Matt Pool on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, His Last Meal on Earth, and What Most People Don't Know About Coffee
This is part two of my interview with Matt Pool, owner of Matt's Big Breakfast and Giant Coffee. If you missed part one, where Pool explains what he learned from Chris Bianco and defends Phoenix as a food town, read it here.
Favorite thing to eat growing up: My late dad's special teriyaki burgers off the backyard BBQ grill.
Favorite thing to eat now: A really well done charcuterie platter with great breads and accompaniments.
Matt's Big Breakfast
What people don't really know about me is . . . My wife is waaaay more responsible for any of our success than I am.
Do you ever visit other famous breakfast restaurants around the country?: Not as much as you might think; usually, we try to sleep in! I love breakfast at Café Pasqual in Santa Fe, Sunday brunch at Zuni Café in San Francisco, and recently I had a really outstanding breakfast at Milo and Olive in Santa Monica.
Why did you decide to open a breakfast restaurant?: At the time, our son Christopher was 3 years old, and my wife and I were working completely opposite schedules. I was working until super-late six nights a week running Bar Bianco, and Erenia was working during the day for Marriott as the human resources manager for Camelback Inn: not a great recipe for family life. We felt for a city of its size, Phoenix was pretty short on mom-and-pop local restaurants, especially for breakfast. We were planning the restaurant for quite a bit, but only loosely looking at spots, when one day we saw a for rent sign go up on our dream space. We pulled the trigger that day and opened on a shoestring a few months later, hoping and believing enough people would be receptive to our version of a good quality breakfast that we could at least pay the rent.
What's the best part about running a breakfast restaurant?: Loyal regular customers -- without them, we couldn't stay so busy during the dog days of summer.
And what's the worst part?: There isn't a worst part.
Matt's Butter Burger, made with Niman Ranch beef
What's your guiding principle at Matt's?: That if we never compromise or take short cuts on quality ingredients and work as hard as we can at providing great and warm customer service, customers will continue to like us.
Why did you choose downtown for a location?: I love downtowns. I live downtown. Nothing against the suburbs, but they're just not for me.
Did it feel like a risky move at the time?: I didn't feel like it was that risky, but others sure did. Lots of people would tell me what a horrible location it was and wonder how anyone would find us. Once we became busy, and there were people outside waiting to eat, lots of people would tell me what a great location we had! I guess it's just a matter of perspective.
Has downtown changed since you opened?: The neighborhood has changed a ton. There are many more restaurants and businesses than before. Having ASU downtown has been a game-changer for the whole area. Our menu hasn't changed at all; our execution of it continues to improve all the time.
How much did you know about running a restaurant when you opened Matt's?: I've worked in restaurants or hotels since I was 14, so I had a bunch of experience, but I've no doubt had to learn tons along the way. Working in a restaurant and owning and operating your own restaurant are two very different things.
Where did you get your recipes?: Just trial and error over a couple of years of trying different things out. My wife and I really always just tried to develop recipes and a style of cooking based on we liked to eat, figuring others might like it too.
Were there any gigantic (or small but crucial) lessons you learned the first year at MBB?: Always buy new refrigerators if you can afford it. I think most restaurateurs will agree.
What kind of coffee research did you do before opening Giant Coffee?: We visited over a hundred coffee bars all over the country, both good and bad. Going to a bunch of places helped me determine what I didn't like and didn't want to do at our own shop. For me, research like that is the key to narrowing down exactly what your vision for a new place is. If you open up thinking you know everything, you don't.
When you opened Giant, did you feel like you were working with a completely different animal? Or did you feel you already knew the drill?: Not a completely different animal at all. Our goal has always been to focus like a laser on great ingredients and service. We use top-quality beans roasted by Four Barrel Coffee, Straus Organic Barista Milk, all organic produce and we bake everything in-house. It is a really expensive and serious commitment on our part, and it's what I hope sets us apart from other shops. It's always been our belief that the same model for Matt's should work for Giant Coffee, too.
What do most people not understand about coffee?: That great coffee starts with the fruit, not the roast. If you buy low-quality, cheap beans, it doesn't matter how you roast them, they won't taste good in the cup.
Erenia's house-made strawberry jam
You closed Roosevelt Tavern so you weren't burning the candle at both ends anymore, but somehow, I don't see this being it for you. Do you have other ideas you'd like to implement down the line?: We are focused 110 percent on growing Giant Coffee and continuing to make the best breakfast we know how at Matt's Big Breakfast. Someday soon, we're going to get the original [Matt's] building re-opened as an express takeout spot. We are also opening late summer at Sky Harbor, which we are super-excited about.
What was it like being on Triple D?: I was really nervous at first, but the entire Food Network crew and Guy himself were great to deal with, and we had a blast. It might seem nuts, but just to shoot our seven-minute segment took two 11-hour days, so we got to know them really well and have remained friends with all of them to this day. Guy has gone out of his way to include us in other things. He flew us to Sacramento to film The Best of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives at one of his restaurants, included us in two best-selling books, and put us on The Best Thing I Ever Ate. He didn't have to do all that, so we are forever appreciative that he did.
And did it forever change your business?: It's definitely been a great thing for us, mainly because the Food Network still runs the shows all the time even though it's been four years since filming. We were already a busy place when they found us, but being on DDD has really helped fill in the gaps and bring in an even larger audience. Ultimately, though, it's the locals and regulars customers that are our bread and butter.
Last meal on Earth -- what would it be?: Easy. Beef brisket, smoked sausage, German potatoes, green beans, plain white bread, and ice cold Dr. Pepper at Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas with my two favorite people in the world -- my son, Christopher, and my wife, Erenia. Anyone who appreciates great food needs to take my advice and make the pilgrimage someday soon.
Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Matt Pool of Matt's Big Breakfast Jared Porter of The Parlor Charleen Badman of FnB Tony Abou-Ganim & Adam Seger Charlotte Voisey of Best American Brands Ambassador Steve Olson of Valley Ho Dough Robson of Gallo Blanco Edward Farrow of The Cafe at MIM Greg LaPrad of Quiessence & Morning Glory Cafe Joshua Johnson of Kai Joshua Johnson of Kai Todd Sicolo of T.Cooks Josh Riesner of Pig & Pickle Lester Gonzalez of Cowboy Ciao M.J. Coe of Federal Pizza Steven "Chops" Smith of Searsucker Aaron Chamberlin of St. Francis Michael Rusconi of Rusconi's American Kitchen Chrysa Robertson of Rancho Pinot Lynn Rossetto of The Splendid Table Cullen Campbell of Crudo DJ Monti Carlo Pete DeRuvo of Davanti Enoteca Chuck Wiley of Cafe ZuZu Justin Beckett of Beckett's Table Bryan Dooley of Bryan's Black Mountain Barbecue Silvana Salcido Esparza of Barrio Cafe Jeff Kraus of Crepe Bar Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House James Porter of Petite Maison Johnny Chu of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles
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