Chef Matt Abdoo (Part Two)

In this episode of THE COMPANY WE KEEP podcast, Chef Matt Abdoo joins host Jason Pearl for a second episode. It's chock-full of great takeaways on leadership, balancing work and life, and walking away from money in order to stay true to yourself. Matt is about as authentic as any guest can get, and you're going to love hearing more of his story.

JASON PEARL: Hey everybody. Thanks for listening to another episode of The Company We Keep podcast. I'm your host, Jason Pearl. This is a podcast for everyday business owners, leaders, and entrepreneurs that want to think differently about growth and success, and want to find better balance in both business and in life.

Today's episode is part two of our two-part episode with my real good friend and celebrity chef Matt Abdoo. If you listen to episode one of this series, you're going to love what we have in store for you for episode two. So without further ado, let's hand it over to my interview with Matt.

Again, if you're not into the food scene, I'm going to lead us out Del Posto. If you say that anywhere, to anyone in the world, in a food scene, they understand where it is and what it's about. And you were the guy, right? Like you were the chef de cuisine there, you won awards there and you decided to basically give up this like really high-end position in the restaurant world, and highly thought of position to go into barbecue competition. And then to open up like a beer garden and a barbecue joint. So you're going from $800 loafers to t-shirt and jeans and eating food with your hands and lickin bones. Walk me through the thought process of how you decided to leave this industry, this one world and the restaurant industry, and go to something very opposite.

MATT ABDOO: You got it. All right, here we go. Let's strap in for this journey, cause this is a pretty good one. I was at Del Posto for almost nine years. I came there as a walk-in line cook, leaving Marco that we talked about earlier. I got to meet the executive chef of Del Posto. This gentleman by the name of Mark Ladner, who is again, another mentor in my cooking career. Absolutely incredible human being and super, super talented like cerebral chef that's out there. Nobody understands Italian better than Mark Ladner does. And for me to have the opportunity to work with him was a dream come true. He worked for Mario Batali. So I got this opportunity to muscle, my way to the door as a line cook, leaving Marco, where I worked for, I got to give a shout out to Mark Grafalis he was my, again, another mentor in my five years, but mark Ladner and Mark Grafalis grew up together, went to culinary school together and Lander would come up to Boston to do these guest chef dinners. And I got to meet him. And I got to a point in Boston where I felt I needed to immerse myself in deeper culinary waters. I gave Mark a call and he said, yes, come work with me. You're hired. It'd be awesome. Love to have you. So I left being the chef cuisine of this restaurant in Boston to go be a line cook at Del Posto because I wanted it so bad.

I knew I was taking a huge risk going to the big city of New York. It's a monster, but I worked from line cook to, to chef de partie to junior sous chef, to sous chef, to executive sous chef to chef de cuisine, and then after nine years of doing all of that, I was chef de cuisine for my last four years there, got to travel with Mario Batali, cook with Mario Batali, got to meet Emeril Lagasse, like all my idols and inspirations, Bobby Flay. And you name it. These people, I grew up sure. Analyzing my life. I got to meet them in my time here at Del Posto. And it was the greatest culinary experience anybody could ever ask for what I got when I went there, but I sacrificed a lot.

