March 24, 2013 in Features, Travel

‘Breaking Bad’ good for Albuquerque

Russell Contreras Associated Press
 

Bryan Cranston as Walter White at the fictional restaurant “Los Pollos Hermanos” in “Breaking Bad.” The place is actually a Twisters burrito restaurant.
(Full-size photo)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A fast-food burrito chain in Albuquerque has become an international tourist attraction as people come from all over the world to see the spot where a fictional drug trafficker runs his organization. A pastry shop sells doughnuts topped with blue candy designed to resemble crystal meth. A beauty store has a similar product: crystal blue bathing salts.

As “Breaking Bad” finishes filming its fifth and final season in Albuquerque, the popularity of the show is providing a boost to the economy and creating a dilemma for local tourism officials as they walk the fine line of profiting from a show that centers around drug trafficking, addiction and violence. “Breaking Bad” follows the fictional Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned meth lord.

Albuquerque has seen an unexpected jump in tourists visiting sites from the show and local businesses cashing in on its popularity. Tourists are also flocking to sites that before the show were unknown and unimportant: the suburban home of White, played by Bryan Cranston; a carwash that is a front for a money-laundering operation on the series; a rundown motel used frequently for filming; and the real-life burrito joint, which is a fast food chicken restaurant on the show. The Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau has even created a website of the show’s popular places to help tourists navigate, and ABQ Trolley Company sold out all its “BaD” tours last year at $60 a ticket.

“They ask if they can take pictures. They ask if Gus is here,” said Rachel Johnson, 19, a shift manager at the Twisters burrito restaurant in Albuquerque’s South Valley, referring to the show’s character Gus Fring, played by actor Giancarlo Esposito. The eatery has served as the location for the “Los Pollos Hermanos” restaurant where Fring runs his drug operation on “Breaking Bad.”

Debbie Ball, owner of The Candy Lady store, sells blue “Breaking Bad” meth treats – sugar rock candy that looks like the meth sold on the show. Ball provided her candy as props of the show in the first two seasons and said she has sold 20,000 bags of the stuff at $1 apiece. She also launched her own “Breaking Bad” limo tours this year with a driver dressed as Walter White.

“The show is amazing,” said Ball. “I don’t live too far from Walter White’s house.”

A pastry shop called the Rebel Donut has among its specialties “Blue Sky” Breaking Bad doughnuts, pieces decorated with blue rock candy. And the Great Face & Body shop recently developed a new line of blue bath salts called “Bathing Bad.”

Meanwhile, Masks y Mas Mexican folk art store near the University of New Mexico sells papier mache statues of La Santa Muerte – Mexico’s folk Death Saint who counts drug traffickers among her devotees. During the chilling opening scene of the show’s third season, a pair of cartel assassins is shown crawling to the saint’s shrine in Mexico to request some divine help.

“We provided the Santa Muerte statues for that shrine in that episode,” said store owner Kiko Torres. “The stuff now sells out all of the time.”

Tania Armenta, a vice president for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the city has seen positive benefits from the show’s popularity, from demands for tours to inquiries from other production companies seeking to film in Albuquerque. The Legislature also passed a bill this year that provides tax breaks to TV shows that film in New Mexico.

“It’s raised the visibility of the city,” said Armenta. “They are intrigued by the scenic images that they see.”

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