When Nick Melvin voluntarily furloughed himself from Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q last March, the decision would alter the course of his restaurant career and bring his identity as a chef, husband, and father into perspective. What began as a way for Melvin to reconnect with his children during the early days of the pandemic led to his successful burrito pop-up Poco Loco run from the family’s Lake Claire home. This spring, his pop-up opens as a restaurant, taking over the former Dish Dive space in Kirkwood.
After nearly a year of selling hundreds of handmade Tex-Mex breakfast burritos on Saturday mornings from his Lake Claire neighborhood driveway, Melvin opens Poco Loco in April as a takeout restaurant inside the tiny cottage space on College Avenue. But Melvin says a restaurant wasn’t in the cards when he began his pop-up last spring.
Like many parents at the start of the pandemic, Melvin and his wife Kristen were facing how they would balance their jobs and remote learning for their two young boys. Atlanta-area schools shut down in-person classes until further notice. Restaurant dining rooms went dark, including Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q in Candler Park. And companies across the country, like Kristen’s, sent employees home to begin working remotely.
Melvin, who also owns Doux South Pickles, and whose Atlanta kitchen resume includes Concentrics Restaurants and Venkman’s, says it was easier for him to step away from his chef duties at Fox Bros. than it was for his wife, a practice director for PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“I realized at that moment that I wasn’t really playing as good of a role in my family’s life and sharing the responsibilities as I should have been,” Melvin says. “I would get to dive back in and spend more time with the boys. That felt great.”
The honeymoon period, he recalls, soon transitioned into restlessness for the chef who has been working in restaurants since the age of 13. Melvin admits he’s never really been “good at vacations.” He needed to cook. After weeks of giving most of the food he was cooking away to friends, Kristen suggested he sell something. The idea for Tex-Mex breakfast burritos came from a friend in the couple’s quarantine bubble. Melvin thought Texas-style smoked meats would bring his burritos to the next level.
Poco Loco launched in May 2020, selling just 25 burritos during its first weekend. The pop-up now averages around 280 fresh and frozen burritos each week like barbacoa and egg, ramp chilaquiles, and the Pig Lebowski with Pine Street Market bacon and eggs from Georgia-based Moores Farm. Melvin also sells provisions such as charred salsa verde, chocolate chip cookies and Snickers balls, and fermented chile and wildflower honey. He drops weekly menus on Instagram. People order via email and pay using Venmo.
Melvin says he’s been approached throughout the pandemic about opening Poco Loco in spaces around Atlanta. It was either never the right moment or the right space. When Dish Dive closed in February, Kristen encouraged him to consider opening Poco Loco as a restaurant there.
“Kristen just knew. I’ve learned a lot about myself and myself as a chef this year. I tend to get in my head and get bogged down with the seriousness of food and feeding people,” Melvin says. “This year has taught me it’s ok to keep it simple and just make something people love and makes them happy. It’s fine. That’s how I intend to approach the restaurant. The space forces me to stay in my lane and not get too big.”
Opening for takeout only, Poco Loco will sell Melvin’s fresh and frozen burritos as well as batched salsas, fresh tortillas, prepared soups, cookies and cookie dough, coffee, and agua frescas. Seating will be available at picnic tables outside in front of the restaurant. Once up and running, Melvin plans to offer his burritos from a stand in the parking lot at the forthcoming Farm Burger in Virginia-Highland. If all goes well, he could expand the burrito stand pop-up to other Farm Burger locations in Atlanta.
For now, he’s just excited to be running Poco Loco as a family business alongside his wife. The Melvins want to keep the whole operation small with achievable expectations for themselves, their family, and two future employees.
“We want it to be where we can close for a week and pay the staff to take the week off for a vacation,” he says. “This restaurant doesn’t have to be a machine that has to keep running because we’re forced to. I want to pay people well and give them a chance to take breaks. It’s a luxury I was never afforded in this industry and now I have a chance to provide that.”
“The restaurant is just an extension of what we’re doing at the house right now, but this allows me to be away from home and be a chef and still be there for my children and for Kristen,” Melvin adds. “It allows me to feed people and be present as a dad and a husband. That’s really important to me.”
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be placed on the mailing list or to order for pick-up in the Lake Claire neighborhood on Saturday mornings.
Future Poco Loco hours: Thursday - Sunday, 8 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
2233 College Avenue NE, Atlanta. pocolocoatl.com.