I would work six days a week sometimes. Work on my days off, I always wanted to separate separate myself from the pack. And I love this "Head, Heart, House" thing, because when you're in your mid to late twenties or early thirties, and you've just said, you're single and you don't have family or a child and children, yet, your house and your head and your heart could be completely different spaces than they are from you now. And I guess what I'm saying is that's what brings me to, what made me want to do this change was that I, when I left, when I started at Del Posto, I was 28. I was there for nine years. I left. I was 37. It just got to a point where I didn't want to do these 15 hour days anymore. I didn't want to have that stress and that pressure on me anymore. I was actually offered to take over for Mark Ladner, Mark Ladner was leaving after 11 years. The chef owner, executive chef and owner of that restaurant. He won a James Beard Award at that restaurant. Mark won every award a chef and win. A James Beard Award is basically an Oscar for a chef. It's like the biggest accolade. And he offered it to me when he left. And I just, I didn't want to do it. I was looking at a huge promotion, huge opportunity, a huge pay increase, and I was looking at all of it and I just. I just, I can't, I just, I don't want to do this anymore. And part of the reason was because I would have incredible friends like you, my family that would want to come in and support me and see me there. And I always felt so guilty that they'd come in there and it was minimum, like you just to walk in the door is a minimum 250 bucks a person to walk into this restaurant. I know that for many people, that's a special occasion meal. It's an engagement, it's birthday, it's a celebration, it's a wedding. Whatever the case may be and that's truly a special moment, but I would always feel so guilty when people that I love would come in going to be a four top in there and they'd end up spending $1,200 after tip. And that was with me hooking it up, that was with me comping things. And it's just messy. And it went back to what I wanted, when I was younger, it was just to be able to put smiles on people's faces. And I knew that I started barbecuing with my current business partner, one of my dear friends, Rob Shawger. Rob Shawger was an investor at Del Posto: successful finance guy, Wall Street guy, worked really well for himself. He would come to Del Posto. We're doing this big large feast for him for him. So I got to know him there. And then Mark Ladner and I wanted to go take a trip to Austin, Texas. So Shawger found out about this trip and he's I'm coming, so I'm like okay, great. So I met him, we bond on this trip. We went to all these iconic barbecue spit places. We became really good buddies on that trip and he's anytime you want to come out to the Hamptons, I have a house in Sag Harbor, and love to have you join me. We'll have barbecue and we'll have some fun just come and hang out. So I started doing that. I was, again, single, no obligations. Rob Shawger is actually the person that introduced me to my wife, which is another segue to the story. But we started doing that for fun. And then he's like we're pretty good at this. He, I got the chef de cuisine from Del Posto firing up my barbecue pits. It's it can't be that bad. In New York where we grew up, there's really no barbecue culture per se, Dinosaur Barbecue. This was first what's happened in upstate New York but there was no, New York barbecue culture just didn't exist. So we started doing these barbecue competitions. We started winning local competitions in Long island, Staten island. And then he says, I can get us into Memphis in May. Will you go, if I get us in, I was like, hell yeah, I'll go. Let's do this, the World Championship Barbecue Competition? I'm in. Sign us up. And our first year down there, we got second place with whole hog, and first place in poultry. In the barbecue world, that's a huge deal. And it's like when we got called that we finaled, which he mean we made the top three for whole-hog, it was literally like the record screeching, and being like like New York City. And it was just an incredible moment. We were onto something here and we're actually pretty good at this thing. And Rob was like, Matt, would you ever considered leaving Del Posto, and I was like, yeah. As a matter of fact, I've been thinking about that a lot lately. He says I have this great idea. I have this great spot. Why don't you use this momentum from our win in 2014 and use it as a pop-up. So my business partner Rob found this space in Gowanus, Brooklyn where we currently are in Pig Beach in Brooklyn.

And it's on the banks of the Gowanus Canal. Canal. Now those of you listening, the Gowanus Canal is historically the place where the mob used to dump the dead bodies and the guns. It was just in that movie The Irishman with Robert de Niro. Yep, sure. So he filmed a couple of scenes at our restaurant pretty cool. It's also superfund site, which means it's polluted beyond polluted. And that meant that seven years ago, when you first found this spot, you could get the real estate for really cheap. That's why you constantly, you're seeing all these restaurants popping up in these neighborhoods that are become gentrified, but aren't there yet. And we came here and Rob had this vision. I didn't. Bear in mind, I'm leaving a $16 million build-out restaurant kitchen to go to a parking lot. There was a broken gravel parking lot. It had cars on cinderblocks, barbed wire wound up like tumbleweed, dumpsters, all over the place. The place used to actually be parking lot for Halaal food trucks. So Rob says he, all I see is this mess of a parking lot, and Rob saw it. Clear it all out. Pave the lot, put some planters over there, we'll build a bar over there, we'll build a barbecue pavilion over there, get some string lights to hang up, going across the thing. And he had this vision, saw it. And I was like, all right, if you see that I'm in, let's do it. And I was like, I'm going to take a chance. I'm taking a huge chance, leaving this incredible prestigious position, leaving the opportunity to be the executive chef of a four-star New York times restaurant to say, you know what? I just want to try this barbecue thing and see how it goes. And we did it in the first year people loved it so much. And our, and to be honest, our barbecue, the first year, wasn't even all that good. But what people loved was the idea. They loved the space. They loved the feel. They love the ambiance. They love this fact that you had this fun family friendly, barbecue beer garden where you could get incredible barbecue and just hang outside with the family. To get back to the original question of this, what was the catalyst to have you leave super fine dining and go into barbecue? I think it was, I just got to the point where after I met my wife Megan, I wanted to be able to spend more time with her. And again, Jay I'm stealing the "Head, Heart, and House" thing. I love that. I absolutely love that. Because it, it just, it makes so much sense, particularly if we're looking at me in that moment, like my Head was still in the moment where I wanted to climb over the ladder and I want it to be whatever it was I was going to do.

