Fabian Mata can’t remember when he didn’t want to be a restaurateur.
The 23-year-old worked in his father’s restaurant — El Mexicano in Boiling Springs — and saved every spare dollar he earned in hopes of one day starting his own venture.
In August 2016, he realized that dream when he opened the doors to Nacho Taco, a casual eatery featuring elevated Mexican dishes and craft beer, at 129 N. Spring St. in downtown Spartanburg.
“I have customers who come in now and tell me they remember when my [server] apron went all of the way around my waist because I was so small,” Mata said. “We still have a good laugh about it. I started when I was in 7th grade. I saw my brother doing it and he had money. I wanted to do it too.”
Mata was born in Atlanta, but his family put down roots in Spartanburg County when he was a boy.
His parents, Maria and Antonio Mata, emigrated from the Mexican state of Jalisco.
Antonio started working as a server in a local Mexican restaurant. He eventually saved up enough money to purchase his own eatery.
Fabian graduated from Boiling Springs High School in 2011. After graduation, he decided to take some classes at Spartanburg Community College because “everyone is supposed to go to college.”
“I knew I wanted to do restaurants before I went to school,” Mata said. “After a while, I realized I needed to be learning the business.”
Mata continued working at his family’s restaurant. He also took a job at UPS.
He saved every spare dollar he earned while he was creating a vision for a next generation type of Mexican Restaurant.
Mata noticed the “momentum” building in downtown Spartanburg, and saw a gaping void in the market for authentic Mexican food.
On April 15, 2016, he began selling food within the former Café Around the Corner off Dunbar Street downtown.
“I would work my shift at UPS, then go to the restaurant and then go downtown,” he said. “Those were 100-hour weeks.”
Mata said the positive response from customers and the demand for quality Mexican food shored up his decision to start a new venture near the city’s urban center.
By August, he saved enough money and opened his 2,300-square-foot restaurant, Nacho Taco.
He said the response from the community so far has been good. Every day, he said, he works with his staff to find ways to improve and continue to build it into the restaurant he envisioned.
Mata recently partnered with the Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville to develop a craft brew for Mexican restaurants. The beer will debut soon, he said.
“For me, it was a real positive to be self-funded,” Mata said. “A lot of people I think go into debt quickly and dig a hole they can’t get out of. You have to be in it for the long haul.”
Mata’s menu is inspired by his Mexican heritage. He said he has spent a lot of time in his family’s hometown in Mexico.
The young entrepreneur said he noticed a lot of Mexican fusion restaurants opening in recent years. He said he wanted his food to stay true to his heritage.
“Food is such a huge part of the fabric of the community there,” he said. “It’s all about fresh ingredients and great flavors. The ‘fusion’ here is our authenticity,”
Mata’s menu features fresh guacamole, tostadas, and tortas, a type of Mexican sandwich loaded with ingredients. Customers can build their own tacos, or choose from an offering of fajitas, nachos, and quesadillas.
Each dish is made fresh, Mata said. The proteins, including chicken, steak, al pastor, pork, chorizo sausage, and shrimp, are all cooked to order on a grill.
Prices range from about $3 up to $11.25. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. It is closed Sunday.
Mata said he is encouraged by the city’s growth, particularly in downtown, where there are several major projects planned or underway. Those projects include the new AC Hotel, the Montgomery Building renovation, the Bishop Furniture building renovation, a mixed-use building by Spartanburg developer Royce Camp and his partner Livia Cantrell, and the FR8 YARD, a beer garden concept by the owners of Willy Taco.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, community leaders unveiled One Spartanburg, a vision plan developed in partnership with the Atlanta-based strategic planning firm Market Street Services. The plan provides recommendations for changes aimed at strengthening Spartanburg both culturally and economically. It also establishes an organizational structure for the community to tackle those recommendations.
“There’s a lot happening in Spartanburg right now,” Mata said. “This is a great time to be a part of this community. I’m looking forward to the future here. There’s still a lot of work left to be done, but there are some exciting things coming.”