Matt Bernabe, who just opened doors at “Urban Hotdog Company” a year ago in Nob HIll, sought to give back to the Albuquerque community and the industry workers who faced unemployment in the form of “Project 86’d.”
Leveraging one of his food trucks, Bernabe and his staff set out with the goal of giving away food to industry workers who were left without a job due the pandemic.
“We went around town and gave free food to anyone that was laid off … We ended up probably feeding five to six-hundred people,” Bernabe said.
“86” is a term restaurants often use when a menu item has sold out.
“86’d from the industry,” Bernabe said, when referencing furloughed food industry workers.
Recently featured in Albuquerque Business First’s “40 Under 40” list, Bernabe has seen his fair share of growth. Bernabe had his sights set on owning his own business following his graduation from the Anderson School of Management.
“Oddly enough, I’ve always known it was going to be business,” Bernabe said.
It was an ambitious goal – ambition that Bernabe recalls as always being there. “At a young age I was picking cherries from our cherry tree and going door to door and selling them,” Bernabe said.
Bernabe bought ownership of Urban Hotdog Co. in early 2014 after working under the previous owner, David Kleinfeld, as chef to the original west-side location.
But ownership is no guarantee of a profit. “It was definitely a struggle at first,” Bernabe said.
It took three months until there was any profit from the hot dog shop, Bernabe said. Since turning initial profit, Bernabe expanded Urban Hotdog Co. from a single location into two food trucks and a second restaurant located in Nob Hill, first bought near the end of 2019.
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Then the pandemic hit and “Project 86’d” began.
Free food may not seem like the obvious answer when trying to stay in business, but once the word got out, the media took notice. “I don’t know how or what, but the news picked up on it,” Bernabe said.
The positive press surrounding “Project 86’d” drew in more business during the pandemic when in-person customers themselves were “86’d.”
Bernabe saw to-go sales skyrocket at the original Westside location. He attributes being able to stay in business during lockdown to the act of kindness reciprocated by the community. “Give and you shall receive … I didn’t have to lay anyone off,” Bernabe said.
Bernabe continues charity work today by organizing with local non-profits, allowing people to drop-off donations at Urban Hotdog Co.’s back entrance in Nob Hill.
The mutual support between Bernabe and the community is ultimately what keeps him sticking around New Mexico.
“When you go to these other cities, I don’t think any place is as welcoming as Albuquerque … The people are great,” Bernabe said.
Jaymes Boe is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at culture @dailylobo.com