I wanted to be a chef and partner of, or an owner of, I didn't work for anybody anymore. I had enough of that. My heart was now. I still love food. I still love cooking. I still love what I do. But now there's this woman in my life who I also love that I want to be spend time with. And I need slowed my life around that and then get my house in order to the point. I could bring all that together to still keep happy, to still get to do what I love to do, which is cook food and put smiles on people's faces, but you have to spend time at my wife.

JASON PEARL: The best part about that is, is two things. Is that number one, you were already feeling what you were feeling. You already hit a level of success, but you were feeling something different like when you're succeeding and you're numb to the success that you having, it's probably time for a change, right? Because you're just not experiencing the joy that it is. Ultimately, what you wanted to do is instead of having your friends come into your family, or even strangers that, and there's nothing wrong with going and having a $1,200 meal, if you could afford it, that special case, great. But it got back to the roots of who you are as an individual you said earlier on. Food makes you happy and you want to serve others by making them happy with your food. So what you did is you trusted your instinct, you trusted your skill and you trusted your heart, said no to money, accolades and status, and went after the life that you really wanted to live.


It's this story that we tell, and week after week when we have guests on, it's what we consistently hear specifically for an entrepreneurs, is that they had good jobs. They could provide. They had what most people would covet in a life, but they changed it to take a risk because it's what was going on in their Head, Heart and House. I think that you're such a wonderful example of that in the reason that I'd like to promote that so much is that it's not easy to walk away from money. It's not easy to walk away from status, for happiness. And what I've found in my personal journey with starting Nacre Consulting is the same thing you've found is that your happiness goes through the roof. It doesn't mean you don't have to still work, but your happiness went through the roof and then money followed. It wasn't there immediately. But if you do what you love and you're good at you lead yourself, your family and the people around you, the right way, the money will find its way back to you. And obviously we're going to talk a little bit about, you're going to open up a third location. We're post COVID and obviously I'm sure you weathered that did what you had to do, but happiness, serving others and making people happy through food is actually fulfilled all the dreams of your life: wife, kid restaurant. There it is. And I think that I don't want to gloss over that because the people that are listening may be battling with the same thing you battled with in 2015, 2016, when you started thinking about exiting Del Posto, I just wanted to recap that again and point that out. And as we move forward, kind of one of the next kind of quick things that I want to go over is the balance side of things, right? Because this is a podcast for leaders and entrepreneurs, business owners that want to grow, but also want to achieve balance in business and life. And in the restaurant world, as you said, it's not easy. So can you maybe quickly walk us through, like how you do your best to balance both being chef, owner, celebrity guy with being a husband and a father?

