Albuquerque cashes in as 'Breaking Bad' locale
ALBUQUERQUE -- A fast-food burrito chain in Albuquerque has become an international tourist attraction for people who want to see the spot where a fictional drug trafficker ran 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 character Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned meth lord.
Albuquerque has seen an unexpected jump in tourists visiting popular sites from the show and local businesses cashing in on its popularity. The Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau has created a website of the show's most popular places around town to help tourists navigate, and ABQ Trolley Co. 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 Gus Fring, a now-deceased character played by actor Giancarlo Esposito. The eatery has served as the location for the "Los Pollos Hermanos" restaurant where Fring ran his drug operation on "Breaking Bad."
Debbie Ball, owner of The Candy Lady store, recently capitalized on the show's popularity by selling blue "Breaking Bad" 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.
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." (It's actually bath salt used to bathe, not the street drug also known as "bath salt.")
Meanwhile, Masks y Mas Mexican folk art store near the University of New Mexico sells papier-mâché statues of La Santa Muerte -- Mexico's folk Death Saint who counts drug traffickers among her devotees.
Tania Armenta, a vice president for the Albuquerque Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the city has seen benefits from the show's popularity, from demands for tours to inquiries from other production companies seeking to film there.
"It's raised the visibility of the city," said Armenta.
Still, tourism officials and business owners are quick to point out they are walking a fine line in trying not to promote the dark themes from "Breaking Bad." But their pride in the show taking place in Albuquerque -- and the money it brings in -- is often enough to offset their concerns.
Ball said the show doesn't glorify the drug war but rather educates the public on its dangers.
"Watch it with your children. Yes, it's dark," said Ball. "It actually educates you about meth, about making it and what actually happens to you when you walk down that road."