We always wanted our restaurant to be a family environment, not only with staff but with our guests. Every day, we make a family meal. We all sit down as a family and eat; we always care to make something special for everyone.” 

Once a month, David would prepare Southern-style fried chicken for a staff meal. Among his many other “duties as assigned” is managing the restaurant’s social media accounts. 

“I posted a picture of the fried chicken on social media and our regulars picked up on it and asked us to do it at the restaurant. I tried it, and now we do it every other Wednesday, and it’s a phenomenal success. It literally tripled our business on Wednesdays.” 

Restaurants are curious places. Staff can become family, and those you serve and support what you do in return create a bond. And in small towns like Santa Fe, where we connect with people from around the world, there’s universality in places like Horno where terms like “local” and “tourist” are erased with one stroke of a home-cooked meal meant to be enjoyed like family.

Story by Gabe Gomez / Photography by Tira Howard

A hand scoops out taco filling with a spoon. Various taco elements laid out on a chef's table, including tortillas, rice, potatoes, peppers, and more.

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