MATT ABDOO: I think Jay, honestly, I think that's probably the hardest thing that I deal with every single day on a day to day basis, is finding that balance. And the honest answer is that there are times when the restaurant will need a lot of my attention and I'll have to give it to it in order to continue make it succeed and successful. That gives me the opportunity to provide for my family, to fill the cycle of spending time with them, so that I can go back to work and make more money and then go spend time with my family. And I think what I've found, particularly since my son was born in the last four years, was having the set schedule as a chef is not really an easy thing to do. We're not the type of people that are nine to five. You punch in, punch out, you have weekends off. It just doesn't that world doesn't exist for us. But what does exist is that there are times when there are moments that you just say, oh ok, these are going to be the moments that I'm going to have with my family, and I'm going to stick to them and carve it out wherever I can get it. And whenever I have those moments, I'm going to make them count I'm going to make them really special. When I found within my lifestyle was that I don't typically have to go into work till later, because we've work evenings. So my mornings to me are something that are very sacred. I have bad habit, I'm sorry, my son sleeps me and that's the greatest thing in the world. And I know I'm not supposed to do that, but I can't stop doing it. So I love it. And it's my mornings where he wakes up. And he'll like he'll snuggle with me and then we'll go downstairs and we'll get the juice, make breakfast and be like truck tunes or trains or whatever it is that he wants to watch. And that's like our special time. 7:00 AM until 11:00 AM. Those four hours for me are really special and really important. So those are the times of day that I get to really spend the time with my son, obviously my, with my wife too.

But the other thing that's been great too, is we have this internet thing now. This FaceTime that allows me to just chat with my son, my wife, see them physically throughout parts of the day, even if it's just for a minute or two. But I think the most important thing that I've learned is just wherever you can, and however you can, balance is truly important to happiness and happiness is important to success for what I found in my mind. If you're not happy, then there's no way in hell. If I'm not happy at work. And there's no way in hell that I can give forth an image of me being happy to which in this hospitality, the service industry, you have to always be happy. You have to always be excited about people. You have to be always be excited to put a smile on somebody else's face, and that image, it's always top down. And that's one of the things that I think has been one of the biggest compliments that I give people that work with me is that they love that I've never in a bad mood. And that's a deliberate thing. That's something that I work really hard at to make sure that no matter what's going on in my life, even though I really try to keep everything positive so it just comes off naturally. Sure. No matter what's going on in my life. And there's a ton of stuff that goes on. But no matter what, that is, I always come to work with a smile on my face. I always say hello to everybody that walks in the door when they get here. And I always like engage in a little bit of a conversation, no matter what that is big or small, just to let people know that, like I genuinely care. I'm here. I'm excited. And I'm thankful that they're here today to work with me.

JASON PEARL: You know them, you see them and you understand what's going on in their world, which is one of the things that makes you a good leader. And it's why people want to follow, which is such a great story. And it's amazing. So it's like you said, stealing those little moments. It's reminding me what we talked about earlier. It's like flipping pancakes with your dad back when you were a kid, right? Yeah. So there's little moments that you can steal to create your own level of importance together and create your own thing.

MATT ABDOO: I've never really seen it from that sort of side, but that must've been like ultra special for my dad too, because like I'm one of four boys and my dad had to find a way of having a connection with each of his children in a way. So that's really. No. That's really special. The thing about it that way too. Yeah, that was probably for something he looked forward to just as much as I did.


JASON PEARL: That's right. Yeah. No, it's amazing. Yeah. There's just so much that we could talk about. I want to continue to talk and I think we're going to get you on for another episode. There's a few final questions that I want to ask so we can tie up this episode that I think would be really interesting for our listeners to hear. So being a food guy, what's your favorite dish to make?

MATT ABDOO: Oh man. My favorite dish to make, everybody asks me that. The most impossible thing for me to answer. I, my workaround for that is my favorite food to make is whatever's going to put a smile on your face that's of cheese ball to it, but this stuff that I'm currently loving to make right now is I've just been messing around with this new enchilada sauce and I've been making these chicken enchiladas which are dynamite. I'm really excited about, I love cooking so many different things. I love making pizza, especially with my son now who's out enough to like, have fun with it. Anything on the grill when it's summertime.


JASON PEARL: Now this could be food related or it could be something else another fun questions. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?

MATT ABDOO: My favorite guilty pleasure. Wow. My favorite guilty pleasure is I'm. I'm the kind of person that doesn't get a lot of downtime. So I think my favorite guilty pleasure, once my wife and son are asleep, I love just like sitting on the couch, decompressing and eating something that I probably shouldn't be eating and catching up on shows that I haven't been able to watch or see because I'm constantly working.

I'm like the most G rated, and people break my stones all the time, about it. Cause I'm like the most G-rated chef in this industry where a lot of other chefs go down the dark path of drinking and drugs, and other stuff. What do I want to do? I want to get a bag of Swedish Fish, sit on the couch and watch Loki.

