November 25th, 2009

The Story Behind Nick's

Saving Spots with a Taco Shop: Nick’s Way or the Highway

nick-fasanella.jpgYou’ve heard of Nick’s Crispy Tacos. Now meet the Nick behind Nick’s… Nick Fasanella, a transplant from Connecticut and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. After spending years as a private chef on a yacht and traveling through Central America and Mexico, Nick arrived in the Bay Area in the late 90′s… bringing with him his love of the baja taco.

What is the real story behind Nick’s Crispy Tacos? What is the inspiration behind “Nick’s Way?” Oh, and did you know that the Taco Shop at Underdogs is the real spot for Nick’s crispy tacos… as in Nick Fasanella’s crispy tacos?

How did Nick’s get its start?
Nick’s was my first restaurant and I had a great time with it.

I started bartending for Pesce in 2000. That’s when I met the manager of Rouge, this cat, Scott Thompson. They were in violation of their liquor license by not serving food. So Scott asked me if I knew somebody that would want to take over the kitchen. And Rouge at that time was this dirty night club. Nobody is going to eat in there.

I got home that night and I decided I was going to open a taquería. I was up all night. I called up Scott at 6 in the morning. “Call your boss, I’m going to put a taquería inside of your nightclub.” And five days later, we were open.

It was a homerun. We did $660 dollars the first day in July 2002. Business grew by $1,000 a week for the first ten weeks. It was a blast.

But, in that whole freestyle, really easy way to get in the business, I neglected to do any contracts with my partner (unnamed here). And he totally took advantage of that. We did everything on a handshake. We were supposed to be 50/50 partners.”

What happened?
The lawsuit slowed everything down for a bit. I dropped a lawsuit on my partner for partnership accounting. And it just snowballed… I was doing a pizzeria but was dropped with another lawsuit. And it was a complete disaster. Trying to be creative but having the life kicked out of you at the same time. It was awful. So I put up the pizzeria for fire sale [and left Nick's].

What did you do next?
I got a call from Paul at Tortilla Heights. “Will you help me out over here?” So I was able to turn them around. I also [helped out with] La Spiaggia, a little Italian delicatessen in North Beach. We named it “La Spiaggia” which means “the beach” and then all the sandwiches were named after beaches. So there were 13 specialty sandwiches, which is the luckiest number in Italian.

I grew up Italian, trained French, but I love Mexican.

How did you get involved with Underdog’s?
I came out here (the Sunset) and it was a ghost town. The neighborhood didn’t have a taquería. They were serving bad wine food. The place was disorganized and dirty. My buddy Doug brought me in to help him out (with Underdog’s) and it worked out well for both of us. And was able to take them 5x revenue in 5 months.

It has been fun out here. It has been refreshing meeting people who don’t have the whole entitlement thing going.

This woman came in and I asked how she heard about us. She said, “I got a text from my neighbor saying that you just moved to the neighborhood and I think our property value just went up.”

It was another good story. Saved a couple of places with taco shops.

What is the story behind Nick’s Way?
Might as well give them props, it was from La Taquería. They are the home of the crispy tacos, but they don’t advertise it. I was eating La Taquería twice a week. And one day the owner’s son was filling in at the register.

He said, Hey man, you really like these tacos.

How come you never order one with cheese and guacamole?
‘They’re good the way they are.’

Well, you should try them the way I like them.
‘How’s that?’

Crispy with cheese and guacamole.
‘Who doesn’t like cheese and guacamole. Hit me!’

I now know what I want to do! Fish tacos. Crispy tacos. Keep it simple!

What’s next?
I’d love to bring this food worldwide. I really like New Orleans. Tokyo, Milan, Paris, San Francisco. I was thinking New Orleans, but I think I need a little more of a head of steam. I think it would be easier to have LA built. That would be another good coup. In 2005, we got voted Best Taquería in San Francisco by the Weekly. And that proved if we could do it here; it proved we could do it there.

In the beginning when I opened up Nick’s, it was a perfect circle. You do something you enjoy. Your customers enjoy it. And you make a project. There’s really nothing better than that.

When he’s not out bike riding or hanging out on his houseboat in Sausalito, you can meet Nick at the Taco Shop at Underdog’s. Pull a stool up to the bar to hear the complete story.


The Details:taco-shop-at-underdogs.jpg
   The Taco Shop at Underdog’s
   1824 Irving St (at 19th Ave)

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