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Young guns aim to make their mark

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Fresh crop of entrepreneurs are setting up shop on the Hill

By Carol A. Clark

The impression that it’s a battle to run a business in Los Alamos hasn’t deterred a growing crop of young entrepreneurs from returning to town after college to set up shop.

Melissa Paternoster, a Los Alamos native, purchased the Blue Window Restaurant in June. Paternoster is a graduate of Los Alamos High School and attended the University of New Mexico.

“I was born and raised in Los Alamos and have always loved it here,” she said. “In the past few years, I’ve worked off and on in various restaurants in both Los Alamos and Albuquerque while attending UNM. I started waiting tables at the Blue Window two years ago while in college. I always thought it was just such a neat little place. I thought the inside was just as cute as it could be and I thought the menu was unique and exciting. I also loved seeing and talking with all our regular customers that come in three or four times a week.”

Owning a restaurant was something she dreamed about but the idea seemed unrealistic, so she went the traditional route. In college she took business courses and set her sights on pursuing an environmental science degree.

The opportunity to purchase the restaurant arose during her last semester. Two weeks later she was at the bank signing off on a business loan. 

“When people find out that I’m the new owner, they usually ask, ‘what are you planning on changing?’  But I bought the Blue Window because I loved it. Over time, I would like to add my own touches on things, but I have no plans to change things drastically,” she said. “I would like to put on some special events, such as wine dinners, wine tasting and entertainment events.”

Another local entrepreneur is 18-year-old Christopher Davis. He owns Davis Photography.

“I graduated from Los Alamos High School last May and have been building my business through referrals,” Davis said. “This is a small town where everybody knows everybody and I really love it here. I will continue to run my business here even though I’m going to start college in Santa Fe.”

Davis specializes in artistic photography but also shoots weddings, family portraits and special events. He has established a Web site at www.davisphotography.dvrdns.org.

Jake Smith is another Los Alamos native that has started a local business. The 26-year-old went to college in Dallas and worked in marketing in San Francisco for four years before returning home. He is a broker for Los Alamos Properties.

“I feel a lot of people my age are coming back and doing things business related — so it’s fun to work with my own generation,” Smith said. “In a small town it’s all about networking and reputation. My goal is to provide my clients a smart, dedicated and hardworking approach to New Mexico real estate.”

Smith’s mother is Denise Lane, a longtime Los Alamos real estate broker, the owner of Hill Diner and a former county councilor.

Smith said he is especially lucky to have his mother for a mentor and proud to be a fourth generation New Mexico business person. The Smith family has owned businesses and commercial properties in northern New Mexico for the last quarter of a century.

Smith’s great-grandfather, Dick Speers, was a charter member of Los Alamos National Bank and opened Speers Department Store in 1947. It was the first department store in Los Alamos.