Ryder and Matt Pawling
Ryder and Matt Pawling
Photo by Brian Feinzimer

On the Line: Matt Pawling Of Nacho Nation

Chefs, restaurateurs, small business owners, etc. My interviews aren't restricted to one industry type. Case in point: Nacho Nation's Matt Pawling. This caterer, father and soon-to-be storefront owner juggles many hats. But what he wants readers to learn about are his kick-ass nachos.

Why nachos?
Why not nachos? Who doesn't love nachos? Nachos are normally made with the same formula like chicken or steak and sour cream and guacamole. We want to change that and bring a lot of new ideas to the table, and take a classic dish and just turn it up a few notches. Pastrami nachos, pizza nachos and Philly cheese steak nachos are just a few of our creations.

Weirdest customer request (and did you do it?):
The weirdest request was calamari. I love fried calamari, so I was into it, but I didn't carry any calamari. I would love to make it, though. It sounds delicious! What I would consider is calamari or some lobster and a creamy chipotle mayo or some garlic butter.

Who are the other friends in the Nacho Nation project, and how did you all meet?
The other two fathers are Erik Castelanos, my high school friend growing up, and Dominique Williams, who is a good friend I met while working at a restaurant. He shared the same passion as me when it came to being an entrepreneur. We all wanted to create something unique and fun, so we came up with Nacho Nation.

Culinarily speaking, Orange County has the best:
They have the best followers and foodies. The scene is very diverse here with all walks of life looking for the next thing to try. I think noodles like pho or poke bowls are very popular right now, but there's definitely no Nacho Nation.

Tell me about the proteins you use.
All the shrimp, steak and pork are all top quality meats marinated and seasoned to perfection. It took months of trials and many taste tests to create our menu.

Favorite meal growing up:
Hands down, my all-time favorite would be pizza [Editor's Note: It's also the food he can't live without, so we're including his response to that question as well.]! I loved pizza growing up, and til this day, that was the inspiration for my L.A. Pizza Nacho we created. It was featured on Insider Magazine and voted to be best creation at Oozefest by Foodbeast.

I think pizza was a little bit of my inspiration for the nachos. They put everything on pizza nowadays, and it's just missing the crunch. Therefore, nachos need the same love pizza gets. Who doesn't love nachos?

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Orange County. Love this place because it is really close to the beach, the mountains and the weather is always great.

We hear there's a French fry option; what type of fry do you use?
Definitely. There's also a dessert option with cinnamon sugar chips topped with caramel or chocolate, as well as numerous other toppings. Our fries are crinkle cut; I just love the crunch and texture you get from crinkle cut fries. They've always been my favorite cut of fry. We may offer onion rings or tater tots as an option down the road.

Favorite places to eat.
Two Saucy Broads Pizza is amazing. I love Bruxie's waffles. They are my favorite, especially the PB and J version they created. Popbar is so good also, and I love the toppings and the whole idea.

Tell me about the reality show concept.
I love Mark Wahlberg and what he's doing with Wahlburger. I love cooking shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Shark Tank and Billion Dollar Buyer; they are inspiring shows. Stackin' Chips would be the name of our reality show, and it would be part cooking show, part behind-the-scenes and part entrepreneurial. It would show friends and partners working hard to develop our brand, and the steps it takes towards building a new endeavor. It also would show the ups and downs, the struggles and the accomplishments of starting a business.

Best culinary tip for the home cook:
Have fun! Cooking is just an expression, like art. Just have fun and make food you would love to eat. And if you don't know how to make it, just go for it. You never know what you might create.

Tell me about your trial run.
Our trial run was at Angel's in Anaheim. This was a great opportunity to stretch our wings and try our nacho creations while getting a chance to learn and perfect the formula. The real setback here was that it was a male-driven, 21 and older environment that limited our exposure to all demographics, but a great learning experience. People really gravitated to our nachos being served from a pizza oven and served on large pizza trays, perfect for sharing. The favorites were the L.A. Pizza Nacho and the $1,000 Dollar Nacho, which was inspired by In-N-Out.

Are you available for catering?
Although that's not our main goal or focus, we have catered a few events and would not be opposed to it. We aim to be more like a fast casual nacho bar, delivering quality nachos like you've never had.

Where was your most recent meal?
I had an amazing chicken Parmesan and Caesar salad. The chicken was so juicy and tender with a great crust. A chicken Parmesan nacho? (laughs) I think we inspired Sergeant Pepperoni's lasagna nachos they revealed at Foodbeast's Noods Noods Noods noodle event. We were very fond of each other at Oozefest.

When do you want to launch?
We would've loved to have launched early 2017, but it might be summer or fall. It just depends on us securing the funds and resources to make that happen. We are very eager to bring Nacho Nation to life as soon as we can.

Where do you want to set up shop?
Orange County, for sure. I was born and raised in Anaheim, California, so I would love to start where my friends and family can enjoy what we're building. With starting a new business, we could use all the help we could get with the launch. Right now, we're looking at the Anaheim Packing House and the Main Place Mall. However, we are considering and open to other locations.

You're making breakfast; what are you having?
Breakfast quesadilla with marinated strip steak, onions, peppers and cheese in a flour tortilla and a side of avocado. Another choice of mine would be a churro waffle, keeping it simple and sweet.

Last song playing on your radio:
Bawitdaba by Kid Rock. I was having a flashback, and that song always made me energized. Perfect song for working out or rocking out to.

Last thing you looked up online:
Floating. I'm not sure if that's the right terminology, but the floating water therapy. I would love to try it; it sounds interesting and amazing at the same time.

What did you go to school for originally? And do you have any restaurant industry experience?
I went to A.I.L.A. (Art Institute of Los Angeles) out of high school on a scholarship for multi media. I always wanted to be a director. As far as restaurant experience, my first job was at Spoons as a host. And then I worked at many other restaurants for over 10 years gaining experience in every aspect of running a restaurant. My dad got me into cooking when I was about 10 years old. Through that experience I learned how to cook, and thought it was cool, which led me to where I am now. My love for art and creating as well as my love for eating inspired me from there.

Last book you read or movie watched.
Horrible Bosses 2. It's one of my favorite movies. I love Jason Bateman; his sense of humor just gets me.

Hardest lesson you've learned:
If you quit you will never succeed; everything worth having takes time, effort and energy.  If you want something, you have to sacrifice a lot to make it happen. Nothing comes easy, so you just have to push forward no matter the situation.

What's your favorite childhood memory?
Being a part of Gwen Stefani's I'm Just A Girl video shoot. Gwen's from Anaheim, too. I was good friends with her cousin growing up and we got to be on set of her video. She was an awesome person. Later on in life, I got to spend Thanksgiving dinner with her and Gavin Rossdale. They took us all to go see Toy Story after we had dinner. It was very generous of her to do. I hope to one day run unto her again and see if she remembers that day. I would never forget that memory. It was definitely a highlight.

What is the next step for you in opening the brick-and-mortar?
Securing proper funding. Therefore, we are looking for investors. We have options to partner up with a local bar or take over an existing location in the mall. Unfortunately, we have not made any solid decisions on that yet. If you or anyone is interested in investing, we are open to working with someone who can see the vision.

The best way to learn about Nacho Nation is via their website.

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