Duran Central Pharmacy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a masterclass in surprise and delight. First comes the surprise: You step into a combination pharmacy-and-gift shop, where pharmacists stand ready to fill your prescriptions. But pass the racks of over-the-counter medications and kitschy trinkets, and you find the delight: homey, New Mexican food that can satisfy any craving.
“My first experience with Duran’s was being shocked,” said Yelp reviewer Nicole O., a longtime Duran’s customer. “Thinking, ‘Where are we gonna eat in this knick knack store?’ And then just being absolutely elated at the twist on New Mexican food that this little, literal hole in the wall inside of this pharmacy was offering to us.”
Nothing is more comforting than a secret that feels entirely your own. And while tourists and first-timers come to Duran’s for its quirky, 3-in-1 business model, they stay because of the food—which has remained the same since its founding in 1965.
Owner Mona Ghattas, who helped her father run Duran’s as a child, has worked hard to bring what regulars love about the restaurant to a new generation. Below, she shares four tips that have helped Duran’s evolve over time and cultivate a community as long-lasting as its menu.
1. Consistency breeds familiarity
Many chefs update their menus to revitalize their business and attract new customers. Duran’s has become a legendary destination by doing the opposite. Consistency has helped the restaurant create a devoted following for its rolled enchiladas, New Mexican-style chili, and their famous Torpedo—a homemade tortilla with mashed potatoes, red gravy, and melted cheese. “New Mexicans are very quirky. We land on a New Mexican fare that we like, and we swear by it. And whoever’s that is, that’s the ‘right’ way to make it,” Mona said.
By providing that sense of familiarity, Duran’s has also become a second home for its customers. Nicole—who has frequented the restaurant for 20 years—even relied on its bean burritos during her pregnancy cravings. “When you walk into some place that smells familiar, it brings you back to love,” Nicole said. “It brings you back to fullness. It opens your heart. And in this case, it makes you drool. That’s what going into Duran’s is—that moment of: ‘This is what I want.’ And I know it’s gonna hit the spot, and it’s never failed me.”
2. Keep what works and update what doesn’t
Every business can use a refresh to adapt to changing times. The key is keeping what works and updating what doesn’t. Duran’s may have preserved its menu for decades, but it evolved in other ways—mainly branding, marketing, and honing in on what makes them special.
“When I took over [from my dad], I realized that we really were falling by the wayside,” Mona said. “I wanted to keep the flavor of Duran’s. I wanted to keep the front end, but I wanted to update it and brand it… to make it a little bit newer, looking a little bit more updated. We started looking for more interesting merchandise, and we narrowed our pharmacy offerings to more apothecary, boutique-type pharmacy offerings. We didn’t change anything in the restaurant because that wasn’t really broken.”
3. Trust in your team
When the pandemic hit, and Duran’s could no longer offer in-person dining, teamwork and flexibility saved them. Mona gave her staff autonomy to make decisions and build an online presence, trusting in their digital expertise. Next, they made another savvy pivot to equip the business for takeout: closing one door and opening another.
“I’m not afraid of change. I embraced change, and that’s what we had to do,” Mona said. “We just got to work and we opened a back door. It used to be sort of a fire exit. We changed the door to make it an entrance so people could get their to-go orders or we could run it out to the car. But we knew we had to keep the quality the same. I was very adamant: We’re not gonna change anything except the container that you get your food in.”
4. Focus on collaboration, not competition
As an Albuquerque institution, Mona strives to be a good neighbor to both business owners and the community—donating to schools and stepping up during crises. This spirit of collaboration not only uplifts the entire economy, but it also builds goodwill for your business when times are hard.
“When you shop locally, more money stays in the community, so I think it’s very, very important to support local businesses,” Mona said. “If I’m strong, you’ll be strong. And if you are strong, I will be strong. I don’t consider other local businesses my competitors—I feel like they’re fellow collaborators, and I try to promote other local businesses as much as I can.”
Interviews by Emily Washcovick; photos of Duran Central Pharmacy on Yelp
These lessons come from an episode of Behind the Review, Yelp & Entrepreneur Media’s weekly podcast. Listen below to hear from Mona and Nicole, or visit the episode page to read more, subscribe to the show, and explore other episodes.
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