JASON PEARL: The best part about that, Matt is that's exactly who I know you to be, who I knew you to be 20 years ago, what I experienced and seeing you with all this success be the exact same way today is just a testament to you sticking to your laurels and sticking to your morals and just being who God created you to be, which I love, which I absolutely love.


Final question. I know that you used to be known to play a little guitar and things like that. We always like to ask a musical question. What was the last album you either bought or downloaded or the last live show you attended or what are you playing currently right now, either on your phone or in your car?

MATT ABDOO: This is a great question and I'm sure many young, many parents to young children out there can relate to, the most recent album I just downloaded was Trolls 2 soundtrack. And the most recent show I went to was Sesame Street at Barclays.


JASON PEARL: As we close out, one of the, one of the last things that we're going to close with is could you share with the audience what's going on right now? I know that there's a new launch for a Pig Beach location. So could you tell us a little bit about that? And then also, how can people follow you?

MATT ABDOO: Yes, thank you. So we're super excited. We're opening up another restaurant in Long Island City, Queens, on the border of Astoria, Queens. The address is 3537 36th Street. It's always like tricky because of that. This was a project that was supposed to open up last summer, but obviously COVID delayed it for a year, but we're back on track. We're looking forward to opening up in the next three to four weeks. It's very exciting. It's 30,000 square feet. It's a monster. It's huge. It's got about 15,000 square feet of outdoor space. It's got about 15,000 square foot of inside space. That place is huge. It's incredible. It's going to be so much fun. We're super excited for that to happen. We also just did a couple of new fun, collaborative projects with Hormel, where if you guys are listening and you want to try and taste the Pig Beach anywhere in the country, you can go to your local Walmart or many national large chain grocery stores like Kroger's, and you can buy, it's a Lloyd's brand. Pulled Pork and Pulled Chicken with Pig Beach Two Time World Champion Barbecue sauce sauce from Memphis and May. You can order it online from Walmart too. Eat it up. Give us a good review. I promise you're gonna like it. You could fall me at instagram personally @mattabdoo, or you can follow any one of our restaurants @pigbeachnyc, @pigbeachlic and @pigbeachpalmbeach for the three locations that we currently have.

JASON PEARL: And we're gonna share all your contact information in the show notes. So you guys always know how to get to all of our guests, all their information, how you could follow them is at So if you forget this or you're driving in the car and you can't write it, hit up the website, all of Matt's contact information is gonna be there.

MATT ABDOO: If anybody ever has any personal barbecue questions they wanna ask me, I'm an open book. You can call the restaurant and leave a message on our, I have a personal voicemail on the restaurant line. Leave me a voicemail. I'll get back to you. Send me an email. It's I'd be happy to answer any questions I can via email. And also too, do you guys want to taste of any of our sauces, you can go to and click on the store button where you can get our award-winning sauces and all purpose barbecue seasoning online as well, shipped right to your home.

JASON PEARL: I love it, man. Do me a favor and hop to that website, get get some of that award- winning sauce. Matt, it has been an absolute pleasure introducing you to my audience. It's always great to carve out some time to just spend with you. I'm certainly going to cherish this hour we spent together. And I just want to let you know proud I am of you and just thank you so much for being a contributor to this podcast.

MATT ABDOO: Are you kidding me? Thank you, Jay. Love you, brother.

JASON PEARL: Hey, everyone. Thanks for listening to another episode of The Company We Keep podcast. Hope you enjoyed the time I spent with Matt and you enjoyed the interview. He is just an absolute dynamite guy. If you happen to be in the New York City area or the greater New York City area in late August, Matt's going to be opening his third location of Pig Beach in Long Island City. Do yourself a favor head over there or head to the location in Brooklyn, or if you happen to be in Florida, check out their West Palm Beach location. If you're enjoying this podcast, I've got a new feature on my website that I'd like you to check out, head over to, you can leave me a digital voicemail. And we wanted to put this on the website so you could interact with me, ask me questions about episodes, or even just talk to me about future ideas or thoughts of things you'd like to hear from me about. So shoot over to and check that out. We'd love to hear from you. So until next time I am your host, Jason Pearl.

I'm out. Peace.