Uncle T’s Sangwich shop co-owners Clinton Ellison III, left, and chef Thomas J. Montoya talk about the idea of opening a new restaurant in Rio Rancho; open since June, Uncle T’s has offered customers a unique take on the classic sandwich, as well as soups and small desserts.
(Stephen Montoya/ Rio Rancho Observer)

There’s a new “sangwich” shop in the City of Vision aiming to serve up food so good it will make you say uncle.

Uncle T’s Sangwiches, Stews and Coffee opened its doors at 1520 Deborah Road, Suite O,

in June and has been building on client base ever since.

The brain child of co-owners Rio Rancho native Clinton Ellison III and Head Chef Thomas J. Montoya of Albuquerque, Uncle T’s started out as an idea for a food truck but quickly evolved into a full-service restaurant.

“We wanted to add some local variety to the food scene,” Ellison said. “I grew up here and live here, and I wanted to offer a type of food I felt was under-served here.”

He said he thought the opportunity to open a restaurant was farther down the road but found that the location Uncle T’s is at now was affordable.

“We still want to offer a food truck, but we got a deal on this location and we couldn’t be happier with it,” he said. “We originally looked at a place on Southern (Boulevard), but the construction terrified us because we are just starting out and don’t have an established clientele.”

Uncle T’s Head Chef and co-owner Thomas J. Montoya prepares a brisket sandwich in the kitchen at the newly opened restaurant.
(Stephen Montoya/ Rio Rancho Observer)

Ellison and Montoya began renovations on the 1,800-square-foot space using reclaimed wood to decorate the walls.

Montoya, who takes care of most of the kitchen duties, said the pair bought all new kitchen equipment and invested what they could to make Uncle T’s a reality.

Ellison and Montoya are no strangers to the restaurant business, either. Both of them spent many years working in various capacities at several restaurants in Albuquerque, with Montoya being trained in culinary arts.

“It’s different now because the buck stops with us as the owners, as opposed to where we both worked before,” Ellison said. “Now everything lands on us, and we want to make a good impression. I mean, this is a dream come true to be able to do this.”

Montoya said he built the menu for Uncle T’s on specialty sandwiches and soups that locals wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else in the city.

“We try to do everything as much from scratch as possible,” he said. “At first, we were going to do a chalkboard menu and go day-by-day, but then we decided on making a small menu of constant staples.”

Montoya said there will still be a chalkboard menu based around whatever is in season, but now the restaurant has a set list of items customers can count on.

Montoya said his favorite is the chicken-salad croissant.

“We get a fresh croissant, add chicken salad made with fresh rotisserie chicken, walnuts, grapes, mixed bell peppers and fresh alfalfa sprouts,” he said. “This ended up being my favorite because it’s everyone else’s favorite.”

For now, Ellison and Montoya are the only employees, with a helper in the kitchen who gets called in from time to time.

“We are hoping to expand to having more employees in the future, but for now it’s just us running the show,” Ellison said.

This brisket sandwich is an example of the food at Uncle T’s.

Uncle T’s plans for expansion aren’t just in the kitchen: Ellison and Montoya hope to expand the restaurant’s hours and add a breakfast menu in the fall.

“We would like to do some brunches down the line and maybe some dinner and wine pairings, too,” Ellison said.

The vision for the restaurant, he said, is to be able to host private events and catering for large parties that come through Rio Rancho.

For now, Uncle T’s is focused on giving each new customer a unique sangwich experience.

Montoya said the difference between a sandwich and a sangwich is that a sangwich is made with love and a sandwich is just stuff thrown on bread.

“We grew up with my grandma calling them sangwiches,” Montoya said. “I don’t really know where it came from, but when she made us a sangwich, we felt loved and that’s what we want for our customers to feel.”

Uncle T’s hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and closed on Sunday.