Nick Badovinus is a James Beard Award semifinalist in the category of restaurateur for his astoundingly popular restaurants Neighborhood Services, Off-Site Kitchen and the Tried and True. He is one of the hottest dudes in the Dallas restaurant business, and he lives in Kessler Park. Yet amid our neighborhood’s culinary renaissance, there is no restaurant here from Flavor Hook, Badovinus’ 5-year-old company.
Where is our Oak Cliff Neighborhood Services?
I’m always a little torn because it’s my sanctuary. Over there, I can be a customer. It’s nice to have a place to go where you’re just home. When I take the left on Sylvan and start going up the hill, I’m going home; I’m not going to work. It’s really nice to live there and not work there. Not that I would mind a live/work relationship, but it’s nice to have some separation.
So you love Oak Cliff, just like the rest of us.
It’s just got the best people in the city. My neighbors are all really wonderful. It’s a wonderful place to live. The topography is great. I love my house. It’s just a great place to be. It’s its own thing. The Cliff is just most wonderful in the ways I personally identify with.
Where do you like to eat in Oak Cliff?
El Si Hay… the corn man is… it’s my favorite place. It’s one of the reasons I moved there, honestly. We’ve been getting corn from there for a long time. It’s unique. It wasn’t part of my experience growing up [in Washington state]. I always bring out-of-towners there.
What other restaurants in the ’hood do you like?
Right across the street from the corn man is Bolsa. What they’ve done is fantastic. The food is consistently good; it always has a good vibe. What Spillers [Group] has done over there [Eno’s] is great. I like to hang out at Ten Bells. I like Nova…what Driftwood is doing is just phenomenal. Boulevardier is great … Oh, and I’m really excited for Jay Jerrier’s New York pizza to come. It’s going to be different.
Do we really need another pizza place in Oak Cliff?
You can never have too much. It’s totally impossible. And this is going to be different than any other place.
What restaurant would you like to see in Oak Cliff?
If you’re a serial restaurateur … I love restaurants. I think I’m far more fan-boy than expert. Going into a place that’s got a small footprint and is independent. If someone’s really got the confidence to look into their soul and produce a personal experience … it’s a very human-type deal. I love seeing people’s belief systems on display, and it takes great courage to do that.
What are you most proud of with your restaurants?
They’re all able to pay their own bills. That’s pretty great. Making good food isn’t the end; it’s a means. The definition of being in business is that it’s sustainable, and we have four very sustainable little joints, and a place where people can earn a living and take care of their families. [Flavor Hook employs about 125 people.] They’re able to pay for school or buy a motorcycle or do whatever is important for their happiness.
What makes your concepts so successful?
I wanted to create nothing of real scale but a federation of independently minded businesses that share some DNA, all built on a similar foundation. The skeleton is the same, but the flesh is very different. I’m very dedicated to the idea of creating your place. I want to create a neighborhood place. Everyone I worked for always had big ideas. I never worked anywhere that I wasn’t working for someone who had big ambitions and wanted to be at the top. It’s infectious. I don’t know how to be any different.
What’s next for Flavor Hook?
A second Off Site Kitchen. We want to connect the market with an easier distribution model, if you will. We’ve got to make that product easier to get. The space [on Irving Boulevard] is very tight. The sweet spot is between 60 and 100 degrees, where people will wait outside, and that’s about it. We’re committed to doing more Neighborhood Services. We’ve got tons of ideas. Ideas are the easy part; there’s never a shortage of ideas in the world, but I think a couple of them might be good ones. There’s a seafood business we’d like to do. A hoof-based protein business; a premium protein house. Pizza is always … it’s a siren song. I’m an enthusiast. I always try to do stuff that we’re naturally enthusiastic about. I won’t be offering a stir-fry deal. I’m not the one to bring authentic Peruvian to the market. Not my deal. We will do things that we have legitimacy to author. If we think we’ve got something to say in the marketplace, we will work for that.
Tell us about the James Beard thing. What was your reaction to being a semifinalist?
That’s a team deal. Everyone contributes to that. From line cooks to vendors, everyone associated with our company is a part of that. It’s a true team award, and it’s humbling to make it that far. It’s humbling to be a part of that. This is a team sport. What’s happening behind the bar is just as important as the service and what’s coming out of the kitchen … all of those things need to work for a restaurant to work. Our business models are sound, and I’m proud of that. But it’s not good food for the sake of doing good food. It’s a financial vehicle for people to have families and live their dreams.