Nick Hufft grew up making Louisiana staples, but little did he know he was poised to become a burger legend. Baton Rouge knows its food, and Nick Hufft is a household name among Baton Rouge foodies. So much so that Baton Rouge residents flipped for the return of Hufft’s Curbside Burgers at Barcadia on Highland Road.
But what about the man behind the burger?
Hufft grew up in the city of New Orleans and has always loved cooking, growing up on his grandmother’s Daube and Gravy and her famous Shrimp Stew, and his mother’s Steak Diane and Crawfish Monica.
“I was always cooking Crawfish Monica in my early years of high school,” Hufft said.
He went through what some would call “hard knocks” training when he decided to go into the culinary business, and he received no formal schooling.
“It was falling on my face many of times, cutting my hands, burning myself, reading book after book and watching endless videos and shows on how to cook things properly,” Hufft said. “I’ve also had the privilege to be surrounded by some great chefs through my years and have always soaked up any knowledge they have been willing to teach.”
But his love for culinary arts was just one piece to the puzzle.
“I think my love is more for the restaurant business as a whole and cooking is just one aspect of it,” Hufft said. “It’s fast-paced.”
Before Curbside, Hufft’s career started when he opened a late night food trailer in the LSU area in 2006 while he was a junior in college. He went to school from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and worked Tuesday-Saturday from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
“The business side of the restaurant industry sparked my interest originally, which brought out my love for cooking and now I’m back to operating the business,” Hufft said.
Now Baton Rouge will have more reason to tantalize their taste buds with Hufft’s newest ventures, The Overpass Merchant and Curbside Burger Bar. The Overpass Merchant is a neighborhood gastropub featuring upscale bar snacks, craft cocktails and a rotating draft list. The gastropub celebrated its grand opening last month, and in October, Baton Rouge will see the opening of Curbside Burger Bar, a neighborhood burger joint that Hufft explains will focus on in-house ground proteins, fresh baked buns and fresh cut fries set in a family-friendly environment.
Some of Hufft’s favorite foods to work with are ground proteins, kaffir lime leaves, Thai chilies, Gulf seafood, fish sauce, cilantro, hatch chilis, vinegar, starches and everything in between. However, these days Hufft is leaving the food inspiration to the chefs in the kitchen.
“The team at The Overpass Merchant is all over the place,” Hufft said. “They’re cooking things that just taste good. Don’t get me wrong; I have my hands on 90 percent of what’s being pushed out, but I leave the heavy lifting to them and let their creative juices flow through daily specials and seasonal menu changes.”
The next big thing on the horizon for Hufft is the opening of Curbside Burger Bar, which has the Baton Rouge food scene buzzing. Originally, Curbside began as a burger food truck in 2010, and soon, those burgers, such as the K.G.B. and The Brian, became city favorites. After taking a brief hiatus from the food truck world, Hufft brought his burgers to become the staples at Barcadia in both its News Orleans and Baton Rouge locations. It was always on Hufft’s mind to have his own restaurant, and now he will have one on Government Street.
“That’s been my baby for the past seven years, and I’m excited to see the reaction on people’s faces when they see the detail we have put into this project,” Hufft said.
That’s the big thing coming for Hufft on the horizon, and he explains as his thinks about the future, he may venture into restaurant technology as his next step.
“We’re living in the future,” Hufft said. “I want to update the way restaurants communicate with their customers.”
For those interested or just starting to get into the business, Hufft recommends never stop learning and soak up as much of the business side as you can.
“I see so many great chefs that have amazing talent fail because they think that cooking amazing dishes is what it takes to create a successful restaurant,” Hufft said.
While stress is inevitable working in the restaurant business, Hufft tries to avoid it as much as possible by setting his team up for success and surrounding himself with smart people. And it’s the unpredictability of each new day that keeps Hufft getting excited about his work.
“I never sit down,” Hufft said. “Every day is always something new whether it is good or bad.”
Photo by Emily Brauner.