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Nick Badovinus

Our inaugural Rye 51 release, featuring a world-renowned chef and restaurateur.

For our inaugural interview, we had the pleasure of meeting with Nick Badovinus, a prolific restaurateur and chef.

In our hometown of Dallas, Nick has produced some of the finest restaurants the city has known. And he's now working on an all-new concept, Town Hearth, set to open in the city's Design District over the coming weeks.

We visited Nick in the unfinished space to capture his thoughts about the industry, starting a creative business, and finding oneself at the center of a social world.


Matt Alexander: You’ve been recognized as one of the top chefs and restaurateurs in the city. (If not the country.) How did you get into the world of food and hospitality?

Nick Badovinus: I grew up hunting, fishing and chasing crab around the Pacific Northwest.

In doing so, I discovered the wonderful social value in knowing your way around the kitchen and, importantly, that I have some skills putting people and food together.

While in college I loved throwing dinner parties and cooking for friends. We always had a hell of a time. I immediately knew what I wanted to do with my life.

In doing so, I discovered the wonderful social value in knowing your way around the kitchen and, importantly, that I have some skills putting people and food together.

MA: Once you’d had that realization and made that decision, how did you get into the industry? Walk me through the early moments of your career.

NB: Before I enrolled in culinary school I wanted to see if I liked the business. (And, more importantly, the business liked me.)

I moved to Sun Valley, Idaho from Seattle and got a gig at a small little French restaurant called Mango. The chef/owner was a crazy fun French guy named Christian Lamont. I skied when I could and worked prep all winter.

In the spring I went to culinary school in Portland, Oregon. As part of the program, I needed to find a six week unpaid internship.

So, through a connection with Lucchese Boots, I was introduced to Dean Fearing. I had always loved Southwestern and Mexican flavors and was stoked to learn from the best. Not knowing what was to come, I packed up my gear and drove to Dallas to work at the Mansion on Turtle Creek.

MA: When did you make the leap and start your own restaurant? Obviously you’ve gone on to build quite a few, but I suppose I’m curious if it’s always been the same process. Or did you make any formative mistakes in the earliest moments?

NB: I left Consilient restaurants on December 31, 2007.

I then started FlavorHook in the first week of January without a location, name, or money lined-up.

I did know what kind of restaurants I wanted build, what I wanted to cook, and had a solid plan concerning how to get there, though.

The process was an immersive and obsessive one. It still is now.

When I opened Neighborhood Services in the fall of '08 I was essentially broke. The world was falling apart and everyday the news was bleak.

But I knew if we held firm to our vision, executed our plan, and took care of the customer the right way, we had a shot. That little shop was for all the marbles and it was was scary.

I knew if we held firm to our vision, executed our plan, and took care of the customer the right way, we had a shot.

Anyone that has had some success has also had some failures and made some mistakes. I am no different. In terms of my process, however, it's still the same.

I've learned some tough lessons and definitely created a better editing process and maybe a more team-oriented point of view. I had to learn to trust a little more, share a little more, and give up a few things.

MA: Now, you've just opened Montlake Cut. From a small spot, Neighborhood Services has expanded quickly. What’s next for you? Do you think you’ll ever expand beyond restaurants?

NB: When we have something about to debut like Town Hearth, it's hard to see beyond it on the day-to-day. It's our biggest project and we're excited to get it out of port full speed ahead.

Beyond that, we have a great partnership with Omni Hotels on a couple of projects coming up as well.

We are also far down the road on a pair of new spots slated for the next 16 months. We also plan on moving into a small niche retail business that has been in development for years.

So, in brief, I'd love to expand beyond it someday but right now it's all food and beverage!

Nick exploring his forthcoming restaurant, Town Hearth, in Dallas' Design District.

MA: Do you expect to move beyond the bounds of North Texas? Or is this home now?

NB: North Texas is such a big place with tons of great customers and neighborhoods. Not to mention that it's growing at such an amazing clip.

We certainly have eyes on opportunities in other markets but our plans are really about keeping it close to home.

MA: You're about to open Town Hearth. Can you share a little more about the concept?

NB: We are really excited about it. It's our biggest project to date. We've been putting it together for a couple of years.

The soul of the place radiates from the wood burning grills and oven. It's a wood-fueled, premium protein-centric throwback kind of spot.

A mixed tape of big flavors, big meats prepared in a straightforward and very primal manner.

The room is an intersection of refined and rustic that oozes personality. Vintage touchstones. Concrete slurry finished walls. Soapstone surfaces. 3-inch thick reclaimed East Texas heart pine table tops sourced from an armory in Texarkana. A couple of motorcycles. A '61 MG. Racing red leather booths. And, of course, a 2000 gallon fish tank.

So, you know, the basics.

A couple of motorcycles. A '61 MG. Racing red leather booths. And, of course, a 2000 gallon fish tank. So, you know, the basics.

The drinks assortment is red wine heavy, whiskey-forward and classically oriented.
The team is natty styled in custom shirts by the fine folks at Rye 51. (Editor's note: Oh, hey. That's us.)

We cannot wait to get cooking and taking care of customers.

MA: Well, Nick, thank you for being our guest for our inaugural release. We hope to have you back one day.

Nick Badovinus

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